December 9, 2020

67. Solitude

Every human being has this great need for solitude. Every human being’s got this need just to be on our own. You need a time of quiet, of slowness, of space and every human being does it in their particular way.

The exact opposite is when you have that sense that you’re on the treadmill. And you wake up and you’ve got 25 meetings you’ve got to go to. You’ve got emails here, there. You’ve got phone calls coming in. You’ve got someone wanting you to do this, this, this, this. And you feel as though your whole life’s just go, go, go. And you haven’t got space. You haven’t got quiet. And you get to a point when you can almost not hear your own self. It’s a real space of losing touch with your deeper kind of self.

So it’s this need that we all have just to be, just to sit, just to pause, just to be really, really quiet. And that can be in small ways and it can be in big, but it’s a need that every human being has.

Yes, solitude is a need every human being has and that is great wisdom. When it starts to feel like you’re disconnected from who you are. We’ve just finished this amazing six week online conference with Universal Man, a group of about 23 guys. And in this process, what we found is it was asking guys to actually go away and spend time on their own thinking about their life, and we gave them the framework and a play book to fill in and complete so they were clearer about their life.

But without solitude, you don’t even have time to think about these things. Solitude is a time to reflect on where you’ve been, get really clear on where you’re going. You can’t do that really in a room full of noise with other people. In the end, you’ve got to spend time on your own, calm. There’s a great quotation by Yoda and he says, 

“You will know the good from the bad when you are calm and at peace, passive.” 

And that’s what we’re talking about here. So it’s such an important, important part of life, but one that we think at times, if we get too busy, we can lose connection with it.

You know, it’s really a practical thing. So many people, all the people we know who have a real balance within their own lives, they will either begin their day with quiet. So they’ll get up and they’ll go for a walk. They’ll go for a run. They’ll do a meditation session. They might go to the gym before the very start of the day, or at some time during their day, they’ll go for a walk around the block. They’ll turn their phone off, or at the end of their particular day. It’s almost as if there’s this need. If you’re going to be on top of your game personally and in a professional way, you need a space where you can sit. And what happens? You go deeper. You go to the deeper, truer you. And the deeper truer you is wanting to speak to us, wanting to whisper to us, wanting to be a part of our day, but the noise of our day and the rush and the busy-ness can then block that voice away. So this whole solitude thing is like a real, real skill.

So just for few minutes, we want to break open why solitude is such an important thing. And the first thing is that solitude brings your  physical energy back. Everybody needs time to recover. And you’ll hear that an elite sportsman has had an op, and they’ll say they’re now out for six or so weeks. And that six weeks is the physical body just slowly getting its strength back time to heal. Okay. So when we’re rushing and rushing, and going from meeting to meeting, that saps us. Our energy is sapped away. And sometimes we’re not really aware of that. 

Pricey recalls when he was a teacher there was the tiredness of your day to day, but there is a tiredness at the end of the term. And even though you’d get your day-to-day tiredness, you’d get back from just a really good night’s sleep, there was like a cubit of tiredness that would build up over the whole term. And by the end of the term, you just had to go away and have a really good kind of a rest. So solitude brings that energy back. And we all know, even in the world of nature, there’s a whole winter time where nature goes quiet. It goes within. It goes into its cave. We all need those cave times. But then we have the cave time so we can then come out of the cave in the spring, and we’ve got that energy back.

The other thing that it does is, as we mentioned before, it is a time to improve our focus, to think about what is most important, how we’re going about it, to reflect on our own performance. And if you have a little quiet time and a reflective practice or a review process for your life and for your work, it’s through solitude that we get really good gains by looking deep within ourselves. So it’s an opportunity to do really good refocusing. But one of the things that’s important about that is to be fairly gentle with yourself. When we’re trying to be our very best selves every day and we get distracted by the chaos of life, you can get a bit hard on yourself about the expectations you have. Grego feels that he has certainly fought that trap any number of times. And then what he sits down and reflects back on how he’s gone for the last week or month or so, if he doesn’t take a little bit of a chill pill every now and then, he can be pretty hard on himself, you know?

There’s an interesting balance with being gentle with yourself, because we think you need to be kind to yourself, but we think there are also times when you can be too kind to yourself. If you’re doing solitude well, and in a particular solitude you’re doing some reflection. You don’t always have to do reflection. It’s just an option. But if you are then be kind to yourself, but not too kind to the point where you avoid maybe giving yourself a little bit of an uppercut and improving your performance.

Part of that whole kindness to yourself, you know you’re out of touch with yourself, you know you’re needing solitude when you are dumping on somebody else, when you are projecting anger, when you’re like a bear with a sore, sore head. And people could look at you and say, “Hey, mate. You just need to go away and calm yourself down.” And that’s your deeper inner self saying, I need time just for me. When it becomes a real selfish thing and it’s just me, me, me and I go within, then we think we lose that sense of balance. When we’re doing it well,  we’re going within, we’re going into the solitude so we can come out better and stronger.

During this lockdown that we’ve just gone through, and Grego will refer to this a few times – he said to his wife about four weeks in, because they couldn’t leave within a few kilometres of home. They weren’t allowed to leave home for 23 hours a day. Greg said to his wife,  “I just feel like a caged animal.” He was almost tearing at his own skin to get out and go and do something, and just be away from home and in nature. And it was as simple as to just give each other an opportunity to just for a long walk. Even during peak hour at home with the kids, just to let each other have some head space. That’s the big indicator when you need solitude, is you’re feeling like your head is so full. You just need time out.

We think that’s really important because while we’re talking about solitude, it’s great for refreshing ourselves. It’s good for reflection and all that. The primary purpose is to just fill the tanks a bit and get your head straight. You don’t need to put any pressure on what you do when you go into solitude. We had a wonderful call the other night with the Universal Man crew, and one of the guys shared how recently he just escaped to the mountains for a couple of days, all by himself, stayed in a lodge up in the high mountains. And he said, “There was not a great epiphany. I didn’t need to do anything. I just needed to be by myself.” And I think that’s the wisdom of solitude, is sometimes you want to put structure around it and sometimes you just need to go out and just smell the fresh air and be.

There’s another aspect of solitude, which we think is one that we’ve noticed a lot of the people who we respect most undertake every year, is like a weekend away or a silent retreat or something. Greg’s sister does it every year in South Africa. Pricey does it as well. It’s something Greg did before kids and would love to do more of it. A bit more have to incorporate it with a bit of business travel and try to add on half a day or something. But it’s this getting away on your own for a couple of nights. Greg remembers as a young man, he’s a crazy extrovert. He needed to be around people. And if he goes more than a day without talking to someone, he starts to go a bit stir crazy.

So when Greg first went camping on his own, he did this back when he was doing all his running, it was a bit of a funny experience. He really had to push himself to just stay away from people for just two days. It was actually quite hard. But once he did it again and again, what happened was instead of getting more anxious at the time when he was seeing people, he became calmer and calmer. It’s a wonderful thing to learn.

So what we’re saying is this whole solitude thing, it’s like a skill, and it’s a particular choice and it’s got a pattern to it. So we think we’ve got to plan into our year. So within your year, you might have that one week or two weeks when you and the family, you go away to a beach or… on your own. And then within each month, you have a shorter period of time, within each week to. Some people think a week a year, a day a month, an hour a day. So for example, Pricey can’t work seven days. He needs at least one day in his week when he does nothing and that’s his solitude day and time.

There is a real wisdom too in that concept of a Sabbatical – in Pricey’s Religious Order every ten years you get a couple of months to renew – to get your deeper energy back. So the ideal may be one week a year, one day a month, one hour a day and every ten years a longer period in some way. All of this helps you go deeper within and really listen.

But of course you have to balance that with your life chapters – where you are in your life right now. Greg with three young children can’t do it exactly the way he could when he was younger – the key is to do it in some way – in YOUR way for now – for where you are in your life now.

And don’t over complicate it. That half an hour a day, which can be just sitting in a cafe or something sometimes, even on your own or going for a walk. It might be more like a couple of hours a week. So Greg will very regularly go and find somewhere quiet to do his weekly planning. And then every month or every quarter, he goes away for half a day to the mountains near home and he does a reflection and a quarterly review. 

And then and this is really special – Greg tries to plan at some point for a two day retreat on his own. But he’ll get to that one day when the kids are a bit older. But we’ll get to that. At the moment Greg has to fit his solitude needs into fitting in around normal school days. So drop the kids at school, go away and do it, come back and then have to be at home again that night.

What we’ve just named is, one of the hardest things is how do you be this Universal Man in the reality of your day to day? Like if you were sitting up in your little office space and you were going away from your kids and from your wife, et cetera, you’re doing it all wrong. The key is how do you find solitude in the midst of your real life.

It could be that session at the gym. It could be that coffee down at the coffee shop down the road. You find your way. But what we’ve always said here is find your way. Don’t just go, go, go, go.

There’s no correct way on this and there’s no expectation of how much or how little. You just do what suits you, and I think that’s really important because I know a lot of people that require a lot more solitude than others, right?

Absolutely. So just a few final little things. Look, we think there’s a lot to be said for turning your phone off occasionally. Your whole world is not going to come to an end if you turn your phone off for an hour. Your whole world isn’t going to come to an end if you don’t answer all those particular emails now. It’s just a tiny little thing. And it’s almost like we’re saying, but this time is mine. I need this. And as we’ve said many times, find your particular way, whether it be chatting with a friend, going for a session at the gym, et cetera. And again, it might be a little bit of no to those things that we think are really essential when in reality they aren’t as important as your need for that solitude time..

It happened to Pricey a week ago. He’s got his annual holiday beginning on December the 13th. And a friend of his rang and said, “Hey. Do you want to catch up with a group of mates on the 14th?” And it would have meant Pricey was going to go away to the holiday spot. I would have had to drive on back. And Pricey just gently said, “No. Look, I’m sorry, but I’m on holiday then.” It’s only a tiny little thing, but gee, that has a fantastic effect. It can be smaller, can be longer periods of time. We’ve all got our different needs. And for Pricey, getting out into mother nature is definitely one of his best ways.

So legends, find your solitude space. Listen to what your spirit says you need to actually do and get away from it all.

Stay legendary

Grego & Pricey