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What to do when you don't know what to do.

Have you ever felt stuck not knowing which way to turn next?

I have.

How we feel about a situation or ourselves comes from our thoughts, actions and experiences. This makes up some of what constitutes our mental wellbeing.

Sometimes when we feel stuck we can do what we always do or continue on the path of least resistance as changing our thought processes is painful even if we know that this is what we need to do.

Perhaps what you need is not immediate fully formed solutions, but solitude.

Solitude should not be confused with loneliness. The latter can be described as the pain of being alone, whereas the former is the joy of being alone.

Solitude is a conduit to achieve peace of mind and rest; a place where you can be your own companion and think about the world around you and who you are.

According to the Stoic philosophers, to be truly at peace you need to seek out solitary space where your senses can rest. Marcus Aurelius and Roman philosopher and playwright, Seneca, believed that serenity could only really be achieved when all stimulations had been removed. Although anachronistic, they would undoubtedly urge you to step away from technology, particularly your smart phone.

Marcus Aurelius wrote,

Nowhere you can go is more peaceful, more free of interruptions, than your own soul. Retreat to consult your own soul and then return to face what awaits you.

You should not fear time without others, instead you should make time for solitude in each day. Do you enjoy our own company? Do you fear time alone just with your own thoughts? If you are in a place where you do not like or love yourself, are you worried about spending time alone? Does spending time alone make you feel weird, lonely or unpopular? Do you fill up every spare moment with activities and plans to avoid doing ‘nothing'?

German-born Jewish-American political theorist, Hannah Arendt who escaped Germany during the Holocaust said that

Solitude is the human condition in which I keep myself company.

Henry David Thoreau, American author and philosopher stated that he loved to be alone,

I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.

Instead of fearing time alone, you should embrace it. You need to make friends with yourself; love yourself and allow your mind to slow and rest.

This is where self care and wellbeing begins.

In these daily moments of solitude, which could be a matter of five or ten minutes in the bath, while travelling solo on the bus, or just sitting alone on a park bench during your lunch break, you should give yourself permission to think alone, without the distraction of others and/or technology.

Our truest and most genuine friend is ourselves. Why then do we not give that friend time and space? Why do we make so much time and space in our life for people and things that are not genuine and create stress? Why do we devote so much time to pursuits like social media that inspire negative feelings of inadequacy? Perhaps we should stop craving the artificial but omnipotent companionship of our technology?

I want to offer some of my personal suggestions for ways to experience joyful and enlightening solitude:

  1. The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere

I recently came across a book written by essayist and novelist, Pico Iyer entitled, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere. Although the subtitle feels self-defeating, Iyer’s message is interesting. He points to the disturbing nature of the constant stream of information we must contend with and sift through today. He advocates a sense of stillness rather than a state of striving. Although he writes that stepping out of the fray of modern life takes courage it is worth it to achieve a state of calmness and clarity in a place he dubs ‘Nowhere’. It sounds blissful, doesn’t it?

2. The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life

The Gift is a deeply emotional book recommended to me by a good friend. It is so beautifully and expertly written by Holocaust survivor and therapist, Dr Edith Eger. This book offers case studies and personal insights into how to manage our thoughts. It will make you cry but also understand how we debilitate ourselves by imprisoning our thoughts. I am listening to this astonishing book on Audible and can honestly say that this book has changed my outlook on life. Key takeaways for me so far include "You can't heal what you cannot feel" and "Kindness is always right".

3. You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life

I love every word in this book by Eleanor Roosevelt. It is difficult to select my key takeaway from one of the most inspirational women that has lived, but I will offer this snippet:

Learning and living. But they are really the same thing, aren't they? There is no experience from which you can't learn something. When you stop learning you stop living in any vital and meaningful sense. And the purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.

4. Heated Eye Mask

I use Spacemasks self heating eye masks to relax. I set aside 30 minutes every day to do nothing while wearing this mask. You are absolutely limited to just wearing this mask and doing nothing else for your own safety so it is perfect to help you relax and switch off. The box contains 5 masks. They are glorious and the relaxation is almost instant.

5. Weighted blanket

I wish I had bought one of these years ago. Weighted blankets stimulate a deep pressure to trigger the release of hormones that calm nerves and lead to a deeper sleep. Using one of these blankets while having a nap can hasten sleep and even make you feel cuddled. Suitable for those with autism, but not pregnancy. The one I have is 6.8kg and it has made relaxation much easier for me.

So some solitude under a weighted blanket + book/audio book + eye mask = optimum conditions for a reset and a good sleep.

Everything feels better after sleeping on a challenging situation and perhaps the words in these inspirational books can help you get unstuck.

As 5th century Greek philosopher Pythagoras wrote:

In the morning, – solitude … nature may speak to the imagination as she does never in company.
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