Steven Kalas went to the wilderness because he was feeling alone. Life is nothing if not ironic. He was hardly alone as a single father with three children, a psychology practice and a newspaper column. “Alone,” he journaled of his trip, “is a very ordinary experience. But for most of my life, when aloneness came to visit, I would promptly vacate the premises. I was, and still can be, the master of distraction when it comes to the deeper work of being human. But this weekend, I went camping. And I invited Aloneness to come camping with me.”
With personal and professional connections to Flagstaff as a behavioral therapist, Kalas is still just human and faces the same dilemma as everyone else. How do I find time for myself? Being alone is pre-meditated and purposeful, if it’s done right. And it takes practice.
“The inner life is the road less traveled,” said Kalas. And we’re not doing our children any favors as we perpetuate the problem. “Today’s parents,” Kalas continued, “rush to entertain. Their solutions tend to teach children to dodge the contemplative life at all costs.” And it’s not about directing all our energies towards ourselves. He said, “Your inner life must direct your ability to love and serve others. No exceptions. If you value meeting the demands/needs of important relationships, you will tend, then, to your own garden on a regular basis. Without time spent with our inner life, people tend to have a variable grip on their core.
Need for No Speed
In a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week world, there seems to be no breaking away to nap, playing the guitar, reading a classic or lingering over coffee, let alone making time for prayer or yoga or collecting one’s thoughts on the back porch. We’re proud of multi-tasking. But the great apes rest approximately four times a day, obeying their circadian rhythms to eat, work, play and rest. And Kalas confirmed, “The soul needs tending.”
Seeking solitude provides insight, dreaming, creative solutions, self-reflection and leads to harmony between heart and mind. It invites self-content. Life Coach, Norman Shrewsbury, defended personal time and said, “It is not selfish, it is simply necessary to be ‘self full’…to assist others and ourselves in what is most important. This perceived need to do two things at once is actually a cause of many social problems. When is the last time you asked someone to turn on the television when you needed to have an important meeting? Why would we want to be distracted while having a conversation with ourselves?”
This is what Shrewsbury does for his clients: Teaches self-care. “We work together over time on making new habits more aligned with their values. It is simply a slow, steady process, somewhat like gardening.”
The experts seem to agree that we need to tend our gardens in order to produce fruit. How often is such attention necessary? Shrewsbury suggested slotting in, not monthly, but daily sanctuary. “This is a basic human need. If you are able to sleep once a month, exercise once a month and eat once a month and still catch up, then you probably can do mental resting with awareness once a month too.” And he said it’s simple. “It’s about diligence, effort, patience and joyful exertion. Anyone who says these techniques don’t work is simply not consistent.”
Della Lusk, a clinical psychologist for Arizona Behavioral Health Associates, backs that up with recommendations from the American Psychological Association. These include unplugging and holing up at least two or three times a week with exercise and meditation. They also promote at least ten minutes a day of ‘personal time’ to refresh our mental outlook and slow down our stress system.
Lusk sees stress as a complaint that gains momentum. She said, “I’ve heard too many people report that when they finally did get that vacation, they didn’t know how to relax.” So, take more short breaks to recharge and develop a reflexive habit of relaxation and reflection.
Embracers of Me Time
Eileen McQuade, a dental professional who made a problematic transition to Flagstaff, said, “I didn’t take care of myself and my un-ease turned to dis-ease. Real disease. I developed a thyroid deficiency.” This wake-up call to cyclical stress helps her remember, “It’s like being on the plane and the flight attendant says, ‘Remember to put on your oxygen mask first, and then, assist your child.’ I apply that to my children, co-workers and life.” McQuade uses Reiki, exercise and massage to address stress.
Dena Kuhn, a graphic designer, said not to forget the soul. “Daily meditation and prayer. It gives perspective that nothing else can.”
Darcy Falk spoke of achieving positive results in both areas. “I stopped assigning all my work and everyone’s request with the same ‘important’ rating. Taking care of my physical well-being has resulted in a new level of mental health, too.”
And let’s not neglect nature’s role in settling our souls. Mother Nature points out the awe that lies around us as well as within us. And as Kalas discovered on his camping trip, solitary retreat is less about running away from others than it is about moving towards oneself. He spent time with the mountains and their animals – turkey vultures, a bobcat and a tortoise, in particular – and wrote of it, “They filled some empty places in my soul with wonder. Creation is born of the void. You can’t have one until you make friends with the other.” NAMLM Gail G. Collins