Sounds of silence: the benefits of spending time alone
Recently, I spent two weeks on my own in Mallorca, says Elaine Kingett. I went for one short business meeting but decided to stay on for a bit, to get my head together on an island I love and first visited 45 years ago.
Every day I would take myself off up the hills or down to the sea, armed only with a notebook, pen and factor 20. On rugged, well-marked paths I would pass earnest hikers in top of the range, performance sportswear and there was me in my old black kaftan, a bum-bag and open-toed Tevas. I pride myself in my minimalist packing but my head was stuffed with confusion, worries and unresolved life-changing decisions. Walking on your own for hours, without the distraction of a partner, means that your subconscious is free to crawl out and stare you in the face. You can’t ignore it. Especially if you have no phone reception…
Far too nervous to eat out on my own in the evening – fearing that I either looked like Billy No-Mates or like I was waiting for some ‘action’ – every night I retired to my room to read everything I could find in my Airbnb and then when that quickly ran out, to write down what was inside my head. In silence.
By the end of the first week I was staring at Skyscanner, desperately searching for an early flight home. But I stuck it out. And my God, it did me good.
Alone in the Tramontana Mountains, away from my comfort zone of work-work-work and with no kids popping in or neighbours to bump into, I eventually found clarity. I use periods of silence, for an hour or so, on my writing retreats (Elaine runs Write it Down! retreats in Spain and the UK) and I know by experience how they help us all to slow down and become aware of our place in the natural world, but this was the first time I had forced myself to listen to what I was thinking for an extended period of time.
There’s a pink neon sign in my favourite bar in Mallorca – ‘Silence Is Sexy.’ But it is also scary. I didn’t want to know what was in my head. Silence can be used as a weapon, too: being ‘sent to Coventry’, the silent sulk in a relationship that can kill love. But by unplugging our distractors – phone, computer, radio, TV – by spending time in an unfamiliar location, away from friends and family, we give ourselves space. Space to reconsider, to re-create. And we can return to our noisy, everyday lives a little stronger, a little more confident in our own abilities and a little more determined to try again.