By Ciera Horton
Distinguished Young Woman of Florida for 2013
36 hours alone.
No one to talk to. Nothing to do.
There have been few moments in my life when I have been more distraught than when I was left alone for my solo experience with Wheaton Passage, a high-adventure wilderness trip for incoming freshmen. Along with six other girls, I spent nine days canoeing and camping at different islands in the boundary waters. Our trip was full of unique adventures such as getting swept down white water currents when our canoe overturned and even killing and eating snake—which I didn’t participate in! I learned a great deal about wilderness survival with everything from how to purify water, set up camp and how to cook food over an open fire. But the most difficult part came when we were dropped off for our solo experiences: I was left in the wilderness by myself for 36 hours.
As I sat on the rock precipice, which was my place of isolation, I was overwhelmed by an all consuming sense of despondency and loneliness. I tried to have fun pretending I was Katniss as I set up my shelter, made a makeshift sundial and wove bug nets from pine needles. But that all took only about an hour. I spent a good portion of the first solo day in tears as the hours dragged on and I was stuck on the rock that overlooked the glistening lake below. I kept trying to be strong, to prove to myself that I was brave and could keep everything together. But on the second when I awoke to a beautiful sunrise over the water, I was filled by an indescribable peace. When would I ever have this chance again to be by myself in nature?
I have never been alone for that long of an amount of time. But I learned then that this was a unique opportunity for self-reflection. I learned that I could find strength in my weakness by simply acknowledging my weakness. In college I have since then learned how there needs to be a balance between surrounding myself with others and setting aside time for personal reflection and solitude.
Having healthy relationships with friends is definitely important!
Have friends who will uplift and encourage you. Be close with people you admire and look up to, who push you be to be a better person and who stand by you when you fail.
Have friends who inspire you and who never pressure you to do something you’re not comfortable with.
Have friends who are guys and girls. Value the chance to be single and mingle.
But also take time for yourself. Recognize the value of setting aside time to unplug and unwind. We live in a world where we are continuously connected to others through digital media. Even when we aren’t out with others being social, much of our “alone” time is spent still in communication. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. Texting. How often do we actually take the time to just be alone and be still?
In our modern world, seeking solitude is a lost art. But studies in psychology have shown that being alone can actually benefit you physically and emotionally.
Solitude allows you to increase concentration and productivity. Removing distractions for a time every day can help you focus more on your work.
Solitude can enhance your relationships with others. When you’re alone, you can find a better sense of who you are and what you want to do with your life. Being alone can also help you to value those you care about, like your friends and family. When I was on my solo experience, I journaled about 30 pages and much of what I wrote was about the people who had made an impact on my life. Since when I was lonely, I wrote about how thankful I was for them and I gained a better appreciation for the people I love.
So, what should you do during your quiet time? Take the opportunity to do things you enjoy. If you like photography, take some pictures to relax. Listen to music. Write poetry. Brew some tea. Read a book. Or just be still and rest in the silence. Also, consider keeping a journal. I try to journal every day, since I find that it helps me to reflect back on the lessons that I’ve learned and the struggles I’ve faced.
I’ve always been an introvert, meaning that I find my energy in being alone, but it took something drastic in the wilderness for me to learn the actual significance of taking time away from the craziness of life. You don’t need to be alone for 36 hours, but this holiday season, take the time to unplug and unwind. You may find that solitude can help you grow personally and grow closer in community with others.
Ciera Horton is a college freshman at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois majoring in English. Originally from Orlando, Florida, Ciera was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Florida for 2013. Learn more about Ciera here!