I prefer lying down on my back, with my feet flat on the ground and my knees up in the air, although I have done the same basic technique sitting up as well. I close my eyes and consciously relax every part of my body, starting with my toes and working my way up, through the legs, hips, torso, arms, neck and even face. At the same time, I try to stop regulating my breathing. Every time I do this, without exception, I am amazed by the amount I needlessly control my breath. When I am able to consciously relax it, it flows much more smoothly and is far more refreshing and relaxing. This is a very physical manifestation of the ever-present pressure to be something other than who I am. It is something most if not all people experience, and yet something I think most people are totally unaware of. Even the return of the breath back to its natural "me" rhythm lets the feeling of solitude and clarity begin to settle in.
The above described set-up is the only thing really involved in this process of self-discovery through solitude. The rest consists of gently pushing away any thought as it enters my head. This is the part where I always felt like I was less successful than others, but I have learned to accept it. My mind always starts out aggressively pushing the same few ideas into my consciousness, but after repeatedly pushing these thoughts away, they begin t drift elsewhere and come more slowly. Though I am never able to completely stop the flow of ideas, just ten minutes of this type of relaxation every couple of days really keeps me grounded. I find myself making decisions about things that were causing me stress, even things that didn't consciously come up during my quasi-meditation. It really is as though the gentle pushing away of ideas -- the creation of a solitude and inner quietness -- allows the simplicity of right decisions to speak through with and cloudiness or equivocation.
My version of solitude is not quite the same as either McCandless' or Emerson's. My previous comments might have made it clear that I do not exactly approve of -- or perhaps do not fully understand -- McCandless' need for solitude or view of identity. To me, his actions represented an escape and a detachment rather than the connection I find in my brief sojourns into solitude. I appreciate that some people need more solitude than others, and it might even be that what was right for McCandless was to live completely alone. I still believe that he could have accomplished this in a less unfeeling and selfish way, however. His actions doubtless caused his family and friends needless pain; solitude need not have required the destructive tendencies McCandless displayed. On a continuum of solitude between this wilderness seeker and the self-reliance of Emerson, I am definitely closer to the latter. There are differences here, too, however. Emerson once wrote, "solitude is impractical and yet society is fatal." This is a brilliant quip, yet it is a little disingenuous. I do not believe that society is fatal, but rather that it is essential for most if not al human beings. We are inherently social creatures; the trick is simply not to lose yourself in the pressures and her mentality of the larger societal or cultural group.
Solitude is not only useful to the on who engages in it, but also to those with whom the in-touch individual interacts. Emerson gets this part right in "Self-Reliance" when he urges everyone to find their voice and speak it out loud. Any discovery made through solitude is useless if t dies with the individual; epiphanies weren't meant to be hoarded and kept out of sight, but rather shouted to the skies. The true purpose of solitude, I believe, is allowing us to more fully and openly engage in interpersonal relationships. When we better know ourselves, we are better equipped to understand and be understood by others. If that is not the ultimate goal of human existence, I don't know what is.