Craving Alone Time: Is It OK to Spend Time Alone?

Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
Embracing her aloneness, realizing
She is one with the whole Universe.

~ An excerpt from Chapter 42 of the Tao Te Ching – as Translated by Stephen Mitchell


I sit writing, hoping you don’t perceive the output as a presumption of enlightenment or wisdom. Since my focus here is based off an excerpt from the Tao Te Ching, the irony of my hope doesn’t elude me.

What IS the Tao Te Ching, otherwise called The Book of the Way or The Book of The Way and of How It Manifests Itself in the World?

Enter the term “Tao Te Ching” into a search engine and you’ll find the following definition:

The Tao Te Ching is the central Taoist text, ascribed to Lao-tzu, the traditional founder of Taoism. Apparently written as a guide for rulers, it defined the Tao, or way, and established the philosophical basis of Taoism.

What is The Tao?

To solve that question, I recommend reading the book. The Lis Hubert version of the Tao’s message is:

Stop trying so hard to BE. By trying, you’re not being, by not being, you’re caught up in trying and therefore missing out on life!

It’s a riddle, and yet, the Tao is the most efficient formula for living a fulfilling life I’ve encountered.

I was reading the Tao Te Ching the other night after a long few days of reflection. I’d been spending a lot of time alone in the countryside, and enjoying the quiet and solitude. More than just enjoying it, I was loving it!

I recognized how much I feared this enjoyment. I started to consider what enjoying my solitude meant. Questions arose.

Why do I like being alone so much? Is my craving alone time just a resistance to connecting and being vulnerable with others? Is me wanting to be alone, me trying to cop out of life?

Then the foundational, ever pervading question: IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH ME?

An aside. I’ve thought the last question most of my life. Many of us do. We yearn for a “right” way to live, and we’re sure it’s not the way we’re currently living. We believe that by trying hard enough we’ll start living “right”. Then we presume that when we start living “right”, everyone who has denied us will accept us for who we are. Peace and harmony will then reign forevermore.

Hey, I’ve thought this. So, don’t act like you haven’t.

Back to the story. As I was reading, one chapter resonated with my recent reflections on solitude, answering my questions surrounding feelings of otherness, ordinariness, and simplicity.

Chapter 20 of the Tao Te Ching – as Translated by Stephen Mitchell

“Stop thinking, and end your problems.
What difference between yes and no?
What difference between success and failure?
Must you value what others value,
avoid what others avoid?
How ridiculous!

Other people are excited,
as though they were at a parade.
I alone don’t care,
I alone am expressionless,
like an infant before it can smile.

Other people have what they need;
I alone possess nothing.
I alone drift about,
like someone without a home.

I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.

Other people are bright;
I alone am dark.
Other people are sharp;
I alone am dull.
Other people have a purpose;
I alone don’t know.
I drift like a wave on the ocean,
I blow as aimless as the wind.

I am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.”


It has taken millennia to translate and understand the text, and I know my depth of knowledge here is shallow. Still, I’ve bolded the lines which provide the most meaning to me at this time.

My relationship to most of the bold sentiments is easy to assume.

“Must you value what others value, avoid what others avoid? How ridiculous!” – I’ve certainly stated my independence and separateness a time or two.

“Drifting, possessing nothing, like someone without a home”; no surprises there.

“I drift like a wave on the ocean, I blow as aimless as the wind”; yep we’ve heard this on the blog before.

But, this line, I am different from ordinary people, now there’s the stanza that cut into me.

In his notes Mitchell untangles this sharp phrase adding, “I am more ordinary. When I am hungry, I eat; when I am tired, I sleep; that’s all.”

His addition moved me because I realized it describes the rhythm of life I find when I’m alone. When alone, I am often without distraction and can clearly see that all I need for a fulfilling life is food, sleep, and love.

Think about it… what else?

Our careers? Those guarantee food and a place to sleep. Our family, friends, partners? They guarantee love. (NOTE: I use the word “guarantee” to reflect our hopes and intentions, but I think it benefits us all to remember there is no guarantee… ever.)

When I take time alone, there is nothing I’m trying to do but observe the world around me. I also note how the food, sleep, and love point plays out with animals.

Dog stare at deer
I watch as Lyla stares down a doe outside the Lyle house.
Cat laying comfortably on a tree branch
Loved seeing Veronica hang out (Sorry… couldn’t help myself).
Cat face
Ron definitely wants my attention… He gets a lot of love with this face.
A view of the Columbia River.
Nothing like seeing these views on a hike alone – Looking East down the Columbia from Catherine Creek Trail in Washington State.
Peak of Mount Hood and view of the Columbia from WA State
A view from the Washington State side over at the Columbia River, Oregon, and the peak of Mount Hood.

Consider that your pet may rarely ever leave your house or property YET they are excited to see you come home from work each day. I don’t believe this excitement is due only to their brains not being “as developed” as ours. I believe their excitement stems from their needs of food, sleep, and love being met. They need nothing else to be excited about life.

Aren’t these same needs, the only ones we humans have? If all of these were met for you, what else would you NEED to live a full life?

Observing and acknowledging these moments when alone, doesn’t mean I want to spend ALL my time alone, of course. But, when I take the time to be quiet, to BE, I connect with this brilliant ordinariness. I find contentment in this space.

This practice of observing the world without distraction, shows me that whether alone or with others, if I’m participating in anything where I’m TRYING to create and fulfill needs outside of the basics, that’s when I’m copping out; when I’m TRYING to make my life have MEANING, instead of connecting with the meaning of my life.

Perhaps I crave alone time so much because it’s when I’m best able to stop TRYING and start actually living?

Right or wrong, that’s where I’m at.


Self Work: A Story

When anyone claims to be on a journey towards finding and knowing self, we think they must be making huge life changes like meditating 2 hours a day, eating only raw foods, or removing all excess from their life and living in solitude. But, I assure you that my path towards knowing myself better, and becoming a better me, is really about making simple, everyday life choices consciously and, when appropriate, differently.

An example occurred about a week ago when I was making my way from meeting my new nephew in Upstate New York to Hoboken, NJ (which for those not familiar with the area is about 2 – 3 hours away).

Taking this route was quite normal for me as I used to live in NYC and often went upstate to visit my family. Thus, when I embarked on the usual train ride from Middletown, NY to Hoboken, NJ, I didn’t expect any life lessons. I was simply looking forward to shutting my eyes for a few hours and resting.

That wasn’t the case.

On the day in question there was work being done on the train tracks, and so we needed to take a free shuttle bus to a more busy train station to avoid said work. This wasn’t abnormal either. In fact, I’d done it several times before without event.

Unfortunately on this day, our shuttle was late and we missed the next train putting us passengers an hour behind schedule. When I boarded the next shuttle, and realized we’d miss yet another train putting us now two hours behind schedule, I started to consider taking a cab the hour drive from somewhere in Northern New Jersey to Hoboken.

When this idea came to mind, I felt my heart start to race at the panic of being two hours late. I consciously chose to calm my thoughts. I then reminded myself it was Saturday, I had nowhere to be, and I wanted to save money. So, I came to the conclusion that getting a cab was unnecessary. I was disappointed in this realization, because I was SO TIRED and just wanted to get back to Hoboken to rest.

In this simple moment, I surrendered to the universe and accepted my fate of having to get home late putting the cab idea out of mind. Then, I disembarked the second shuttle bus to wait the hour for the next train.

As I was on the elevator to the train track with the other late passengers, a man about my age said, “Does anyone have the Uber app on their phone? I’ll pay for our ride to Hoboken. I can’t be late for work or I’ll lose my job.”

This was an ordinary moment, you see? It was a moment when most people would choose to ignore this stranger. I mean, who gets into an hour long cab ride with some strange man? Many of us would instead continue along the certain and safe path of catching the next train.

The old me would have made this choice, anyway. But the new me? The new me was conscious, and I saw the opportunity to get back faster while both saving money AND helping a fellow person out. So, I consciously chose differently.

“I have the Lyft app on my phone. We can split the cost of the ride,” I said.

“No. I’ll pay for it. Trust me you’re doing me a huge favor,” he replied.

With the free ride confirmed, I saw the universe supporting my decision. The man seemed normal enough, AND he was echoing thoughts I myself had had only a few minutes ago.

I took a chance.

Several minutes later our Lyft driver, Jean, whisked us away toward Hoboken. During the hour long ride, I watched as we became a unit. Jean laughed at the fact that Sean (the man from the elevator) and I were complete strangers taking a cab through New Jersey, and he told us about his band, his wife, and his work.

Sean, a bartender in the West Village neighborhood of NYC told us how he once talked to Lady Gaga who is best friends with a co-worker, and then described his history in bartending.

Jean was conscious about getting Sean to his train and to work on time. All of us were curious about each other. We were in it together.

We were human together.

You’ve heard me wonder here before about the point of these very short term, but intense, connections I make.

In this case, in the moment when the three of us were saying goodbye (PS Sean made his train on time!) I, again, lamented having this deeply connective moment which felt like it should last forever, end right in front of my eyes.

These moments make me emotional every time. I start to believe that surely these beings were meant to stay in my life to keep me human and connected. Then they are gone! It’s very hard on me.

This time, however, as I felt the impending loss, I also remembered that our human connection never fades, as long as we keep it alive within us. It can and should remain with us, even when the individuals who help reunite us with the connection are no longer near. This IS the point of these moments; to remember and internalize that connection to others and ourselves.

If I had decided to stay on the safe route of the train, I’d never have felt the warmth and laughter of other people experiencing life. I’d also never have those feelings to look back on when considering my own life.

In one moment I made a conscious, but different, choice which gave me a huge payoff that would extend beyond just the moment.

Now, as I reflect on this story while basking in the beauty of The Columbia River Gorge (where I’m housesitting for a dear friend) I again see that how we choose in the simple life moments, determines how we’ll make the bigger life choices.

Further, if in these simpler moments, we choose to be conscious and choose more for ourselves instead of for what we want others to think of us, we can then make the bigger life choices more confidently and more purposeful. I see it all as a practice to get us to a place where we’re confident and loving of who we are.

In the end, isn’t that what doing “self work” is all about?

Backwoods brewery flight
Cheers to that!

Insights from a Life Well-Traveled

My last day in Lisbon I had coffee with my first Lisbon Airbnb host and her daughter. Although I don’t believe I’ve mentioned them here before, they were quite instrumental in my falling in love with their city, country, and way of life.

Book lined living space
The walls of the entire flat looked like this, lined with books!

I remember sitting in our favorite neighborhood pastelaria, reflecting on how we met. I had arrived in Lisbon on a Sunday afternoon, then made my way to the Campo de Ourique neighborhood where I’d be spending my first two weeks.

I easily found the address and rang the bell. After entering I hiked up to the first floor to be greeted by a lovely woman with welcoming and comforting energy. She let me into her apartment, and asked me to sit down with her and her two daughters who were visiting for Mother’s Day.

At first, I felt like an intruder, but after several minutes in their presence I realized I was in the exact place I was supposed to be. I told them of my travels, and they each told me of themselves.

My host was a retired professor of philosophy, and each daughter had earned PhDs of their own. They were not only both highly accomplished, but come to find out, one of them had taken a turn from her life of research to open a co-working space for independents and artists. The space even included an adjoining art shop!

Art Shop in Lisbon
The Oficina Impossivel Shop

At that first meeting I marveled at their lives, but also at how they seemed to move through them with so much more ease than I ever had. That’s not to say I believe their lives and accomplishments were easy, but more that they moved through them with ease.

Over my days there I watched these three women move in and out of each other’s worlds. They stayed up late (by my definition) to have a connective, un-rushed dinner. Why weren’t they worried about getting enough sleep?

They maintained high functioning lives while sleeping in to get proper rest. Why weren’t they concerned about finishing all their tasks each day?

They even showed love and hospitality to a strange woman (NOTE: I’m referring to myself here). Shouldn’t they instead focus on conserving their own energies?

How did they do all of this without anxiety, guilt, and fear to drive their ambitions?

How could I be like them?

At that last coffee, I noticed a similar shift in myself. I recognized how I rushed around much less than when I had arrived 4 weeks prior. I reflected on this further after we said our “goodbyes for now”.

When I left our coffee date, instead of taking the quickest path back to the apartment I was now staying in, I wandered to a favorite book store to buy a book of poetry. I then decided to stroll back to the apartment without haste.

When I got back to the apartment I chuckled wondering: Who WAS this wild woman of leisure?

Statue in a park
Maybe taking in amazing art like this helped.
Gulbenkian Garden
Surely this type of view during lunch can’t hurt.
Magical looking tree
I bet you seeing magical trees like this shifted the old perspective.

So what happened to cause this shift? Know that it wasn’t as if my daily responsibilities had lessened. I still had the same amount of stuff “to do”, so why was I able to stroll without stressing about my task list?

The answer I’ve come up with is that I was able to learn from the culture around me, and to reorient my priorities. I then aligned my actions with these newly realized priorities.

Said more simply, while in Portugal I was better able to define for myself what in life really matters, and then made my daily tasks and actions line up with these priorities.

For example, having that coffee with my new friends mattered more to me then reading a business book I was trying to finish the same day. Accepting and, more importantly, truly believing in this new point of view allowed me to let my anxiety melt away so I could be present with my higher priority, my friends.

Going along with this theory, I also believe that filling my cup up with books of poetry was more important to me than completing the task of reading said business book. Thus, I could now opt for the former without regret.

Lastly, I believe I would not have adopted this practice had I not been outside the comfort zone of my home country.

By taking myself OUT of an environment which supports my old worry filled behaviors, I was able to see more clearly what actually contributes to a more fulfilling life. This instead of only seeing, and trying to mimic, how others live their lives, and hoping that meant getting it right for myself.

Ahhhhh…. the beauty of a life well-traveled.

I now feel better equipped to assess actions which fill me up versus those I do to distract myself with worry, and I have to say, this seemingly small shift in perspective has made a world of difference.

I look to continue these practices of asking myself what really matters, and aligning what I do to match those priorities. Plus, I look forward to seeing where it takes me!

Finally, I don’t believe you have to have a well-traveled life to reap these benefits.

In fact, I’m curious. Have you done something like this in your own life: travel or not? How have you gone about making yourself uncomfortable and learning to be better from it?

Let me know in the comments below!

Notes From the Lisbon Airport

Here I sit at a coffee shop in the Lisbon airport (NOTE: the airport code for Lisbon is LIS… just sayin), getting ready to fly back to the States after 6 weeks here in Europe.

Wow… I just spent 6 weeks in Europe!

In significant moments like these I want to be in a different mental and emotional space than I currently am.

I want to be in a reflective state, one where I’m deeply considering the immense amount of inspiration I’ve gathered over my time here.

I want to write clearly and concisely about all the new perspectives I’ve gained, and about how much “better” I am due to them.

I want to share romanticized scenes of European travel, and tell you how one can’t know the extent of how amazing it is unless they travel here themselves.

Sunset from a sailboat
The sun sets over the Tagus River… pretty romanticized if I do say so myself.

I can’t do any of this though, because it’s not what’s really going on inside of me.

Trust I DO have reflections, inspiration, new perspectives, and memories of the beauty that’s surrounded me. Trust too that I may even be able to share more about these moments with you in the coming months.

Ceiling detail at Chiado palace
Just some of the beauty of Lisbon.

However, what’s really going on with me right now is that I’m tired… bone tired.

I’m the kind of tired where your entire being is running solely on adrenaline; where all you can think about is how delicious it will be to lay your head on a comfy pillow, but also where you cringe at your inability to even consider how you’ll muster up the energy to make it to that next pillow.

Yeah… that tired.

I’m not just tired from traveling to 4 countries, staying in 8 different cities, and taking 5 flights all in 6 weeks (while working full time).

I’m tired because despite doing all this physical movement I’ve been going inward as well.

Allow me to explain.

I didn’t realize how much WORK working on oneself is. I thought I could just follow the steps, take risks, complete the tasks, and “whammo!” self work achieved.

What I’ve learned is that self work IS partly those things. But, in addition to all the external shifting, there is a whole world of internal shifting that is happening simultaneously below my surface.

Said more simply, self work doesn’t just take place in the active moments, but it is also happening internally as well.

For example, when doing self work I could be focusing on being present and experiencing a lovely moment in a new book shop when out of nowhere I notice anger slide over the happiness in my heart.

In this example, the emotion comes on randomly, perhaps triggered by a word or picture I glanced at. If I’m engaging in self work, it’s up to me to notice these emotional shifts, accept or resist them, then move on to the next awareness.

Now, consider this. All I described just now is only happening in just one moment, and it’s exhausting enough to imagine.

When I’m in self work mode, however, I don’t just have this one moment. I have to go through this process moment after moment after moment; as each random emotional shift occurs.

Couple that with the physical tasks of walking through the shop, being present, and enjoying my time and you’re looking at a lot of activity going on as I walk through a book shop!

Livraria almedina store front.
One of my favorite bookshops in Lisbon.

Nonetheless, I’ve chosen to do this self work, and I think it’s this choice coupled with the external travel and events which leaves me… well let’s just say I’m exhausted.

St. Antonio festival street of people
Surely I’m not tired from having this outside of my window for 4 nights straight.

Giving myself permission to recognize how tired I am, I’m taking time over the next few days and weeks to just be.

I plan to focus on resting, celebrating with friends, and reconnecting with my heart. I’m taking this shavasana to rest and allow all that I’ve learned to integrate into my being.

Time out market in Lisbon
I’m taking a time out!

So, here’s to a few days of enjoying life for what it is and not trying to make it what I think it should be.

Wish me luck!

Oh, and tell me what you think about my analysis here in the comments, please! I want to know how you do self work and integrate what you learn?!

Cheers!

A Year Later – Reflections From My First Year on the Road

This post will not be perfect. I want it to be. As the official post noting my “year living on the road” it damn well should be. But alas, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from a year living without a permanent address, it’s that nothing, and I mean nothing, is perfect.

Take the view above which I’m seated in front of while I write. It looks pretty damn perfect. When I pictured myself living and writing in Europe, this is the scene I imagined; clear skies, water views, quaint buildings… it has it all!

However, what it doesn’t show is the reality of the working class citizens who live here. Nor does it highlight any of the injustices that the disenfranchised face, nor the cracked paint I’ve hidden from view. Seeing these not-so-perfect seeming aspects of any scene would mean setting aside the desired perfection of what’s in front of us, to allow the truth to be revealed.

I suppose I’m rambling on about this because this process of setting aside my desire for perfection to allow truth to be shown is what has been my main lesson from this past year.

How have I learned this lesson? On June 2, 2018 my friend and I drove out of White Salmon, WA into the unknown. Since then I’ve seen a whole lot. To give you a better idea of what I’ve been up to, I’ve:

  • Stayed in 5 countries, 11 states, and well over 30 cities.
  • Road tripped the west coast of the U.S., the east coast of the U.S., and drove a wandering route from Albuquerque, NM to Oakland, CA.
  • House sat at 8 different homes for 15 different pets.
  • Met countless new friends.
  • Written 54 blog posts on The Lis Experiment Blog
  • Started The Lis Experiment YouTube channel and posted 19 videos so far. (NOTE: Please Subscribe!)

Yeah… I’m tired.

During this time I’ve seen tremendous beauty, experienced boundless inspiration, and created relationships I hope to grow throughout the rest of my life time.

River in rocks
Along a hike in Switzerland.

I’ve also witnessed unfathomable poverty, sat uncomfortably with the evidence of my country’s painful past, and sank into the despair of great loss.

museum exhibition information
The main exhibit at the Navajo Nation Museum

When someone goes on a journey like the one I’m lucky enough to be on, we picture it as perfect. We see them as living in exotic locations while meeting the most amazing people and only having to work a few hours a day.

We picture the perfection we desire to see.

What we don’t see are lonely moments without distraction from our demons, the frustrating times of not being able to order a coffee due to language barriers, the freak outs of trying to rationalize why the hell you’re sleeping on friends’ couches as a 37-year-old professional.

We push these truths aside.

A year ago, when I wrote the first post on this blog, Being Me Anywhere, I had no idea what I was getting into. I was certain I’d grow and learn and come out better for my efforts. I was aware I’d have to look my imperfections in the eye and not blink for the growth to take place.

What I didn’t expect was how addicted I’d become to the feeling of joy which fills my being each time I accept these imperfections as who I am. I also didn’t foresee the internal effort needed to push through the force of shame to not only be comfortable with my short comings, but to also see them as my strengths.

This has been a key factor in my journey. I doubt myself constantly, but I know now that doubt is a gift, not a curse. It propels me forward. This seeming flaw, is actually necessary for me to continue.

A year from now, I have no idea where I’ll be or who I’ll be with.

I do know I still won’t have reached perfection, though.

The funny thing is… I no longer want to.