Solo Thoughts 12: Do You Have A Watcher?

SOLO 192 | Personal Watcher


Peter McGraw speaks to you directly in this Solo Thoughts episode about the need to develop connections beyond traditional romantic relationships. In particular, he asks if you have someone to call in the middle of the night if you are sick or afraid, and if you don’t, it is essential to develop new friendships or invigorate old ones. Finally, there is a bit of bonus material at the end about an experiment that Peter has been doing called “Monastic Mornings.”

Listen to Episode #196 here


Solo Thoughts 12: Do You Have A Watcher?

Do you have a watcher? Frequent readers know that every so often, I like to tape an episode where I talk directly to you, the reader. In this episode, I want to discuss community, generally, and friendship specifically. As frequent readers also know, I’ve been banging the drum about the immense value of developing meaningful connections independent of the relationship escalator. Study after study makes it abundantly clear having strong ties to others provides extraordinary benefits.

People who are socially connected experience less anxiety and sadness and have better health outcomes and overall life satisfaction. Quality matters over quantity but you still need enough diversity and connections that you can withstand the loss of a friendship, romantic, or familial relationship. Plus, a diverse community to draw on allows you to best match your needs and desires with the person you need to lean on. I have some friends who might go to for relationship advice and others for professional advice in the same way that I have some friends I go hiking with and others I do writing retreats with.

This episode is another call to action to assess your friendships, especially your deep and remarkable friendships, and develop new ones or reinvigorate old ones. With that in mind, let’s talk again about what makes a remarkable friend. I suggest that a remarkable friend can be defined by three essential qualities.

First, the person brings value to your life and vice versa. This encompasses affection, appeal, and shared interests, ensuring that both people are better off with the other person in their life. For example, my friend Julie and I enjoy going on long hikes together. She makes the hike more enjoyable and interesting. We find it a great way to stay connected without distraction. I like hiking solo but adding Julie to the hike enhances the experience.

Second, a remarkable friend is reliable and trustworthy, consistently showing up when they say they will. Importantly, they can keep a secret. My friend Mark knows the good, bad, and ugly of my life. He knows everything. Not only do I trust him to keep our conversations in confidence but I don’t feel judged by him for my weaknesses and failures, which allows me to have someone to share my embarrassing elements. As a result, I can ask him what his advice would be and he can give me that advice while being fully informed of who I am.

Lastly, a remarkable friend practices compersion, also known as anti-jealousy. Remarkable friends celebrate your successes. They’re not jealous when you get a raise or have a wonderful vacation, for example. Their lives are enhanced when your life is good. They also commiserate with your failures. They suffer when you lose your job or have a terrible breakup.

My friend Darwin is the most anti-jealous person I know. He’s enlivened by my successes and works hard to help me when I fail. I strive to do the same for him. For both singles and non-singles, a diverse support network is crucial in fulfilling needs and desires. Having more than one person reduces the pressure on any one person to be everything. For example, you might have different friends for fun, to get advice from, or to commiserate with during difficult times.

Julie loves to go hiking but she’s not interested in game night. I have other friends for that, like Brandon and Christina, who you may know from the show. Despite its great importance, friendship in the United States is facing a concerning decline. Since 1990, the percentage of women with 6 or more close friends has decreased from 41% to 24%. The percentage of women with no close friends has increased from 3% to 10%.

The pattern is bad for men, too. In 1990, 55% of men reported having at least 6 close friends and that number has fallen to 27%. The percentage of men with no close friends has also increased from 3% to 15%. Having no close friends is correlated with higher risks of death from despair. Death from despair is a term used to characterize deaths from drug overdoses, alcohol poisoning, and suicide. These types of deaths have been increasing over the past few decades, especially among middle-aged White men without a college degree in the United States.

Relatedly, there is research that asks people if they have someone to call in the middle of the night if they are sick or afraid. The research finds that people who can’t answer that question affirmatively have lower health outcomes and well-being than those who can. The afraid part is especially heartbreaking to me. Think of how isolating that is. This finding is often put forth as a case for marriage. Get married, and you can have someone in the house with you. Even in the same bed, you can call when you’re sick or afraid. It’s convenient to support right there.

As you, the frequent reader knows that marriage is not right for everyone. Plus, that’s not a great reason to get married in the first place. Why did I call this episode Do You Have a Watcher? I’ve been trying to get a handle on my anxieties, especially those anxieties that occur in the middle of the night, waking up and ruminating, being overly vigilant and concerned, and having trouble falling back asleep.

I’ve been doing a series of therapeutic mushroom trips. I do them alone solo. I’m not suggesting that you do this but after years of self-reflection, journaling, and hundreds of hours of therapy, I’m finding it to be a useful endeavor to get me across the finish line. I’m taping this out in the Joshua Tree Desert. I’m back at the Hi-Fi Homestead for a few days to practice a monastic life.

In particular, I’m doing something called monastic mornings. If you’re curious about it, I’ve taped some bonus material and placed it at the end of this episode. Stay tuned after I conclude if you’re curious to know more. In any case, I want to share an insight I had from a psilocybin journey where I realized I don’t need to be so anxious in the middle of the night because I have a watcher.

I believe that we can learn from the lifestyles of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Their world was different than ours. It’s worse in some ways. For example, it is a lot more boring and dangerous but better in other ways. It was much healthier. The lifestyle involved eating whole foods, spending time outdoors, and walking a lot.

The insight about having a watcher came to me after learning a hypothesis that certain members of ancient hunter-gatherer societies may have stayed awake during the night as guards or watchers to protect the tribe. There’s some anecdotal and theoretical support for it. The notion is that in our evolutionary past, it might have been beneficial for some members of the group to be awake at different times to guard against potential threats.

After all, hunter-gatherer societies were constantly at risk of attack from wild animals or perhaps even other tribes. One study published in 2017 looked at three modern hunter-gatherer groups, the Hadza of Tanzania, the Ju/’hoansi of Namibia, and the Tsimané of Bolivia. The study found that those groups rarely had all members sleeping at the same time, which suggests that there was often someone awake as a lookout.

There are many reasons for night owls and early birds so a genetic connection between this behavior and modern phenomena and in ancient tribes is speculative. The trait could be inherited but more research needs to be done. At any rate, during this mushroom trip, as I was working through why I have anxiety in the middle of the night, I had two realizations. The first is that I’m well-equipped to handle the situations I’m ruminating over.

I concluded that it’s simply not rational for me to be anxious about these topics, especially at that time of day. The other, and this was the important one, is that I have a watcher. Metaphorically so, and perhaps even literally. His name is Darwyn. I mentioned him and you may know him from the I Love You, Man episode.

My friends are often a prominent part of these trips, especially Mark and Darwyn. I think a lot about them, feel a strong sense of brotherhood with them, and have insights related to what is going on in their life. I will often call them afterward and share my insights. Darwyn is the only person whom I’ve memorized his phone number. He told me to. He said, “You should remember my phone number in case of an emergency.”

I joke that he’s the person I would call if I found myself in a Turkish prison. He’s smart, tenacious, and the kind of person who would instantly be on a plane with a bag full of money. I wrote about him in my forthcoming book, where I addressed the difference between coordination and compromise. I alluded to it above with Julie. Julie and I coordinate. She and I like to hike but we don’t compromise and have her come to game night because she doesn’t like game night. I have other friends for that.

Darwyn and I do a lot of coordinating because we’re on many different schedules. He’s the night owl and I’m an early bird. Oftentimes, he goes to bed a few hours before I get up. We used to go to the gym together to work out and talk. Sometimes, these workouts and gossip sessions would be more than two hours long but we stopped doing that because he wanted to go to the gym at 8:00 PM, which was way too late for me, and I wanted to go at 11:00 AM way too early for him.

We work around our schedules to meet, talk, and do other things when it both works for us, and there lies the insight. He’s awake when I’m anxiously ruminating in the middle of the night. I realized I didn’t have to worry because if I was sick or afraid, I could pick up the phone and he would answer. That brought me great peace. I’ve noticed that my anxiety is much more subdued. What if you’re one of those poor souls who don’t have someone to call in the middle of the night?

I suggest it’s time to invest in friendships. This is not easy but here are some tips to consider. Start by being a remarkable friend yourself. Offer others the compassion, integrity, humor, and support you want to receive. Practice compersion by celebrating your friend’s successes and offering help when your friends are suffering, even if it’s just offering to listen. Make an effort to revive old friendships. There is a reason you were connected before. Reach out to those formerly close friends with openness about who you are both now.

Look for some common ground while acknowledging change. Repair rifts in relationships that still have hope. Say yes more often to social invitations, even if it’s a brief appearance to broaden your circle. Don’t be afraid to invite someone to go to coffee or take a walk. You can host fun low-pressure gatherings that bring people together to mingle. I love my game nights as a way to bring diverse friends together and have fun.

Look out for groups or clubs based on your interests. It’ll give you a chance to meet potential new friends who have those same interests. Engage in activities that energize you. Be on the lookout for people you click with and don’t be afraid to offer, “Let’s meet for coffee sometime. We have a lot in common.” Volunteer with organizations you care about. You’ll meet people who share your values, and as a result, you can expand your community.

These are just a few ways to do it but recognize that you’re going to have to be vulnerable. You’re going to have to put yourself out there and do a little bit of work. Finally, don’t be afraid to offer to be the person someone can call in the middle of the night. Conversely, if you need to, ask someone if they can do it for you. In closing, we’ve covered a lot of ground about the importance of friendship and community more generally. This is essential for a remarkable life, even for you lone wolves.

The decline in close companionship for decades is concerning but there are steps we can take to nurture new friendships and rekindle old ones. Don’t be afraid, pick up the phone, and call that old friend. Make an effort to be present and engage with your existing friends. Say yes to more social invitations. Join those groups that align with your interests.

Most importantly, focus on being the remarkable friend you hope to have, reliable, supportive, and sincerely celebrating the successes of others. We all need a sense of belonging and community. I wish you luck with this. I’m cheering you on in this journey. Thank you for reading. Stick around if you want some bonus material about my monastic mornings. Cheers.

Welcome back for some bonus material. I’m glad you stuck around. I’m at the Hi-Fi Homestead in Joshua Tree. This is a special place for me. It’s a place for me to read, write, reflect, and go on long walks. It’s magical. It’s one that has helped change the course of my life. My sister was here with her partner and I got to show them around, which was wonderful. I’m here alone trying something new.

Oftentimes, during my mushroom trips, I have an insight into how complicated our lives have become, especially how distracting the digital world can be. Social media, web surfing, dating apps, Netflix, Amazon, Prime, and even podcasts are all vying for our attention. I’ve been thinking about how useful it is for me to simplify my life. Get a little more sun, sleep a little longer, walk barefoot in the grass, sprint, grate more on paper, read actual books, disconnect, and listen to music on the record player rather than my phone.

I got this idea for the trip to Joshua Tree. It’s something I’ve been calling my monastic mornings, where I start the day with a variety of activities rather than jumping right into some coffee and creative work. It’s all part of an experiment I’m conducting as I’m considering a new lifestyle. One that I discuss in Solo Thoughts 11: Exploring Goals, Wants, Auditions, and a Call to Surrender.

Each day that I’m here, I wake up without an alarm, drink some water, and start this series. Here it is. The first thing I do is walk around the property in bare feet, which has rocks and sand. I’ll be honest, it’s not very comfortable. It’s a bit painful. Along the way, I say hello to the bushes and touch them. There are two big trees on the property and I give the trees a hug. Unbeknownst to me, this has a term. It’s called earthing.

I sit and do some Wim Hof breathing. It’s a set of 30 full inhales and exhales followed by a series of inhales and exhales in which I hold my breath. You can look up anywhere about Wim Hof breathing. I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about this particular style but the point is doing a dedicated breathing practice. I find it to be rather energizing and a little bit difficult. I stretch. I do some yoga and sun salutations. The sun here is already in the sky and shining down on me and warming me up.

I do some hot and cold alternatives. There’s an outdoor shower. I put it on cold. I sit under it for about 30 seconds or more, turn it off, head to the hot tub, and do a hot plunge at 104 degrees for about a minute. Back to the shower, back to the hot tub, and back to the shower. I dry myself off, head inside, and do some journaling. As part of that journaling, I write three things that I’m grateful for.

One of the things that I wrote about was I had a spectacular night’s sleep. I’ve also so far, with my monastic mornings, written about how wonderful it was to see my sister and get to show her Joshua Tree. This place has been so important for me. I do some more journaling more generally and then I finish my monastic morning with a bit of reading, all that before cracking open my computer or doing anything digital.

A little bit later, I break my fast. I have breakfast. One of the challenges that I’m going to do out here is do my first 24-hour fast. A hunter-gatherer has a diverse, healthy diet but they’d often go long periods not eating, something that we don’t need to do in modernity. The body can handle that. As Nassim Taleb says, “Lions don’t eat in order to hunt. They hunt in order to eat.”

I’ve been doing an intermittent fast somewhere between 14 and 16 hours. I find that my body has responded well to it. More importantly, I find that my mind has responded well to it. I’ve learned that I don’t need to be fixated on my next meal. It’s okay to be a little bit hungry. Allegedly, a 24-hour fast is good for letting your body heal but the most important element will be a psychological benefit, a challenge knowing that I can choose not to eat and it’ll be okay.

I’m not prescribing any of these activities, especially fasting. It’s not for everyone but it’s a worthwhile consideration to see how life would be if you decide to live it a little bit differently. What kinds of things might work for you physically or psychologically that might be new? Thanks for reading this bonus material. What do you think? Tell me as a member of the SOLO community. Sign up at PeterMcGraw.org/Solo. Cheers.


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