In the moments when you are alone with yourself, in between the work, the family, the friends, the errands, the phone calls, the texts, the lists, the grocery shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, the organizing, the packing, the exhaustion, how often do you still look for something to do? We seem to be pre programmed to keep busy and it is almost automatic to reach for our phones or chat to the person next to us, essentially meaning we are never really alone.
When last have you sat in silence, embraced silence for what it is, perhaps even allowed yourself to be liberated by the silence, by the simple act of being alone and removing the chaos momentarily. Our lives are phenomenally busy occupied with people, family, busy malls, crowded office spaces, bustling school parking lots. Everywhere we go, we bump into someone and engage in conversation or chit-chat. We have interact always, put ourselves out there always. We experience silence or being alone with extreme discomfort, looking around, feeling self-conscious about what someone might think about you being alone. I often do solo shopping expeditions and have a coffee or a bite to eat on my own. I too feel slightly self-conscious but I do it often enough that the uncomfortable feeling passes quite quickly. I enjoy watching the people or I would have my trusty companion – my book or my phone – which saves the day by occupying me when it gets overwhelming, all the people watching you being alone, thinking you’re lonely – ooh – scary.
But then this got me thinking when are we ever truly alone? How do we really get to know ourselves if we are never alone with ourselves. What do we truly know about ourselves. How much do we hide and shield from the people that surround us? What are all the things we’re embarrassed about even with ourselves.
How much of our identity is defined by our online profiles or what people think about us, or rather what we want people to think about us. Where is the authenticity in our relationships if we never allow each other the space and the freedom to be seen for we are.
In an attempt to rectify this I have embraced silence and the art of being alone in small ways. One, I am practising using the opportunity offered by my religious beliefs by embracing my Salah (prayer) times for alone time. Two, might sound a little crazy but I am using my commute to work as alone time. No talk radio in the background, no opportunity to look at my phone, just the opportunity to have little conversations with myself in my car. Spoiler alert – I have always been a little crazy in that I do talk to myself. I’m sure we all have done this. Pep talk in the mirror, anyone, even Joey’s “How you doin’ ” when we like what we see in the mirror 😉
We have attached the feeling of loneliness to all time spent alone. We are so used to and consumed with the thought of NOT being alone, that, being alone is perceived as negative. However, it is well-known that ‘alone time’ is a valuable pursuit to engage in. Often couples, siblings or friends might want some alone time to reconnect, again this is often done in pairs. This act of alone time can also be cathartic to oneself when done alone. The negative connotation stems from things like being alone implies no one wanted to accompany you, or that you have no one? We do not have to conform to societal norms. Research and studies have shown that there really is no normal, there is only perspective. What normal is, is different for you and for me, a prime example is wearing a headscarf or hijab, this is pretty normal for me, however, for you it might be weird or perceived as restrictive?
Often in prayer, I use the time to connect with my Creator and in this there is a different sense of being alone. In Islam this prayer time should be embraced as an opportunity to connect spiritually. This is a daily activity five times a day. Seems like plenty of alone time, yes. No, you will find that a lot of people struggle to slow their racing minds with their busy lives and to do lists, meaning that the prayers are often clouded by our everyday thoughts and tasks. If we still ourselves and instill more peace and some quiet, we might find the process of slowing down more achievable, and the spiritual connection we seek might also be more attainable. We as human beings have found tremendous value in this. Spirituality or soul-searching, finding ourselves are common themes that have stood the test of time. Humans are constantly searching for our purpose and reason for being. Other religions also practice this, for example the act of meditation in Buddhism or the popular Hindu discipline of yoga, widely practised for health and relaxation. The commonality in the practice is often missed because we continually strive to highlight our differences rather than embrace our similarities.
It is often said that changing the world starts with ourselves. But how can we change what we don’t know? So I would suggest we all take some time to get to know ourselves a little better by truly embracing our true selves and maybe trying to find some quality time with numero uno, like think desert island, maybe not to the extent of Tom Hanks in Castaway, but just enough to learn something, accept something, give up something… only you know about.