71. Embracing Solitude

If you are at first lonely, be patient. If you’ve not been alone much, or if when you were, you weren’t okay with it, then just wait. You’ll find it’s fine to be alone once you’re embracing it. – How to be alone, Tanya Davis

I came across this poignant video about being okay with being alone and something inside me clicked.

We live in a society that treats solitude like a plague, something to desperately keep away from, and whosoever experiencing it as pitiful and sad. We glamourise extroversion and sociability to the extent that it doesn’t seem to matter if our relationships are superficial or disconnected.

Tell me, have you been with a group of friends but still feel so terribly alone?

It’s a disease, this constant need to be around people regardless of level of connection. We’ve failed to see that there is beauty in being alone. It is healthy to be able to be still and embrace our own company.

That is one of the lessons I am opening myself to while I’m on this journey.

You see, I have always taken pride in my independence. I learnt from a young age that I need to take control, grab life with my own hands and do what I believe in. Whatever happens in my life, I know I’ve done my best to put it into motion and the rest is up to His will.

As I grew older, I began developing healthy relationships with my brothers and parents, my partner and my (best/good)friends. I’m not a needy daughter or girlfriend – I pretty much can do my own thing. I love having ‘me-time’ to recharge and get in touch with myself. I have no qualms with going for meals and movies alone.

But I’ve realised now that I’ve never been truly independent nor comfortable with solitude.

In Singapore, besides school, I’d schedule tuition(s) every weekday and have the weekends to run errands or go on dates. I’d have extra-curricular projects to deal with or (girl)friends to meet-up for catch-up sessions. Even when I’m having ‘me-time’, I’m always on my phone – going through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I always made sure that I’m busy with something. Without realising it, while I was happy that I was not dependent on my relationships, I was dependent on these things to make me feel worthy.

I’d only realised that while here in Manchester.

There is only so much I need do here on a daily basis that requires social interaction – going to class, doing readings and going for meals in the dining hall. Once in a while, I’d hang out in the hallway or common room with the other students staying in my block. When a common free time can be found sporadically, I’d go out to meet some of the Malaysian/Singaporean friends I’ve made here, mostly to go for Islamic Society talks, go for meals or do grocery shopping together.

Other than that, I’m pretty much all by myself in a small space, with nothing much to do.

I got pretty restless at first. I felt I was wasting my time so I started finding things to do. Plan for my Easter break trip, rearrange my clothes, borrowed random books that I never seem to complete, facebook stalk people, watch tv shows online…

After a while I realised I was just trying to fill up my time, nevermind if it’s with things that are significant or otherwise. I was constantly seeking ways to be around people or keep my mind busy and away from the fact that I’m in my room alone. Even when I’m exploring places alone, there’s a part of me that’s doing it just so that I can be surrounded with people. It took a lot from me to convince myself to stop, breathe and take a step back.

I began reading articles written by people who had the same realisation as I had. I read their journeys to self-discovery and the immense step in the positive direction they’ve made. I wanted to do the same.

I knew that embracing solitude truly is a lesson that needs to unfold gradually. It’s not going to happen overnight, tough luck.

Baby steps.

First thing I did was to drag myself out of my room today and challenged myself. Trust me, I was perfectly content with the idea of staying in all day and watching the whole season of Modern Family (in my defense, it’s a great show) but the weather was great and I knew I needed to start this process sometime and somehow.

I headed to the city center but instead of taking the direct bus from the nearest bus-stop, I walked to campus. I then took the free shuttle bus that runs within the campus and alighted at the North Campus (Uni of Manchester is divided into North and South Campus). From the North Campus,the city center was a short walk away.

I took this route primarily because of two reasons:
1) The walk from North Campus to the city centre has low human traffic at that hour but is relatively safe since it’s in the business district.
2) Going to the city centre this way is free.
(hahaha call me cheapskate or whatever but public transportation here is expensive! The bus ride from where I stay to the city center’s bus interchange costs £1.80, which is roughly $3.60! I can take the bus from Woodlands to Tampines for a third of that! But I’ve digressed…)

My challenge to myself was to truly be alone and feel comfortable with it.

This meant that while walking, I was consciously focusing inwards and not outwards at the people around me, trying to find some form of connection with them. I started tuning into my own thoughts, which was difficult at first. Yet after a while, I began to feel comfortable with just the thoughts in my head (which are pretty random and crazy at times but also silent for some moments). Of course, I was still being careful all the while.

After a good ten-ish minutes of that, I relaxed for a bit and, surprise surprise, the first things I noticed around me weren’t people.

Mashaallah, I felt so liberated. The mere act of tuning out the outside world, listening to my thoughts and learning to be comfortable with silence in my head made me realise how long I’ve abandoned my inner self for the company of others. I’ve been focusing on the superficial instead of looking for what really matters.

The world is such a vast place; the individual self such a complex mass of contradictions. Society has made it seem that all that matters is your social life but not your individual selves. I’d say one of the best things anybody can do is to start having a healthy relationship with themselves. Start being comfortable with being alone, with the crazy voices in your head and the silence too.

Like I said, it’s not going to be easy. It’ll take time. It’ll take constant practice. It’ll be uncomfortable.

But trust me, it’ll be worth it.

I’ve only just taken the first step but I give my word that I will keep at it. That beautiful sense of clarity and liberation I had earlier is going to be my drive. I have the next six months here to really get the hang of it, inshaallah.

Here’s to finally embracing solitude!

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