I’ve been alone in the past year and just came home from one year of volunteering in Cambodia.
Long ago, I thought it would be dreadful being alone. But when I lived in Cambodia, I had a roller coaster of emotions, until I learned to love it. Now the reality of losing my solitude is starting to sink in. And I hope that I would have the privilege of living alone again. But now let me share with you some things I’ve learned, not necessarily things I did on a daily basis, but the things I find ideal in living alone. The following is not and never was my routine, but was and still is my aspiration. On good days I do most of them. But on ordinary days I simply want to have some sense of things. It’s not a prescription either, but my own way of seeing meaning in a life in solitude. This is about me. You might have a totally different way of dealing with being on your own. And whatever is your way, if it works, then that is good. I call this the art of being alone.
In the wee hours of the morning, just as sleep is vacillating if to leave your eyes or not, and before you move an inch from your bed, say thanks. Give thanks for everyone and everything in your life, the good, the bad, the ugly. Give equal thanks for the pleasure and the pain; for all yesterdays and today; for the past and for what is possible. Give thanks for what you have and will have; for what you desire but don’t have; and what you will never have. Give thanks for being able to breathe, for your bed, for your body able to breath and lie down on your bed; and your capacity to get up anytime you want. Gratitude is a nourishment to the soul. Make it your first meal of the day.
Then go to the bathroom, empty your bladder and clean your tongue. Drink a cup of water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, or lemon water with salt. Then exercise. Ten minutes of exercise to targeted areas. No need to sweat profusely or run out of breath. Remember the day is just about to start, you don’t want to lose energy for the rest of the day. You can do that in the evening and help you get a good night’s sleep. Prepare a hearty vegan breakfast. Starting your day with compassionate food sets you up ready for the challenges of the day.
Go through your day peacefully with your work and colleagues, and the occasional distraction of other things seeking your attention. Work could be life-saving, not just because it provides you egg-free bread and vegan butter, but because it can be your solace. Without work, it is hard to find life’s meaning. This is specially true if your work is your passion, which it should be. This should never be compromised. To be in a job that you don’t love is to give yourself a protracted death sentence. Your soul will slowly dry up, your days are eventually eaten away. So find a job that ignites your soul, and it wouldn’t matter if you earn big money or little, because the spiritual return is always abundant.
Then go home. Whip up a meal that you deserve. Home alone is like a blank canvas full of possibilities. You could do some more work, or at least read some work documents or reply to emails. But work is no longer priority at this time of the day. It is your “me time” so use use it well. You could relax and be idle. But why be idle when there are just too many things to do? There is social media for climate and vegan advocacy, with so many messages to impart and so many people to reach. Animals are dying in thousands by the minute and with every moment you spend spreading veganism and speaking out on animal rights, somewhere out there, an animal is being saved. With that most important bit done (which in truth is never done, as animal activism is pervasive is a vegan’s life, you won’t even know when it starts and ends) you could do other hobbies. There is music on Spotify, several hours to enjoy it, and certain moods to choose from. Along with your favorite artist, you could sing your heart out or dance without being judged. Call it exercise if you wish. You could choose a language to learn, and spend 30 minutes practicing writing and improving your vocabulary. There are movies to watch and e-books to read. Family and friends to call or chat with. There are hours to spend day dreaming, until it’s time to sleep.
On weekends, the house calls for cleaning, the laundry waits for washing, and the fridge needs replenishing. House chores need not be humdrum. Sometimes, it is when you are doing the most mundane things that deep realizations come. So welcome the chores and do them with cheer. Weekends are blessings. It provides pause and slows the steady and sometimes frantic rhythm of the work week. But there is also danger in weekends. Too much time available might invite introspection. There is a risk to end up mulling over the past and being anxious about the future. You might find yourself crying over things, opportunities, and people you lost. But then again you might find that grace is everywhere and can be had anytime.
Sleep alone. Intimacy is often overrated. While it’s precious to have somebody to hold if you do have somebody, an army of pillows also works when there is no one. Crisp, clean sheets and fluffy pillows could make a bed a piece of heaven. All gadgets off and lights dimmed, and a water bottle by your bedside, assure of a good night sleep.
Dinner with friends or going some place new? These are possible but not required and can be done once in a while. Depending too much on the outside to cope with being alone is simply escaping from the fact. You will find that if you begin to enjoy being alone, being with others is simply more fun. You are grateful but you don’t seek it, and without it you are still fine.
Solitude is excellent if it is a choice. But if your circumstance dictates that you need or have to be on your own, you could also choose to be happy as you are. Because while you need people in your life and their presence enrich you beyond measure, the biggest realization you will find is that all you ever needed is already there with you, inside.
So that’s the art of bring alone. But I’ll let you in on a secret. When I was alone in Cambodia, I had to go through a most difficult time. Eventually, I overcame it. I’m still here and I’m still alive, living in gratitude and fighting to be happy each day. I’m grateful to my family and friends who stood in a distance, ready to provide support when I need them, yet allowing me my space of solitude and healing.
Not everybody has the precious privilege of being alone. Even personal space is rare and often to be fought for. So I value my personal time and space. Solitude, thank you for all the lessons you taught me.