What does loneliness teach me?
The concept of spending 24 hours alone, in the woods, at age 11, with nothing but my tent, water, clothing and a journal, never crossed my mind as odd. Then again, I was homeschooled and, thankfully, unaware of what was socially “acceptable” at the time. I am exaggerating slightly when I say alone, but as J.R.R. Tolkien writes “Good stories deserve a little embellishment”. There were several other young women scattered throughout the forest as well as mentors to keep an eye on us. But, in my young mind, it was the loneliest I had ever been.
Perhaps it was the silence surrounding me, or the chattering within my head, but I palpably remember feeling that debilitating and completely honest sense of loneliness for the first time. Although we have family, friends, loved ones and strangers, when it comes down to it, you come into and exit this world all by yourself. You are truly flying solo.
Maybe my fascination with time spent alone began then. Even though I don’t consider myself an introvert, I seem to continuously, either consciously or subconsciously, create situations for myself to fully experience this feeling. At 19 I left to backpack solo around the world for an undetermined amount of time. While waiting to board my flight, it struck me that this was my own journey into the world but more subtly, into understanding myself and the way I would cope with solitude in unfamiliar cultures.
Usually, isolation is not something we strive to create in life. Instead, we surround ourselves with people, distractions, or work to forgo that uncomfortable tingling suspicion that you are, ultimately, alone. Generally, it strikes me when I least expect: in a crowded market in Thailand, a beach in Cambodia, a subway in Milan, a music festival in Scotland or a quiet hotel in Iceland but as it becomes a familiar emotion, I am able to see it from a different angle.
Sometimes the sensation is still crippling but occasionally I am able to use it as an expedition into my own psyche. Loneliness exposes parts of myself that remain hidden otherwise. It brings out a more primal and instinct-driven persona that drives home the knowledge that I am much more complex than I sometimes imagine. Isn’t it strange that you can continuously discover new sides of yourself? How do you set the stage to make these discoveries? What judgements do you have about yourself that have been proven wrong or have been changed over the years and in what situations did you discovered them in?
Although I’m comfortable in my own skin, I never viewed myself as self confident. When going to a friend’s house, I used to have my little sister ring the doorbell and I’d stand behind her. A huge part of my decision to buy a one way ticket to New Zealand was to overcome this fear. I wanted to use loneliness as a way to more deeply understand myself and become comfortable being who I am. Eventually, I no longer cared about what judgments I thought others had about me. Based on how much growth comes from lonely times, I know I will continue to seek out the discomfort of solitude.
I just finished listening to a great Tim Ferris interview with Nicolas McCarthy, a one handed pianist. Talk about some serious perseverance and dedication. This was my favorite pieces of his I heard:
Chirashi, in Japanese, means scattered, and a chirashi bowl is basically rice covered in various pieces of sashimi. This was my second time creating one and I quickly snapped a photo before sending it out to a table. I love the freedom within the design of Japanese food. Everything from the way you slice the fish to the plating is a creative process.
Time: 3 hours prep
Plating time: 6 minutes