It wasn´t until i was in my 30s that i became really comfortable with being alone. Like properly, not just “awkward-alone”, head down, wishing i was invisible, trying my best to disappear in public places, or digging my phone or book out just to feel i wasn´t by myself.
I owe my thanks to living in Norway for this one. A place where at times i (still) feel very “foreign”, and also where i found it really difficult to meet and connect with people in a way i was used to in all the other countries i´ve lived. It challenged me to my very core. But it gave me many gifts too.
At one point, I was working three jobs, as well as teaching up to 11 yoga classes a week in different locations, yet was still extremely and pathetically broke. For so long i didn´t have money for a phone or to call home to connect with friends and family, or to go out and socialise or invite people over to hang and do all the things that “normal” people did. It hurt because some assumed i was antisocial and not interested in immersing myself in the things they did, in the way they did them, but i was just trying to make ends meet. I had no access to support, not for want of trying, and the struggle was all-consuming and difficult to explain to people - the concept of “being broke” in Norway is very different compared to the UK. At the darkest point, i would walk around outside of supermarkets in the hope of finding 1nok pieces on the floor (a penny) so i could put some money together to eat. It was...real.
Reconnecting with my own voice.
But i wanted to keep trying to make it work. Trying to adjust to the customs and culture. Trying to still be myself and share what i felt was authentic in my yoga sessions, and also to offer access to those who really connected with it (thank goodness for them). However, on that journey i met (and still meet) a lot of resistance, abuses of power, ridicule, rejection and hate speech.
I wasn´t easily digestible apparently, or able to fit into a neat box that could be understood through their lens, in this particular case, “behaving more Norwegian” and/or “like all other yoga teachers”, whatever that means......
But once I got past that really awkward and often painful feeling: the searing slice of rejection and never being able to be what so many people wanted me to be, I began to really (really) enjoy and embrace being alone! I found it to be a relief and a precious opportunity that gave me so many valuable insights - observing who i really was, when it came to the crunch.
Really giving myself space to let myself process what was happening. To reconnect with my own voice rather than the many other voices that had thoughts about what they thought i should be.....But also space to be alone to sit with the uncomfortable feelings that came up. The doubt. The painful stuff. The noise. It was an opportunity to find an anchor. To make one for myself. That stillness, that safe space allowed me to be, and to express, and to deepen and to explore all facets of myself without outside judgement. That space was a place where i could make my own rules and listen to my own inner voice, rather than living my life according to the noise of other people’s.
Enjoy your own company.
Often in society we tend to be subject to a lot of pigeonholes. Labels and expectations about who we are by what we “do” for a living, how we look, activities we enjoy and so on. I feel for many people, it´s a safe cloak that gives meaning or quite often (and sadly) an opportunity to feel significant. I say sadly because it´s a shame to be dependent on validation from someone else in order to see your worth. And also a shame when that´s used to project power onto others in hope that some kind of pompous labelling will mean you are somehow above them. (sidenote: I´m remembering an episode from the new series of Black Mirror here)
To be alone challenges us to accept ourselves in the state we are in. Sometimes that can be a painful process. But if we can get past the external noise, the negative and critical demon in our heads, the agonising memories or the fuzz of anxiety in the chest, it can be a truly life changing process. That´s not to say I don´t have that little wretch lurking in my head telling me negative things now and again, but I can stand up for myself more. Which I think is something so many of us struggle with, especially if we are used to accommodating more for others, or have not had the privilege of learning to love ourselves.
See? Some of us just flinched at that mere phrase, right? Love yourself. (good enough for Justin babes, good enough for me - lolz).
The point is, starting with yourself first is the catalyst for anything great. By making time, prioritising ourselves and listening to ourselves beyond the “noise” of everything else, it can deepen our relationship to ourselves and enables us to trust more. On every level.
Being alone gives us a chance to reflect on how we´re doing. And to get clear.
What´s working, or not.
What we might need more or less of.
Whether we´re being an arsehole, or if we´re around too many arseholes.
A chance to create or rest, without comparison or justification.
To make ourselves happy. Or at least, content by acceptance of what is!
Coincidently (and strangely), i found being alone is a great way to meet people. Those lone walks of discovery (in many ways) led me to being in the right places that i needed to be, and fully present. Not being able to afford a phone meant i had to be decisive and clear and intentional about where i spent my time - plus it meant a lot less distraction and subsequent temptation to be somewhere else.
No other place to be.
I´m sure that´s how i eventually met some of the dearest people i know in Norway. Those good quality folks. And those are the people i travel back to Norway to see, who support my projects either in person or virtually (probably by reading this blog post!), and who allow me to be me. (Thank you, you lot!)
Trust your guts.
Now i relish that sweet time and space in my day to restore. Even if it´s five minutes at the start of the day. To just show up. To know myself before outside influences start to tug me this way and that. It doesn´t mean my struggles don´t exist. Or that i´m not still broke - but it means i can listen deeper to the direction that calls me.
I´m not talking here about hiding away from the world – or going away for a month on a silent retreat. As dreamy(ish) as those things sound, for most of us it´s completely unaccessible - this is something different - rather, creating space for a compassionate relationship with you, and all your bits. To listen. And to practice trusting yourself and your guts. The more you practice, the more you´ll find clarity and truth in everything you do and be able to notice when your time is tied up in things that don´t sit well or that feel off. And hopefully it will give you the reassurance to create your life in a way that feels truthful and authentic.
Take yourself on a date!
If you find it difficult to spend some time with yourself, i recommend easing into things and to try taking yourself on a date. indoors or outdoors, as you are, whatever that might be, but be gentle and see if you enjoy it.
It´s a habit i´ve brought back with me to the uk - Ketil wrote about his here.
Also, here´s an article you might find useful if you´re working on learning how to enjoy being alone.
Enjoy your self (sorry!)