A sanctuary called solitude

Finding a patch of sunflowers whilst taking a long walk through the fields near my residence in Naypyidaw, Myanmar

I recall a former colleague once expressing his love for watching movies in the cinema alone. At the time, as an outgoing person, I could not understand the idea. Today, however, if there were a movie that begged my attention, I would have no qualms doing the same.

Come to think of it, these days, I do not mind doing many other things on my own, from eating out and travelling to attending parties and ripping up an empty dancefloor (multitudes of witnesses will testify to this).

The act of being by myself is one that I have learned to appreciate with experience and age. Living in the middle of an isolated patch of grassland in Myanmar, working as a newscaster in late 2010, posed the sudden unfamiliar challenge of having to learn to deal with myself as my only company.

I took long walks, spoke to myself and danced around in my underwear. I became my own best friend, and sometimes my own worst enemy. I battled with bouts of negative thoughts, feeling homesick and wishing I had someone to share jokes and hugs with.

What struck me when I returned to Malaysia was that after all the necessary catching-up sessions, instead of craving to be constantly surrounded by loved ones, I fell back into the tradition of self-amusement. I realised that there is a huge difference between loneliness and solitude, and getting acquainted with both in Myanmar, I was ready to embrace more of the latter as a newly emotionally independent person.

As social creatures by nature, solitude is not something people go out of their ways to seek. We have been conditioned to believe that having a partner is a sign of fulfilment.

I recall a time when I was single for two years. “Why are you single?”, strangers would usually ask, hinting at my eligibility. It’s funny. When someone is in a relationship, you never hear people ask, “Why are you attached?”.

As a commuter on public transport, I frequently see how I am surrounded yet completely ignored; those around me immersed in their text messaging, games, videos or social media accounts. We seem to be honouring the luxury of space and time by doing all we can to not be in it.

I, however, see the ability to embrace solitude as a many-splendoured thing. I see it as a measure of how well my life is going and how comfortable I am with my inner self. If I am alone with my thoughts and they leave me feeling sad, angry, worrisome or remorseful, then I see that as a need to attend to the source of those feelings, or change the way I perceive things.

It enhances my accountability, putting myself in charge of planning the way my day pans out, being the judge of my own mistakes and enjoying the flow of spontaneity.

Most importantly, solitude allows me to daydream, which, in an over-stimulated generation, seems to be one of the most underrated pastimes. It allows me to reminisce on the past, weigh my decisions for the future, and set my goals on fire.

I spent three hours in queue at a Government hospital last week, and letting my mind drift across dimensions made it a surprisingly enjoyable wait. I can attest that it is the boredom that has invited the most creative of ideas.

I believe that a good balance is struck when one feels at ease being with people as well as being by oneself. I value having people around me; they provide the spark for lessons and ideas, which I keep for hashing out when the next quiet opportunity to twiddle my thumbs arises. Dwelling in introspective and new ways of thinking then gives me the clarity I need to be a better person to be around. (If you read my column regularly, you may have noticed that I am a sucker for little self-help cycles like these.)

If more people were not so opposed to having solo time – to “zone out”, have “nothing to do” or leave their kids to their own devices – I can imagine the world enjoying a higher sense of consciousness, more nature conservation, more kindred spirits worth knowing, a lot less anger and a lot more heart.

And should you be so bold, I am sure there is enough space on the dancefloor for the both of us.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own
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solitude , living


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