(I’m talking alone alone. None of this wishy-washy texting, no social media, just you and your thoughts. If some of those thoughts have more personality than you knew, so much the better.)
(These benefits take time, meaning hours, days and months, to occur. Spending 30 minutes by yourself daily is a good way to start. I’ll be talking later about ways to learn to be alone. Like many things, it takes practice!)
I never spent much time alone as a kid. Second oldest in a family of 8 kids? Hah! Being alone is a luxury you just don’t get.
There’s always somebody there to speak for you, so you have no voice, no identity, and you don’t even know its not there. Your entire identity is the family.
When I moved out of the house, however, I hit a crisis. I had no idea who I was as a person. What did I like? What didn’t I like? Why were these my preferences? Were they really my opinions, or was I parroting the people around me with no mental input? Why did I have these issues? Where did they come from?
Then I went walkabout. The UK, Norway, Belgium, Spain, Italy…The list is short, and I hope to lengthen it someday, but the lessons were learned.
Here are some things I’d never have learned without spending some quality time with me, and I think everybody can benefit from this kind of personal development.
Yeah, I know, everybody’s independent.
What I’m talking about is the kind that manages to go shopping in a country where English isn’t the first language. Hell, its not even the third! It’s accomplishing mundane tasks in a foreign environment and feeling the euphoria of realising you managed to buy vegetables when all the local words you know are ‘Hello,’ ‘Please,’ and ‘Thank you.’
It’s pulling up your socks and figuring your way out of a scrape.
It’s walking off a train and using the tools available to you to find your hostel.
It’s having the guts to get on that train in the first place.
It’s having to find your voice using gestures and smiles and discovering that in the end, the words aren’t as important as we’ve been taught. Attitude and intent shine through the most.
2. Your Own Voice
Seems a bit stupid, right? Finding your personal voice. Aren’t they the thoughts in your head? But the truth is that most of us just mouth what we’ve been taught, and don’t stop to wonder if we really agree with what we’re saying.
I grew up with the implication (in so many ways) that unmarried women are second-class citizens. And it’s not a new thing. It’s a problem that’s been around forever. (Are there too many italicised words? You’ll tell me if there are, won’t you?) Growing up with it, we were rather sullenly aware of our perceived inferiority, but it wasn’t something we questioned with any great degree of logic. It was the way it was.
Travelling, though…Oh, it makes you realise the world it so much bigger than the narrow way we were raised! And you look inward and say, ‘If I’m so second class, how am I able to go to such marvellous places? How is it possible to see these incredible sights?’
In the quietude of your own mind, your actual thoughts have a chance to fight their way out of the layers of opinions that have been given to you, even against your will. You have the time to think, decide what to study, and if you’re really good, you’ll find people or authors with opinions contrary to what you’ve been taught and consider them. What merits do they have? What are they based on?
3. Releasing Prejudices
Hmmm, chocolate or vanilla? Actually, that is not the question. They are not mutually exclusive, nor are they opposites, but delicious flavors that complement each other. Did you know that most chocolate dishes contain a dash of vanilla extract? The vanilla flavor brings something indefinable yet utterly delicious out in the chocolate.
Or perhaps it’s not indefinable. Perhaps I haven’t had the time, in solitude, to contemplate what it is that vanilla brings out in chocolate.
Whatever. The exact topic is immaterial. What is important is that you think. Let your mind run wild. Follow those thoughts, track them to their beginning.
We are taught to distrust and dislike immigrants. They steal our jobs, blah, blah, blah. I’ve worked the same fields as most illegal immigrant workers, and I can tell you right now, they ain’t stealing anyone’s jobs. Nobody voluntarily goes for field work if they can get anything else. Hell, most white people would rather starve than work those jobs. Long hours, hot sun, scratches and sunburn, it’s miserable.
So why is there an automatic dislike? Because we’re told we should, but clear thinking reveals that I’ve been working with immigrants for years, and they’re some of the loveliest people I know. I mean, my grandparents are recent immigrants. They came over sometime in the ’30s, so I especially can’t reject immigrants. I am them, they are me.
That easily, that painfully, walls are broken down, hate and distrust are dispelled, and there is room for love and acceptance to grow.
It doesn’t have to be in God, but as you learn your own thoughts, you must ponder what you believe. You separate the beliefs that were inflicted on you in childhood from the values you have as an adult.
Going back to women as second class citizens, it was made apparent as a child that this was something reinforced Biblically by a variety of writers. It takes a discerning mind and a keen eye to see where references to women as powerful, wise beings in their own right occur. Fortunately, during my travels, I had the benefit of carrying one particular book written by just such a discerning mind, called Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey.
Whether you are a Christian or not, I recommend the book as it shows the faith for what it should be, not what modern man has made it. Those of you who think Christians are evil and out to steal some poor sod’s money? This book shows that those assholes aren’t Christian. It has the added advantage of being contradictory to most of what I was taught as a child, and all the walking and free, thinking time of travelling let me really ponder what I’d read and soak it up. Without the solitude this book would never have been able to make the impression that it did.
So many of the things above will seem obvious to many people, but to me, they were revelations akin to a blind man seeing for the first time.
These new thoughts didn’t happen overnight. The process began when I walked to work 3-4 days a week for a year and a half. It’s still happening now, over a year after I travelled Europe.
I hope it continues for the rest of my life.
If anything here helped you, or can help someone you know, share it. Comment below with any questions, or even if you need a bit of encouragement! Tons of people helped me along the way, and I’d like the chance to pay it forward!