It wasn’t a dingy dive bar; it had an old-world feel but was filled with young people. I sat at the bar and ate a burger (wrapped in lettuce mind you), listened to the live music and watched the rhythmic movements of the bartender pouring drinks. I watched as the guitarist methodically played while wrinkles on his forehead appeared with the increase in tones. A guy approached me, “have you been looking for me?” clearly I hadn’t. I laughed, I can’t tell you the last time someone dropped a pick-up line like that. I watched as women waited to use the restroom, and several who were falling over themselves to talk to the band players. I sat, and I watched, but I have a feeling I was being watched too. Alone, in a bar, I might as well have had a target on my forehead.
I’d spent the better part of the day exploring Yellowstone National Park and then driving through Montana. By the time I got to Missoula all I cared about was a decently nutritious warm meal and the live music was just a bonus. I’ve never minded eating alone, even in a place like a bar. It’s almost more entertaining to me to feel like a fly on the wall than be a part of the chaos. I know, for many people doing anything alone is difficult. Once I felt the same, now it’s invigorating.
I met several people while on my cross country move from Florida to Washington and over half of them were stunned to find out I was doing it alone. There’s still this stigma in society that a young female traveling solo is ghastly, unheard of, dangerous, etc. Keep in mind, I didn’t always share this information, but when I did, it was shocking. People told me how brave I am, how adventurous of me, and wondered how scary it must feel. The majority of people I met told me they either wish they could do the same or wish they would have when they were younger. What does this tell me? People are living life with the fear of going alone.
We all have fears, whether personal to our life experiences or general ones like health, finances, and relationships. Being alone is one of the most common fears, especially of women. From a young age we’re taught not to go alone, to follow the “buddy-system”, to have a friend, and be safe. Naturally, I think these are important to teach but I believe to a degree they are debilitating. When you aren’t put in a position where you have to figure out situations on your own you constantly depend on other people, and this is what leads to fear. When you’re completely dependent you can’t imagine doing things by yourself because you’ve never had to, and maybe never wanted to. My question is what happens to the heart and soul of a person when they’re never able to spend time with just those parts of themselves?
When you travel alone you observe better. You’re not distracted. There’s no comfort zone to retreat to, no friend to go to the bathroom with (we all know this one ladies). Just you and your funny-ass-self (yes, I think I am funny) making sense of the chaos that surrounds you. In your own mind, developing your own opinions. If you pay attention the world will teach you things you never knew about yourself. You’re aware in your own body, to your environment, to the noises, sights, and sounds, which are more vibrant because you’re really noticing them as if for the first time. You learn your strengths and weaknesses and what you’re good at you can monopolize on.
When I was young, the rule “don’t talk to strangers” didn’t faze me. Just like the rule “touch with your eyes not with your hands,” which makes no sense by the way, it may as well have not existed. With a curious mind and an aptitude for starting conversation meeting and talking to people has always been easy for me. I’m speaking from experience, when I say that being alone can be scary. I’ve been there. There were days when I was younger when panic attacks would overwhelm me because of this fear and I didn’t know how to deal with it.
I used to hate even staying one night alone in the house I grew up. The dark, the empty spaces, the insecurity and perceived threat. I’d keep all the lights on, all the time. Truly, it wasn’t until I faced the fear and put myself in situations where I was alone, I learned how capable I am, I connected with my spirit because the wall of fear no longer existed. After years of putting myself in these types of situations and traveling by myself was a vast majority of them, it is now what I yearn for, where I turn in order to ground myself firmly in my own presence.
You grow in solitude. You’re forced to, forced to see your life outside of what it appears and instead solely on how it feels. When you focus on how it feels to live from your own body, it’s freedom personified. It’s bravery, badassery and conviction rolled up into one. It’s being able to scream in your car to your favorite song and literally dance like no one is watching (though I’ll say they probably are watching and you should do it anyway). Fear of being alone cannot exist in a space that is created for connection to oneself. That fear is ultimately being alone in your own mind. Ever heard of “monkey mind”? Yeah we all have it, and sometimes the fear instigates it pretty bad, in which case the only way to break through that barrier is to go into the space and come out connected to your authentic self, where that fear has been isolated and understood.
Humans are social creatures so I am not saying that we should all be alone or travel alone all the time. I believe so deeply in meaningful relationships, companionship and community that saying so would contradict a core center of my being. I should also mention, if it’s not already obvious that I am high extroverted and isolation and solitude are not one in the same. What I am saying is to truly to connect with your own value, you must turn inward, and the best way I’ve learned to do this is to go alone. Making sense of the world and my place in it, finding moments of happiness, and appreciating my own companionship, this is truly the deepest relationship you’ll have, the one with yourself.
“We must become so alone, so utterly alone, that we withdraw into our innermost self. It is a way of bitter suffering. But then our solitude is overcome, we are no longer alone, for we find that our innermost self is the spirit, that it is God, the indivisible. And suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the world, yet undisturbed by its multiplicity, for our innermost soul we know ourselves to be one with all being.”