I’ll be starting a Tuesday Thoughts series every Tuesday as a point of reflection and introspection during the week.
This week’s quote is from Nietzsche – who isn’t a philosopher that I would immediately jump to when thinking about meditation and learning how to be alone in quiet spaces, but these are his words.
As someone who has traditionally been viewed as an extrovert, people who know me on the most intimate levels (the number can always be counted on one hand at any given time) are surprised to discover that I teeter right on the extrovert-introvert line. These days, it’s what people have termed being an “ambivert,” someone who embodies both personality characteristics on the spectrum. Forbes had a neat article about ambiverts last year. There are moments when I can turn the charm on and spend days talking to people and groups, but there are also days where I simply am happy and content to turn on Netflix and to grab a pint of Häagen Dazs to kick back by myself. On those nights, the appeal of going out to see anyone or leaving my home is simply not there. With age, I’m finding that I’m actually more comfortable being alone – happily so. It’s quite difficult to actually have people understand this negotiation of being in between two different states of movements. How can someone be so social in one moment and a hermit crab in the next? But, upon reflection, I know I have been like this all my life despite always being put in a more public, extroverted role. So, I’ve accepted this about myself and am embracing it.
Why we are the way we are is fascinating. When I was living in London, one of my friends who is majoring in Psychology explained the introvert-extrovert dynamic to me. According to what he studied, extroverts are outgoing, gregarious and social because their brains are in need of stimulation, which they get from feeding off the energy and interactions amongst groups of people. Introverts already have a high level of natural stimulation, so they don’t feel the need to receive as much external stimulation which is why they are more comfortable with smaller group interactions and one-on-one conversations.
I am discussing the introvert-extrovert framework because it’s important to consider when thinking about when we want to be alone, when we need to be alone, and how to be alone. People always comment when I am notably absent from the public sphere because it is something that is expected of me – to be visible and present. However, I’ve made it a point as I’ve grown older to simply do what I need to do in the moment by ignoring all the white noise and routine worries. If I need some time to think, I’ll sit down and think. This year, I’ve been taking September as a a month off to be introspective about the phenomenal experiences that I’ve had over the past 9 months and the past 3 years. This is the first time in 9 months that I have been back in North America for a more stable and predictable amount of time. I can’t just go back to my life the way it was because I’m not the same person anymore although the core remains very much the same. I can actually truly say that I am comfortable being alone because I’ve learned how to seek my fulfillment and validation within myself and things that I have control over.
Things that I have found to really make a difference in reaching the goal of doing what you want without the background noise:
1) Meditation. Take some time daily to just quiet your mind. You would be surprised to learn how much your brain is actually ON all the time. Sometimes this is all it takes to quell those moments of doubt or to get over a mental block.
2) Not giving a (#$%. In life, regardless of what you are doing, people will have something to say about it – negative and positive. People will offer you unsolicited advice and advice when you need it. There will always be critics, people who don’t like the way you do things, people who don’t support you, people who think your ideas are unrealistic and people who find reasons to dislike you for no apparent reason. To all of this, I say, “Don’t give a $%(#!” At the end of the day, you are going to have to silence the white, background noise when you have to make important decisions regarding YOUR life. Don’t let society or others constrain you by formulating standards for what you think you should be doing or what you think people are expecting from you. Oftentimes, you will be your worst critic and your greatest obstacle. You wake up to yourself and your mind every morning. There is no one else who is inside your head and who wakes up to the choices you make other than you. Make the time between you and your mind worthwhile.
3) Get out of your space, especially comfortable spaces, every once in awhile. For example, here at Bates, we tend to be in a bubble. Talk to a friend with a car, plan something out and go!
4) Learn how to be alone. I cannot stress how important this one is. I have become so much better at this over these past four years, and learning how to be content being alone is a lifelong process, but once you are comfortable thinking on your own, learning how to be on your own and just being in the state of being alone, I honestly think you will be less likely to make decisions that aren’t well thought out. Oftentimes, people gravitate towards the wrong causes or people because it’s the cop-out concept of “I’d rather be with X rather than to be alone.”
Some of your greatest moments will be your quietest ones. When I was watching the Northern Lights at 2AM surrounded by mountains in Iceland, it was a quiet awe that I felt seeing the streaks of color dancing in the sky. In Morocco, I sat sipping an overly sugary mint tea as the only woman in a hidden café nestled on a roof as the sentimental strums of guitar drifted down to the maze of souks below. Sometimes, there are moments of kindness that only I and one other person will know of. There are moments of vulnerability and overcoming that only I know of. For me, the quiet is not only in the sense of the ambiance and atmosphere. The greatest experiences in my life are oftentimes my most quietest moments because they are so deeply personal that it would be a bit of a disservice to attempt to explain them or to publicly share such a specific moment of magic in time. I couldn’t recreate the alignment of circumstance and situation again and even if I were to retell it as a storyteller, the profound feelings would only be understood by being there. Being present.
Have a great week!