In every day life, it’s rare to find yourself truly alone. Even when I’m technically by myself, I’m surrounded by other voices in the form of texting, phone calls, emails, TV, ect. Not that any of these things are bad, necessarily, but it does make me wonder when the last time was when I was completely and utterly alone with my thoughts.
Our society doesn’t seem to place much emphasis on the importance of “alone time”. The concept is usually sold in the form of laying in bed watching Netflix or taking a ten minute break at work. While Netflix is great, watching New Girl in my pajamas isn’t exactly the same thing as spending quality time with myself. And ten minutes to organize my plethora of thoughts has never seemed like a realistic plan.
I’m a people person. Being around others fills me with energy and happiness. Most of the time, I seek out company, even if it’s just someone to eat lunch or watch a movie with. Since I’ve gotten to Brussels, however, I have spent more time alone than I have in quite some time. And I mean, really alone. Since I don’t have an international cellphone plan, when I leave my flat, it is without texting, calling or Tweeting abilities. Even if cafes have Wifi, I often find myself forgetting about my phone completely by the time I reach my destination. I’ve discovered that for me, this leads to a completely different kind of experience than I usually have when I’m with someone else or on social media.
For example, yesterday I visited Le Chat Touille, the Brussels cat cafe. First of all, this was probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I can pet cats??? While drinking coffee??? Literally amazing. Evidence below.
The rest of my group had gone to Antwerp, a nearby city, for the day. Due to the fact that I had overslept, I found myself alone in Brussels. Although I had planned on visiting the cat cafe with a few others, I decided to venture out by myself. While I was a little nervous about finding my way there by myself, I forced myself out the door anyway.
I have discovered that walking along the streets alone in Brussels, or any city, is one of my favorite past times. Of course, experiencing new things with someone else is amazing, but there’s something special about venturing around by yourself, not talking, not texting, not really doing anything except soaking in everything around you. For example, I was completely enthralled by this building. I probably spent a solid three minutes staring at it. I’m not saying that I would have missed it completely if I had been with someone else, but perhaps I may not have spent the time I feel it deserved to really look at it and appreciate the details of its architecture and artwork.
When I reached the cafe, I opened my laptop and was texting a few people because I obviously had to share my absolute overwhelming joy at finally arriving at Dream Destination #1. During this time, I chatted with the owner a bit and pet a few nearby kitties (obviously). After I closed my laptop, however, I found myself almost a little bored… but in a good way. It was the kind of boredom that leads to probably one of the best past times of all: people watching. I watched as pedestrians strolled past the window, stopping to smile and interact with the cats sitting on the windowsill. I saw a small French boy stop his dad at the shop as he stood and laughed at the two cats playing nearby. They entered eventually, and although I had no idea what anyone was saying, it was heartwarming to watch the owner, the boy, his father and the cats all interact with one another.
In this way, being alone, or at least not being with anyone else I knew, lead to me paying far more attention to the strangers around me. Quality time with loved ones is extremely valuable, but a few short minutes or hours getting to know a couple of strangers is fulfilling and invigorating in its own way.
On the way home, I took a spontaneous detour just because and ran into this gorgeous side street. There was no rush to get home, no conversation or destination to be had, and nobody to discuss which way to take. Strangely, I found myself thinking about Alice in Wonderland. The experience of stumbling upon unplanned places and things reminded me of her adventures, wandering through a strange place by herself and discovering random people and things because of her solitude. Things at that moment may have seemed a little nonsensical and erratic, but somehow I felt peaceful in its chaos. And, like Alice, I think when I returned from my journey I had discovered just a little bit more about myself and the world.
Perhaps sometimes being alone can be a little lonely. And yet, in its own way, being your own company can provide invaluable experiences and realizations. I don’t think we give enough time solely to our thoughts and feelings, or to truly just exist outside of all the external parts of our lives. While I love other people, there’s something incredible and empowering about sitting inside a coffee shop or walking down the street, alone, a little lost and strangely happy in a world of my own.