I remember sitting in my little flat, frustrated by life. This was five years ago. I had recently split with my partner of more than ten years and was very early on in my new life. I was doing lots socially, but there was still plenty of time at home, on my own. I was eating well, exercising a bit, seeing friends and going on dates. But there was something missing when I was on my own. I remember what I thought it was at the time. I thought I was missing a special someone to spend this time at home with. After being in a live-in relationship for so long, I was very used to someone always being there, even when that relationship wasn’t travelling so well.
A number of friends had mentioned to me that I needed to learn to enjoy my own company. At the time I thought that sounded boring and maybe didn’t even really know what it meant. I wanted to spend my time with people and felt pretty low when there were no people to hang out with – people were off living their lives. Why was I the only one without an interesting life? Of course I would be busy when I had my son and, during the week when I was without him, things were busy with work and a night of playing basketball. I didn’t know where to look to find what was missing and I just wasn’t feeling good in those moments at home on my own.
In the end, I began to listen to those friends and their advice. There is so much underlying value in learning to be by yourself that I hadn’t really grasped at first glance. After all if you can’t be by yourself, then are you truly able to value all the things you can offer others? Of course that’s a rhetorical question. You can’t value them. And learning to be alone and be comfortable with yourself offsets genuine feelings of loneliness, as I gradually discovered. Now, a number of years later I can say that I value my time alone as much as I enjoy my time with friends and loved ones.
It was a slow process. It started in the company of red wine on a Sunday night. Probably too much red wine, but who’s to judge that? Some people might call it self-medicating, but at the time, I needed to soften the feelings of loneliness I had in order to ease into my own company. After all, I hadn’t really spent much time by myself and I was quite unsure what I would find. Initially this time was spent with my mind in other places and other times… mulling over regrets and pie-in-the-sky wishes for the future. It’s important to recognise here that this was long before I had opened my thinking to mindfulness, so I really was fumbling around in the dark. But I began to appreciate my Sunday afternoons and evenings. I cooked and listened to my favourite music and cleaned and took walks and yes… drank the odd glass of pinot noir. But life still flew past, as though I was waiting for something to arrive. I still spent a significant amount of time wondering about what my life would look like in the future.
Fast forward a couple of years and I met someone who gently massaged my thinking on time alone. I’m not sure she knew she was doing it, but she showed me a different way of life and introduced me to meditation. I spent time reading about it and downloaded a meditation app to begin my practice. This was the next real step in learning to be by myself. I was actually in the depths of despair at this time, lamenting another failed attempt at a relationship and not sure where I was heading. But it was with a newly opened mind that I moved forward. I finally began to see what was missing, although I still had my low points. I still lacked some judgement and spent time with people who taught me some big lessons. But finally I had a tool in my kit that was always able to bring me back to the moment. And it was then that I truly began to connect with myself. Meditation was massive, it’s fair to say. Exercise and healthy food played a big part too.
If you’ve been reading my previous posts, by now you’re aware of the things that have changed for me in the past year or two. Without highlighting any particular events, it’s fair to say that the last eighteen months or two years have been a rollercoaster of sorts. I’m not sure that old Mike would have been able to deal with the things thrown at me. But the path I took has equipped me to deal with life’s little challenges in new ways. And the last couple of months have revealed a kind of clarity I didn’t know was possible. I realised how easy it is to get up and go through the routine of life and pine for the things you think are missing. But at the end of the day, I’m the only one who can never get away from me, so I have to be comfortable with me. I have to look after myself, be happy and present within myself, so that I can turn up in full force for others in my life.
So each day now, I try to be present and mindful in everything I do. Especially when I’m alone. Because being alone isn’t lonely when you accept the person you are. Being alone isn’t lonely when you are comfortable enough within yourself to go out and change the things you don’t want, and accept the things you do want with an open heart. Being alone does not equal loneliness. Of course, a daily meditation, exercise, a healthy diet and some social contact don’t go astray! These are the tools that put you in the best position to open up and just allow you to be. It has been a rollercoaster. It still is. But when you stop being so hard on yourself for the things you don’t have, you can start to enjoy the things you do have. And you can ride that rollercoaster with a huge smile!