I sit in a café in Japan, a coffee and pretty pastry in front of me, idly people watching. I sit alone. I’m not waiting for anyone or on my way to an appointment. I don’t have my phone turned on, a laptop with me or a book in front of me. I’m just enjoying my alone time.
When I went to Japan in my early twenties, I didn’t speak the language when I first arrived. I stood in a crowd of people, unable to understand more than two words- alone in a sea of voices. The sound of people talking rose and fell all around me like the sound of instruments or breezes. Without the distraction of understanding the chatter around me, I was alone with my thoughts, even when I was out and around people. To communicate, I used hand gestures and little words. Without conversation to distract you, you retreat in to your thoughts and learn to live in solitude, to an extent. As I enjoyed my days off, I learned to embrace that feeling of solitude instead of fighting it.
Before it became too lonely, I learned some of the language, but I had enjoyed the feeling of solitude so much that I still sought it out. A few months later, I’d learned a bit of the language, able to understand what people were saying and speaking in simple sentences. I had a few close friends and could hang out with them, but I chose to spend time alone when I could get it. I had gotten used to doing things by myself and was no longer afraid of looking rejected, lonely or “weird.”
It got to the point where I didn’t feel antsy or uncomfortable in my own company. You think that spending time by yourself is no big deal until you are forced into it. Then you learn how hard it is- in your company with only your thoughts to entertain you. If you have tried meditation, you know what I mean. It took a while to get used to it when I lived in Japan.
At first, I hated it. My inner dialogue told me I was boring, petty and insufferable. Reading or eating was a good distraction from my thoughts for a small time, but it didn’t help long-term. I decided I needed to find out why I didn’t like myself. When I had a destructive or hateful thought about myself, I started asking why. Why did I feel that way? How could I change it? I fought my demons for almost a year. Eventually, I came to love my own company and it was as if a weight was lifted; only then could I accept solitude with my whole heart and enjoy it.
One of my favorite activities became taking myself for coffee without any distractions. No headphones playing music, no book, no computer. I would keep my cell phone in my pocket and just enjoy my surroundings. My dates with myself became a weekly thing.
First, I learned to saunter through the outdoor markets, taking in all the sights and smells. The orderly bustle of the markets would soothe me. I could hear the chorus of “Arigatou” (thank you) as people got their orders and would move on to the next errand. The smells of fresh vegetables, fish and food carts mingled in the air- a fresh, inviting, savoury mix that smelled of the ocean and forest all at once. Once my nose had drunk its fill, I would find a café and order a latte and pastry. The pastries in Japan were always a work of art! So dainty and pretty- often cute and decorated with a flower or cartoon animal. Every single one was delicious and a feast for the senses.
I would take my snack and coffee to a table with the best vantage point for people watching. As I was taking small bites of my pastry, I drank in my surroundings, thinking of nothing in particular. Sometimes, I’d watch people interact with each other on the street outside and would imagine back stories for their “character” as they walked by. It was the most relaxing way to spend an afternoon.
Learning to be alone is one of the most precious life skills you can have. It teaches you to love who you are, without any distractions or outside opinion. I think traveling solo taught me how to do that and I am forever grateful.
But you don’t have to travel! Sit alone with your badass, beautiful self. Whether it is at the movies, in a café, in bed or out in a garden (my new favorite), do it. You are the best company you need, with your brilliant mind aglow with gorgeous thoughts budding new ideas, ambitions or peace. You, sitting alone, are the best company in the world. Trust me on this.
Author: Tianna Morison
Author Bio: Tianna is a writer, mom and tree-hugger based in Calgary, AB, Canada. Her pride is her blog, “A Babbling Panda.” “A Babbling Panda” focuses on gluten-free and gut-friendly food, raising highly-sensitive kids and sustainable living. Although she hasn’t traveled abroad much since Japan, she still has a bucket list of places to go.