When was the last time you spent more than 24 hours alone? The last time you went more than a day without seeing a familiar face? I’d be willing to bet some of you are unable to pinpoint an event of such aloneness.
I spent two months alone this summer. Now, I wasn’t totally alone. I spent most of my time on America’s major highways, camping in some of the most trafficked National Parks. There were people all around me, but each morning I woke up alone, hiked alone, drove alone, explored alone, then finished the day camping alone.
I like being alone. I’m good at it. I generally enjoy my own company and I’ve never felt daunted at the prospect of spending time by myself. Not even when I planned my multi-month solo road trip. I never expected I’d get lonely. And yet I did.
Without daily interactions and conversations with those close to me, I found myself feeling empty at times. There was no one with whom I could share a beautiful, mountain-spread sunset. No one to join my laugh at the comedy of my Roald Dahl books. No one to lead over boulders and under bushes in pursuit of a breathtaking view.
I could explain the way the mountain trail sloped and curved, and the way the leaves sparkled after rain, but no one would experience it the way I did. I could take a picture and post it on social media, but it didn’t exist beyond the screen for anyone but me. No one could feel it, breathe it in, save it in memory alongside me.
The experience was uniquely mine. In a way, it made everything feel special. In another way, it made me feel isolated.
It forced me to dig deeper within myself to find a strength that was sitting dormant there all along. It was this strength When there were no humans around to talk to, I talked to myself. Without the noise of constant outward interactions, I could hear what was happening in my soul and spirit. I learned more than I could have imagined. Introspection became part of my daily routine.
I found the balance between being alone and being lonely. Being alone allowed me to formulate a deep connection within myself. Loneliness happened when I cut myself off from all intimate connection. It happened when I was tired, frustrated, hungry, sore – and these are just a few of the things that made me emotionally stunted. Loneliness was an unavoidable part of my trip because discomfort was an unavoidable part of my trip. But ultimately, that loneliness led to profound self-discovery. Through the discomfort, I found that there were truths that could be only understood in the quiet of my mind.