On Being Alone.
"Loneliness has followed me my whole life. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There’s no escape. I am god’s lonely man. The days go on with regularity over and over, one day indistinguishable from the next. A long continuous chain. Then suddenly, a change." -Travis Bickle, ‘Taxi Driver’"
It is difficult to recognize that we are in a continuous battle with the idea of being alone. It often feels as if non-contact for even a few passing moments is just too much to bare. I think that we are battling with loneliness in ways in which we are not aware of. We seek to slay the loneliness dragon with constant activity. It is a nervous numbing of the mind that feels nice, and assists us in canceling out the notion of self. It is fun, and in no ways wrong—it is human. Even in a sea of over stimulation, we often seek more. We swipe right and swipe left looking for new ways to forget what is inside. This is by no means a reason to write off the human experience. Nor is it a reason to fully rely on outside stimuli to feel alive. There is a notion from the great Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg, that the beauty is in the return. The beauty is in that moment when we wake up and realize that we are distracting ourselves. That moment when we realize that we are forgetting to breathe–when we are forgetting to be alone with our inner dialogue. The beauty is in that moment where we make the conscious decision to bring ourselves back. I often have these awakening moments of clarity as I am speed walking through downtown Philadelphia. With my eyes to the ground and a coffee in my hand, I painstaking judge the people in front of me for not walking fast enough. As if I have anywhere real to be. Perhaps this is just mechanism to ignore inward thinking while in transit. If I am lucky enough in that moment, I will get a quick flash of clarity—a reminder to bring my attention to my step. Even as I write this, I am stroking my facial hair, tapping my hands to my knees, picking up my phone, checking the time, looking at my inbox, and occasionally biting my nails. I constantly forget. Even at our best and most elated, our anxious tendencies are there to distract us from the present moment.
When I was young, maybe five or six, all I wanted was a television in my bedroom. This decision of my parent’s was one of most crucial to my development. Not necessarily an impediment but most certainly an alteration. I can now associate my tendency towards distraction, at least in portion, to this. This may explain my reoccurring distaste for feeling alone, but on the other hand I also attribute this to my creative self. Without this little box in my room I wouldn’t have had such an intimate relationship with the sort of artistic expression that I enjoy. However, I also wouldn’t have grown accustomed to that soft neon glow, slowly putting me to ease as I drift to sleep. It would fill my mind with thoughts and ideas less self-deprecating than my own. For years, this was the only way I knew how to sleep. Now I find this creeping up in times of high stress, or during violent bouts of self doubt. Times when I need isolation the most is when I’d rather bask in the warm familiarity of an out-dated sitcom. But this is common. I am by no means unique for being a child of television. The denial of self is part of having a self. Funny. This goes without saying, I am a perfect candidate for the practice of sensory deprivation. Obviously, we all are. Isolation tanks have been a catalyst in my development over the last few years. They catapult me deeply inwards like the Magic School Bus of self-awareness. Suddenly, while inside, my mind has nowhere to go. Nothing to look towards, nothing to touch. My lips have no directions for words. My constant nervous energy has no one to offend. I am at last..alone, and it is a beautiful place to be.