“Language… has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” – Paul Johannes Tillich
Some people think it’s weird that I like to go camping by myself. They think it’s even weirder that I am delighted at the prospect of getting up early and going solo to the movies. I’m not a particularly introverted person (just ask Myers-Briggs) but I do relish the opportunity to pack up, take off and spend a bit of time with me, myself and I.
I recently had a week off work and after a few days of pottering around, I decided to pack the backpack and the tent, start walking and plonk the tent down wherever I ended up. I live on Hong Kong Island and I knew that if I walked to Victoria Peak, I would be able to hike along Hong Kong trail and a lovely camping spot would make itself known at some point. (My friend Alex thinks of it as being homeless for a night.)
I packed, I hiked, I found a spot and I put the tent up. Ah, the freedom. Finally, I had the time and space for a moment of quiet reflection, to ask myself the big questions in life. Am I living the life I should be living? What is the nature of God? What was that noise? Did I bring insect repellant? And, the old chestnut, Who Am I?
Well, it turns out I am a person who forgets to bring a sleeping bag, wakes up cold at 3 o’clock in the morning, and, unable to get back to sleep, packs up, hikes home in the dark, gets home after no sleep and no quality alone time and declares it a successful trip. I am, in short, a struggler. But a happy one.
I did then spend a lovely day by myself, though. For only when you are truly alone can you properly reflect on your life, your beliefs, your values, your direction and your wants. It is so easy to keep chugging along in life without really considering who we are or what we want. We all have roles (mother, employee, boss, friend, whatever) and can quite happily fill our lives attempting to fulfil these. This is why I hate having to go to work every day. It’s a time-consuming distraction from living. (If you’re someone from my work reading this, don’t worry; I’m merely adopting a persona to illustrate a point.)
The Johari Window is a model created in the 1950s to help illustrate and improve self-awareness. It posits that we are all host to four ‘selves’: our public self (which we show to everyone), our hidden self (which only we know), our blind self (which others see and we do not) and our unknown self (which nobody sees).
Now, anything presented in a quadrant must be true in my book. You can put anything in a quadrant or a circular diagram and it’ll look legitimate.
When you are in complete solitude, there is no need to be anyone, to fulfil any roles or to do what you think others want you to do. It’s lovely to sit down with your hidden self for a little while and have a chat. Hello, goals, fears, humiliations, shame, regret, doubt, hope and joy. How’s it going?
So, now that I have had time to reflect, what have I come up with? Jeepers, I don’t know. But I’d better get to bed because I have to work in the morning. Public self, I’ll let you take it from here.