The summer of 2015, I sat at my aunt's dining room table overlooking the Embarcadero sipping a coconut water and she said something to me that I'll never forget. She had more recently lost her husband, and of course, she missed him every day and night but she said:
No matter what you do, where you go, or who you fall asleep next to, everyone comes into this world alone and leaves alone.
She also told me I was more yin, the dark side of the yang, and needed to eat more ginger and spicy foods to create internal heat. That's the beauty of being half Chinese is advice like that.
But what she said about this "alone-ness" really resonated with me. I never thought of myself as a loner or lonely or alone, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me - especially the more I travelled, experienced, fell in love, had my heart broken, made friends, lost friends, lost people, moved cities, and so on. She was simply stating the fact that this human experience is a very singular one, even if we're standing in a sea of people everyone feels, sees, thinks, and experiences things differently. No imprint or person is the same. This lonesomeness is why music or art even exists is because we're trying to communicate with each other. It's why we gravitate to people with similar interests, it's because we're trying to understand and be understood. But at the end of the day, no one is going to ever fully understand the beauty of your own originality.
If you've been following along, you already know I've been travelling the past 100+ days around the world. I've had plenty of negative feedback about these blog posts as well as the most uplifting and inspiring messages from people who are packing up their things to chase an original life. But what some don't realise is that I left my job, sold my things, packed my bags, and went alone. I sat countless hours at airport terminals in Dubai, Lisbon, London, Denpasar alone watching people from all over the world walk, talk, eat, slurp, nap. As I sat alone, with my headphones in, looking at people I thought: everyone in here has probably lost someone they love, experienced a heartbreak, wondered how they can express themselves better, said I love you to someone for the first time, worried about something at work or finding work or a loved one, thinking about their faith or purpose, and more. I simply started to put on these human goggles and not look at everyone as passerby's going to their next destination or out-of-town meeting… I walked the streets of Lisbon and London alone, sat on park benches watching swans and kids play in the ponds, dined and sipped wine alone at hole in the wall cafes in Europe or on a quiet Island in Southeast Asia, went to bed with myself only to listen to my own thoughts and the sound of the rain, woke up alone to sip coffee and watch the clouds move slowly through the sky, paddled out alone into unknown water. Did I miss my friends or family or most-recent crush? Yeah, absolutely, but only sometimes.
We live in a world that is more "connected" than ever. In the tap of two fingers you can call, text, direct message almost anyone in the world and in less that 24 hours you can hop on a plane and travel across the planet to almost anywhere... But as I sat alone on trains, planes, buses, and more it was sad to watch people with their heads down scrolling through Instagram and Facebook, they didn't even know I was looking at them, the only person I'd make eye contact with was a little old Japanese lady and her granddaughter too young, too old for social media. My favourites were the foreign girls in Indonesia doing yoga splits on sacred temples or in full make-up on the beaches spending 10 minutes taking selfies, editing, and uploading without hardly looking at the water or feeling the sand. It makes me wonder how much time everyone really does spend staring at a screen living their lives vicariously through others or posting a life you're hoping others will envy.
Scroll, scroll, scroll, tap, tap, tap, like, like, like, post, post, post, saturate, desaturate, witty tagline here, hashtag, emoji, follow, follow, follow.
As I travelled alone, the more worried I became about this "connection" we all have with each other through social media, posting, sharing, liking, following, unfollowing, and as I spent countless nights alone - I can promise you that social media didn't make me feel more less-alone. It made me realise, appreciate, and long for those beautiful connections, conversation, embraces, and late nights I've spent with people who are looking up and around and in, not down at their phone.
You're the Designer of your Day
As you travel alone, you realise that no one is going to call on you or come for you. There's no meetings, schedules, or decisions made based on someone else's preferences. You wake up and from sunrise to sunset you are the designer of your day. You're given the responsibility to determine what you will give and get out the day. You might learn a thing or two about yourself when you're given this huge responsibility - you might find out how lazy, or productive, or introverted, or perverted you are. But as you get to know yourself and what you need from your days, I can assure you, you will understand what you need out of your life.
Clutter, static, distractions, gossip, drama, ideas, complaints, whining, violence, news, politics, relationships. It's a busy, overwhelming world if you're looking around and trying to get a grip or stay up to date on every political, familial, technological, environmental happening...and after awhile, it's just loud noise. As I travelled alone, I allowed the dust around me to settle - to allow my mind along with its anxieties, worries, stresses...to relax and organise itself, and the outcome is a little blessing called clarity.
I suppose the moral of the story is, you came into this world alone and you're going to leave alone. You're not entitled to anything, you're just a visitor here. No one owes you anything - money, love, fame, or happiness - you have to earn it, work for it, protect it, and give it. I wish more people would spend time becoming friends with themselves, and I understand that not everyone can but if you're reading this, I wish it for you.