5: Just Me

5: Just Me

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Just Me

By all means use sometimes to be alone. Salute thyself; see what thy soul doth wear.

~George Herbert

I took myself out on a date last night. I was reluctant at first. Though I travel extensively on my own, I had never taken myself out to dinner. And when I say “out” I mean to an actual sit-down, “Would you prefer a table or a booth?” restaurant. I always thought that having dinner alone would be a bit uncomfortable. It would be awkward and completely out of my comfort zone. But yesterday I was craving Mexican.

I walked into Casa Mexicana. “How many?” asked the handsome waiter.

“Just me,” I responded, smiling. The smile was meant to hide my mild embarrassment. Why was I doing this? I was seated in my booth holding an oversized glossy menu. Just me.

I ordered water with lemon to start — my usual. As if I wasn’t already uncomfortable enough, I challenged myself to set my smart-phone aside. Earlier in the day, I had read a book that discussed the importance of cultivating solitude. Truthfully, it was what had inspired this whole “date with myself” excursion. The book used Dr. James Hollis’s definition of solitude as “that psychic state wherein one is wholly present to oneself.” How often did I take the time to simply be?

I had a difficult time remembering when I had last set aside my to-do list and simply sat in silence with my thoughts. With a combination of daily worries, fears of the future, and tendrils of self-doubt, the concept of sitting in the silence only to hear those thoughts grow louder wasn’t too appealing. So instead, I sought distraction and packed my day planner — anything to stuff those unpleasant thoughts down a little deeper.

A few months prior, I had discovered the art of meditation — a wholly different approach to self-exploration that comes from being still. Through meditation, I could let go of the worry, fear, and doubt that plagued my mind. I awakened to the beauty that can be found through focused silence and deep thought. For years, I had been a regular yoga practitioner. But as a newbie meditator, I really had to practice being still and quieting my mind. Sometimes it worked. Most of the time, my busy brain continued to buzz. But, through consistent practice, I learned how to be more gentle and forgiving with myself, to always bring my attention back to my breath. And that helped. But then, life got in the way, and I forgot to take the time. The time to be me.

While it’s challenging enough to observe your thoughts without judgment as they float by during meditation, I was attempting to do just that in a bustling restaurant with Pandora streaming fiesta songs. I supposed I could shut my eyes and pretend, if nothing else, to be meditating, even though my mind was still going a mile a minute.

Once my meal arrived, I ate from my sizzling-hot plate of vegetable fajitas. I wasn’t altogether sure where to look while I chewed. So I admired the wall art.

I couldn’t help it. I checked the time on my phone. Thirty-eight minutes had passed. I saw a missed text and resisted unlocking my phone to check the message. Thirty-nine minutes…

My mind drifted back to the book I had been reading earlier that day. A quote the book cited by Ralph Waldo Emerson came to mind. I pulled the book out of my bag to read it once more.

“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”

Amen, Ralph. Amen.

The truth is that it takes a lot of courage to be alone. How many times have we dived head first into a relationship with someone we knew was wrong for us because we were afraid to be alone? How long have we allowed fear to chain us in relationships long after they ran their course? It is only with compassion and love for ourselves that we gather the courage to simply be with what is, even if that means asking yourself out on a date to sit in the comfort (or discomfort) of your own company.

As the time ticked on, I relaxed more and truly enjoyed myself. I pushed away what would be tomorrow’s leftovers and pulled out my journal. My journal — a precious collection of thoughts, prayers, rants, questions, answers, hopes and dreams. I’ve poured out my heart and soul on those pages, completely raw and vulnerable, to only myself and God. Why? Because I have learned how deeply I must trust — in myself and in my Creator. I must trust in the universal knowledge that I am exactly where I need to be, right here, right now, on this journey.

The waitress interrupted my writing reverie. “Will that be all?” she inquired politely. “Actually, no.” I smiled. “I’ll have the fried ice cream, please!” This was a special evening, after all. Finally, I was appreciating this evening out for what it really was — focused time to show myself love, fully and completely. And, whether a dinner out or a night in, I look forward to treating myself once in a while to the gift of reflection and solitude to just be, just me.

~Anna Lucas

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