Solitude (Photo credit: Lady-bug)

I put my mobile phone (cheap model)  in the washing machine yesterday!  My first reaction when I realized – was curiously one of slight relief. Hopefully it will dry out – but for a while I have an good excuse for not replying to texts!  It is something I am not great at the best of times – but whilst here it is not unusual to get more than 20 a day – which for me is a lot! Pinoys send 1.7bn texts a day – according to comscore – In Europe and the US email is still the primary mode of communication, wheras in the Pacific Rim it is Direct Messaging. Up till fairly recently – click here – more texts were sent in the Philippines than in the whole of Europe.

The Philippines claims to be the most socially connected country in the world with a staggering 94% facebook usage.  I think that figure must reflect multiple accounts rather than population penetration. When I remember my time in the Mountains or the ‘squatter areas’ of Manila all the youngsters wanted to ‘friend’ you on facebook – even in the places where the nearest internet facility was more than a days walk away (in the mountains).  For me there is something unsettling about this intensity.

People often ask me – being celibate – are you not lonely?  And I answer – sometimes – of course!  But the gift of faith is such that you never really feel alone.  As Jesuits we are often immersed in the world with others – sometimes I really look forward to and treasure time alone!  Why this cultural fear?  Maybe we mix up being alone with feeling lonely.  Loneliness (the worlds greatest disease according to Mother Teresa) is a sickness of the soul that we can often experience when we are not alone. Everyone has experienced feeling lonely in a crowd, sometimes sadly being lonely in a community or a marriage.  But I think we only really can listen to our deepest desires – and maybe encounter God if we are alone, still and silent, at least once in a while!

So thanks to the chaplain here at the Ateneo High School I discovered this beautiful video.  It is like a poem / meditation by the Canadian storyteller / singer / poet Tanya Davis. I think (most of it!) is very beautiful. The lyrics are below.

HOW TO BE ALONE by Tanya Davis

If you are at first lonely, be patient. If you’ve not been alone much, or if when you were, you weren’t okay with it, then just wait. You’ll find it’s fine to be alone once you’re embracing it.

We could start with the acceptable places, the bathroom, the coffee shop, the library. Where you can stall and read the paper, where you can get your caffeine fix and sit and stay there. Where you can browse the stacks and smell the books. You’re not supposed to talk much anyway so it’s safe there.

There’s also the gym. If you’re shy you could hang out with yourself in mirrors, you could put headphones in (guitar stroke).

And there’s public transportation, because we all gotta go places.

And there’s prayer and meditation. No one will think less if you’re hanging with your breath seeking peace and salvation.

Start simple. Things you may have previously (electric guitar plucking) based on your avoid being alone principals.

The lunch counter. Where you will be surrounded by chow-downers. Employees who only have an hour and their spouses work across town and so they — like you — will be alone.

Resist the urge to hang out with your cell phone.

When you are comfortable with eat lunch and run, take yourself out for dinner. A restaurant with linen and silverware. You’re no less intriguing a person when you’re eating solo dessert to cleaning the whipped cream from the dish with your finger. In fact some people at full tables will wish they were where you were.

Go to the movies. Where it is dark and soothing. Alone in your seat amidst a fleeting community.
And then, take yourself out dancing to a club where no one knows you. Stand on the outside of the floor till the lights convince you more and more and the music shows you. Dance like no one’s watching…because, they’re probably not. And, if they are, assume it is with best of human intentions. The way bodies move genuinely to beats is, after all, gorgeous and affecting. Dance until you’re sweating, and beads of perspiration remind you of life’s best things, down your back like a brook of blessings.

Go to the woods alone, and the trees and squirrels will watch for you.
Go to an unfamiliar city, roam the streets, there’re always statues to talk to and benches made for sitting give strangers a shared existence if only for a minute and these moments can be so uplifting and the conversations you get in by sitting alone on benches might’ve never happened had you not been there by yourself

Society is afraid of alonedom, like lonely hearts are wasting away in basements, like people must have problems if, after a while, nobody is dating them. but lonely is a freedom that breaths easy and weightless and lonely is healing if you make it.

You could stand, swathed by groups and mobs or hold hands with your partner, look both further and farther for the endless quest for company. But no one’s in your head and by the time you translate your thoughts, some essence of them may be lost or perhaps it is just kept.

Perhaps in the interest of loving oneself, perhaps all those sappy slogans from preschool over to high school’s groaning were tokens for holding the lonely at bay. Cuz if you’re happy in your head than solitude is blessed and alone is okay.

It’s okay if no one believes like you. All experience is unique, no one has the same synapses, can’t think like you, for this be releived, keeps things interesting lifes magic things in reach.

And it doesn’t mean you’re not connected, that communitie’s not present, just take the perspective you get from being one person in one head and feel the effects of it. take silence and respect it. if you have an art that needs a practice, stop neglecting it. if your family doesn’t get you, or religious sect is not meant for you, don’t obsess about it.

you could be in an instant surrounded if you needed it
If your heart is bleeding make the best of it
There is heat in freezing, be a testament.