I sat by the ocean, feeling the September sun warm my body as I nourished my feet into the sand.
To still be on the West coast in September was never part of the plan, but here I was, embracing the summer heat that finally arrived. I had been waiting for this. The stretch of beach around me was empty. The sky was blue.
It was Friday afternoon.
I had completed all the rings on my Apple Watch (including the stand goals!).
I had made good progress on other work projects over the week. And while there’s always more I could do, I took to heart the guidance from Carlos, my physical therapist, and decided to take the afternoon off. My mind deserved a rest as much as my body.
My calendar was clear.
I had nowhere to go, nothing to do, nowhere to be. Nothing even to procrastinate.
So much time, so little to do. It was that. That thing that nobody says — I said it.
Sure, there’s always more I could do. But nothing that needed to be done at 4:30 pm on a Friday afternoon.
So here I was in my happy place. The beach, on the Pacific ocean. Except that something felt off.
The Mysterious Feeling
I suddenly felt a dip in my energy. A weird sensation, as if I was missing something.
It felt like loneliness.
With that feeling came the story: it’s hard to make friends and have a social life when you don’t know how long you’ll be in a place. I keep thinking I’m going to be leaving here, only to extend my stay by another week. It’s hard to make plans when you think you’re leaving.
As the story arose, I called myself out on it. This may be true, to some degree. And also it’s a lie. If I wanted connection, it was easy enough to find. I could reach out to people; I could find a Meetup or a social event. There are always options.
I could also get online and engage in conversations on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. I’ve been on a bit of social media hiatus these past 5+ months; this was a good time to return.
I somehow knew that that wasn’t the answer in the moment. Social media conversations are great in their place and time, but those people were not here in this space with me. It’s more busy. More escape.
Under the warm September sun, I sat on a rock by the ocean, empty of thoughts, feeling into this emptiness.
It was unsettling, and uncomfortable. Which, of course, is why we prefer to stay busy.
Suddenly I realized: this is not loneliness.
It is stillness.
The Discomfort of the Empty Space
This is a new type of stillness for me.
It is stillness without needing to put aside thoughts or quiet the chatter.
It is stillness that’s not coming from exhaustion where I feel like I need to rest.
It is stillness that is not coming as a response to anxiety or overwhelm.
This stillness feels so much more uncomfortable. So much more vast.
What I am feeling is the discomfort of the empty space.
Yet this felt more vast, more empty, more silent.
When The Voices Stop Speaking
And then I realized what was missing.
On most days, even when I’m alone, I am not alone.
My head is filled with voices. These are generally not actual voices, but voices in the form of looping thoughts. The inner critic. The judge. The comparison queen. The victim. The overachiever. The overdoer. The planner. The voices of fear and doubt.
The narrator of the experience, who also likes to tell me where to go, what to do, how I need to act, and what I should be doing.
They were all silent. They had left me — at least for the moment.
Of course, this is what I wished for. And I’ve experienced this before, in the context of meditation practice, during a good workout or yoga class, when I’m in flow in my writing or other work, or during a reiki or sound healing session. But rarely had I experienced it in a context like this, without first intentionally working to quiet the voices.
Perhaps they got tired of being ignored and silenced.
However it happened, they have left me to myself.
As I contemplated this, I realized that the “loneliness” I was feeling was not loneliness at all; it was an effect of wanting people to fill the silence that the voices tend to fill.
The Invitation to Reach Within
And then it came to me: a knowing that dropped straight into my heart.
The opportunity in this moment was not to reach out to other people to fill my space, but to reach in.
Who are we under the voices that loop in our heads?
The invitation was to connect with myself, in a way that didn’t involve the comfort of food, the escape of a good book, the physical connection of a workout and a good sweat, the intellectual connection of conversation, or the emotional connection of feeling angry, frustrated, overwhelmed or overworked.
The invitation was to connect with my soul. To touch truth.
To relish in the stillness without needing the stillness as a place of refuge.
To be in the space without needing to fill it with voices, people, work, stories, errands, escape.
To be in my enoughness.
Simply: to be.
I embraced the moment to go within. After all, this is why I came here.