“If you're lonely when you're alone, you're in bad company.”
– Jean-Paul Sartre
I recently embarked on my first trip to Tokyo. It was a semi-solo trip and my first time in Asia. Tokyo is a city of endless stimuli. From my eyes to my tongue, every single one of my senses was absolutely tantalized, often to the point where I physically froze in awe of it all. I went to Japan to visit my cousin who was there on business. I spent weekends and evenings with her, but I had a couple days on my own to take on Tokyo and explore.
As I wandered the streets solo, the lack of words leaving my mouth allowed my mind to drift and wonder. The pause in my speech left room for me to soak in my environment and atmosphere with my other senses. Despite my love for capturing moments and taking pictures, I found myself soaking in more with my eyes than my camera lens. My perspective shifted away from how I would be seen in Japan and into how I chose to see Japan. I moved at my own pace, allowing my eyes to sparkle and linger in amazement at the sights before me.
I realized on this trip how precious being alone with your thoughts and contemplations is. Not just on vacation, but in life, I spent so much time chasing self-made goals of perceived happiness. In Japan, it felt good to just allow myself to do whatever I felt like doing. Honestly, this internal contemplation of what being alone means started way before my trip to Japan.
I was strolling through the small streets of Shimokitazawa, a neighborhood known for its vintage and vinyl shops, art shows, and live music that still possesses a lingering old-Tokyo vibe, when a thought wandered into my mind.
“Maybe breaking a part of you is the only real way to attain the next stage of your evolution.”
The thought instantly made me think of kintsugi. Meaning “golden joinery,” kintsugi is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a special tree sap lacquer dusted with powdered gold or silver. It forgoes camouflaged adhesive which masks the ceramic as never having broken, and instead chooses to find the beauty in the brokenness. The once fragmented pieces now glimmer and shine, celebrating the beauty in what is flawed and birthing a one-of-a-kind piece. How fitting that I had this realization in Japan. I wish to channel the energy of kintsugi in my everyday life.
It seems that my greatest transformations always arrive in the wake of my lowest lows. Perhaps that means that I’m more deeply molded by pain than pleasure. Because if it feels good, just keep doing it right? But if it hurts, especially if it breaks you, that means significant modifications are required. Great pain warrants great change.
A friend once told me, “I know it sounds morbid, but when someone dies, you share the grief. In a breakup, you’re completely alone.” People can be there for you, but no one else can ever truly understand the way your heart aches and the emotional rollercoaster you’re locked into. In this space of loneliness is where I finally absorbed the unexpected beauty of being alone.
The past few months have been immensely transformative for me. I finally left the United States for the first time and proceeded to go to three countries (London, Paris, and Japan) in the span of two months. I shed layers that I didn’t know that I didn’t need. I shed what I might not have not voluntarily let go of. Sometimes what you need most is to lose what you thought you wanted the most. It flips your priorities on its head and makes you reconsider and rethink what’s important to you, and maybe even who you are. So was it a loss or did it set me free? Are you lonely or are you just alone?