During last week’s business trip, I sought a quiet corner in which to work without distractions in between meetings. Once I found that place in my hotel room, seated at the sleek dark wooden desk in front of a mirror, with an ultra-modern lamp to my left casting a soft glow over my work space, I felt a sense of loneliness. I had been trying to escape the noise that surrounded me all through the morning and early afternoon, but now that I was alone, the solitude felt uncomfortable. Has that ever happened to you, dear reader? It’s the drastic difference between the state of noise and action and the sudden quiet, as shocking as being plunged into ice-cold water without a hint of warning. It descends on us suddenly and catches us off-guard, inviting analysis that sounds something like, “But I’m an introvert. I like my own company and usually long for silence. Why do I feel this way now?”
I lifted by gaze from the screen of the laptop and looked into my own eyes, reflected in the mirror before me. I did nothing else for the next few minutes. While I sat and gazed, breathing fully, I acknowledged the sense of loneliness. I asked myself silently to name how I feel, and the answer was, “Sad.” Then, I asked myself what circumstances led to this feeling and understood that it was a situation akin to coming down for the buzz that is inevitably experienced in social situations, whether or not we make a conscious choice about being in a crowd. Finally, I closed my eyes and allowed myself to sit with those feelings, giving myself permission to experience the sadness, the complete silence, to be with the discomfort without the pressure to snap out of it, to enjoy the moment, or to agonize over it. I reminded myself to simply acknowledge this moment and its swirling stories.
Something curious happened next, as the sadness started to dissolve. All the other feelings also started to dissipate in the moment when I stopped naming them or following their path into an analysis of the dramatic backstory. When I opened my eyes and looked at my reflection in the mirror, I saw myself as a being with a body that is a container for emotions that do not define me, with personality traits that do not define who I am beneath all these layers of the narrative we tell ourselves and to everyone around who is willing to listen. The emotions that make up our personality ebb and flow through us all, and it seems logical to me that any attempts to silence or diminish the emotions would only intensify them. But I’m not an expert. I was simply there, in that moment, allowing myself to create space to contain the narratives that will continue to weave themselves into the experience.
In that moment, I reminded myself of the task before me, drew my attention back to my laptop screen, and went back to work.