It wasn't until my fifth day at college that I stumbled upon a Rumi quotation that would change the way I socialized: "A little while alone in your room," advised the famous poet and theologist, "will prove more valuable than anything else that could ever be given you."
Before I'd done the opposite, earnestly following the advice that everyone and their mother gave me: Keep my door open, my confidantes advised, and always made a point of being social. When I first arrived on Emerson's college campus, I always kept the doorstop in my door and let people come in and out. When I wasn't in bed asleep, I was eager to entertain the wandering floormates that passed by my dorm room door. And even as I slept in my bed, my roommate was a mere five feet away from me.
Although I wasn't fully aware of it, the constant stream of visitors in and out of my room forced me to think about how I was presenting myself. Suddenly I was always conscious of what I was saying. I found it especially hard to gauge if I was giving away too much information about myself and crossing the line between offensive and funny because all of these relationships were brand new.
The Rumi quote changed all of that and freed me to pursue a more meaningful use of my time. That one sentence allowed me give myself just an hour alone in my room to either read, journal, or just organize my space. Suddenly it hit me: time spent in solitude is just as important, if not even more important, as time spent socializing.
The key to achieving this solitude is to erase the stigma of being alone. I've learned to embrace the fact that just because I'm not surrounded by other people doesn't mean that I am necessarily lonely. Developing the confidence to feel comfortable and fulfilled without the presence of others is a process, but certainly not an impossible one. The benefits, such as increased productivity and concentration, make the difficulty of getting over that initial discomfort well worth it.
Boston provides countless opportunities to go out and explore, and I often found it difficult to pass up invitations to go out. Between the fear of missing out on bonding time, and the pang of jealousy when I saw my new friends uploading pictures to Instagram, I often jumped out of bed to get late-night dumplings around the corner. The damage to my jeans size and depleting bank account weren't the only ramifications: my sleep schedule suffered, as did my mental health. Admittedly, it's still difficult to say no when my neighbors knock on my door to see if I'm up for a midnight adventure, but this is just another exercise in collegiate self control.
Every Monday, Goldie Graham, my yoga teacher at Back Bay Yoga Studio, challenges her students to make a small change in their week. One week, she suggested that her students to put their phones in their bags and wander from Point A to Point B without being dependent on technology. With that in mind, I headed down Boylston St. without a plan or person by my side. It was invigorating being so connected to the city and returning to a time when I was awestruck by the architecture of Boston. I found myself making eye contact and smiling at strangers, which isn't as dangerous as my orientation packet warned me it would be. I ended up walking until I stumbled upon what is now my favorite spot in Boston: Pavement Coffee House. I spent a few hours browsing the bookstore in the quaint neighborhood and trying their signature "Yerba Mate Latte." I finally read a book that has been sitting on my wish list for the last few months, journaled, and just genuinely relaxed after a long day of classes. I arrived back at Emerson just in time to eat dinner with my friends and rave about my new discovery.
College is the perfect time to explore existential questions about identity, intentions, and the future. Solitude provides time for students to think about these "big questions" and fosters a deeper connection with self. While it is certainly important to form relationships and experience the world, it's equally important to learn about oneself and commit to internal exploration to grow as both a student and human being.