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Just Me and Myself – Cycling one Sunday (Musings & Reflections).

Posted by intellisg on May 21, 2007

cycling1.jpgI am happiest when I am cycling, doesn’t matter whether it’s with the boys or just by myself – coming to think about it. I am always alone. I prefer it this way.

It seems to me at least, being or preferring to be alone these days is increasingly being seen as a character flaw. I remember as a kid, it wasn’t unusual for other children to call me “weirdo” or “psycho boy.” Or even for my teachers to refer to me as a “loner.” As if I was afflicted with some incurable contagious diseases. Of course as one gets older for males at least, choosing to be alone is seen as a mark of a thinker (or perhaps a crazed gun man, I really don’t know). And this is where I think one of the readers who wrote to me recently summed it up quite well, when she said:

“….nowadays Darkness, if you are a single girl like me and you’re not hitched. People expect you to be actively on the prowl – speed dating or something. All of these “die, die must do” stuff are discussed as if they are fact. But recently I’ve come to the realization that’s all a crock of shit! You see darkness, I just want to know why you sail, climb and cycle all by yourself –Is it possible to be completely content with your life and be alone at the same time?” – Irene / Bukit Batok

What’s interesting about Irene’s case is, she not referring being alone in the context of “single and looking” or “have to be alone because someone died or I got dumped” or even “single because I am married to my job.” Irene is not talking about that sort of loneliness. Rather its one where one elects by choice to be alone. That’s to say it’s “I choose to remain single.” That’s the direct opposite of “I have to be single because I weight 2 tons and I look like the elephant man and I am as interesting as a soviet warehouse.” She is talking about “I am single, beautiful and successful and I like being alone.”

Now maybe I am confused or obscure again, but judging from what I read in the papers, magazines and watch on TV these days, people like Irene aren’t supposed to exist. I mean, we know there are few hermits living in caves somewhere in Nepal surviving on a handful of sun flower seeds, but that’s not what Irene is talking about. She is referring to people who have nominated to be alone as a matter of choice. Because they really believe it’s possible to live happy, contented and productive life’s, but again society will have you or me believe that’s not true.

Now just in case you are wondering whether this is a flippant rant – don’t! Because the question has deep philosophical roots that goes all the way back to Socrates. Wasn’t he the one who said that all we really just doing; is seeking our other half to complete ourselves? It implies of course we are fractional unless we find someone to love and who are prepared to love us in return. Sure that’s great for our genes and the propagation of the species, but as a self-actualized ethos in this modern age today; how well does this notion sit with of sense and sensibilities?

Now we all know being alone is something we all need to do from time to time. No man is an island and everyone needs someone as a pillar of strength even the very best of us especially during those challenging periods – when loneliness lingers on and every passing moment cuts like a knife.

While being alone seems to be quite miserable at times, if you look at it long and hard enough, much of our realizations are winnowed when we are alone with our thoughts. We make our most level headed decisions when we are alone. I can’t say this for all. But this is especially true for me. Because my vocation doesn’t really require much in the way of human interaction – you could say that’s why I naturally biased to buy into the idea loneliness is a precondition for successful character building.

If we can find the strength to be comfortable and happy when we are alone, not only will we grow to be stronger people. We will have more quality time to our thoughts and be empowered to express our ideas and not be swayed by others.

Let me share a few private thoughts with you that I have never ever told anyone else. Being alone always manages to inspire quiet thoughts – the one where I usually find myself talking to myself. You know (or maybe you don’t because Dr Chandra thinks I bonkers!) that sugary nesting warmth, when you just know somewhere in the depths of silence, you’re simply working things out in your head. Most of the time my other half (my inner voice or persona) remains silent. We are really like two strangers looking at each other across an abyss. One of us may wish to go over the other side or shout out loud from time to time, but most of the time sitting undisturbed in each other’s presence, nesting in each other’s warmth will do very nicely – like today when I am just cycling.

If I had to plumb it, I would go with the idea, that voice in my head has to be a “she.” Only because she laughs at me when I say – do the wrong things – or try my feeble best to defend my blunders; she knows me from “the inside out” and is acquainted with all my annoying self indulgences, my private habits and quirks. All the things I choose to hide away from the all cycling2.jpgseeing world.

She just knows, she’s got a mind of her own – the voice in my head that is. Like old couples, we don’t need to use any words, a grunt, nod or a raised eyebrow will do just as well. All these things are enough to convey the length of a sentence. It’s a relationship.

It’s not easy for a man to run away from himself – not even when he tries so very hard to still his mind and reduce all of it to just smoothing out his strokes as he pedals along, like I am doing right now while mulling over what Irene wrote.

cycling3.jpgAs I am pedaling right now, everything just feels right and tight. The gears are meshing beautifully; the sensation of by the forward glide has never been smoother. I am starting to close in on the pack. Most of the riders have formed up into a tight defensive knot – that’s how they fight off marauders, there is safety in numbers in the sport of cycling – my thoughts returning again to what Irene wrote.

Loneliness can never be taken too philosophically. Neither can the idea of how it continues to inspire fear. I am reminded as an extreme sportsman and businessman, if we don’t fear, it only means our eyes have not been opened and it’s just another form of living in ignorant bravado. Fear is something very natural and it should never be denied an outlet. The more humane we become, the more likely we are to suffer the dread of being lonely. To live, breathe and think simply means continuously reconciling ourselves with vulnerability, rejection and pain – but what did you really expect out of life, we are not old leather, made softer, more comfortable with usage– but that’s not such a bad thing and let me share with you why? – one can only grow based on the ability to look pain or fear directly in the eyes.

And it doesn’t matter what sort of pain or fear it is. It could be the emptiness which follows a bereavement or as I am ridding my bike now – the fear of the pain barrier. Speaking of devil. I am starting to straggle now losing the cadence even slightly. My breathe is starting to become uneven. Hold on! that’s because I am starting my run to punch through the pain barrier, it’s time to begin to picking up speed for the kill – bear with me just a while. There you go, but eventually the white blur edges out quite happily along with the pain. That’s how we all typically go to the next level. It’s a humbling experience one which forces us to confront our sense of fallibility.

cycling4.jpgGetting close to our fallibility like the fear isn’t such a bad thing either. It just means we need to understand it and that may even risk experiencing a sort of separation from the comfort of familiarity – it’s a mountain ledge some 16,000 ft at the upper reaches where you just realized, you have broken your leg in 15 places. There you are contemplating the smallness of your courage. Or a salary man who is turning in his first day as a business man as he opens his first commercial venture. Perhaps even the mother who is trying for a child despite being told repeatedly she doesn’t stand a medical hope. The student who simply fell once and now he’s saying the past is the past and I just want to make good.

In all these cases it takes courage to confront our sense of fallibility. But loneliness or rather the fear of it sharpens our awareness of being vulnerable even further – the “you” may even disappear like a drop of dye in water. Along with name, location, age and gender, it all fades away. Everything is stripped bare and stretched out on a pelt rack, all the essentials in their unalloyed nakedness: who-are-you? – what-are-you? and where-are-your-going?

Gradually a clear sense of continuation returns if one manages to pass through the tunnel of fear that loneliness inspires. All the different parts of “you” will return again, stronger and firmer; first the solid sense of identity followed by the sensation of having a deep spirited confidence in your beliefs and values.

Cultivating one’s inner voice simply means having to be comfortable in a state of loneliness. I can’t speak on the behalf of others like Irene or you. But this is especially true in my case. It’s a process of nurturing the habit of fellowship with yourself without the distraction of having to appease others or to constantly seek their approval – it’s the story of reclaiming the real “you” in the faceless, “them.” That the world has leached away through convenient sound bites and the monologue of nothingness.

cycling5.jpgOnly when we stop the mindless chatter and still the mind that we can to really listen and begin the journey to true understanding. That’s probably why most people fear loneliness – they need to have a conversation with themselves – that is to say, they have to stand naked before the completeness of the truth. And most people just can’t deal with that.

May I wish you all a productive week ahead and may you so lucky to find the mythical line when it’s just you and the road!

Darkness 2007

(By Darkness / meditations / psychology –EP9930672 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)

[This article has been revised from an earlier article, “Sailing all alone through the eye of the needle” – 2005]

13 Responses to “Just Me and Myself – Cycling one Sunday (Musings & Reflections).”

  1. caleb said

    Loneliness is a bit like boozing, a little bit will make things happy, but too much of a good thing will damage you. Anyway nice philosophical piece for the start the week. It resonates for me bc I have been working on a project all by myself and management is pretty divided abt whether it makes sense or not.I had to deal with alot of office politics so when you say “seeking approval” – I agree 100%. Recently my thinking has been to clear all rojak with ego, pride and all that sort of thing la – so this piece will come in handy like a Swiss Army knife. Hopefully I will even be able to get out of the box.

    Another thing I notice when the stat counter goes down, darkness appears. Is this just a coincidence or am I just reading too much into it? 🙂

    Have a nice week.

  2. :P said

    See Anthony Storr’s “Solitude: A Return to the Self”. It’s all in there.

    For a testimony of the “mythical line”, refer to Singaporean potter, Iskander Jalil’s interview with ST Life!, many years ago, in which he describes his medium as a potter—clay—speaking to him; telling him how it wishes to be molded and how he negotiates with it.

    That, is essentially, the Dance.

  3. flowerpower said

    You know darkness hardly writes anything these days, but when he does, its as if he’s just talking to you and only you and no one else. Its so still, so very still and quiet. Thxs. You have a nice week as well 😉 and do go back to church. Good Bless.

  4. flowerpower said

    I just want to ask one question. Are those spelling and grammar mistakes deliberate? To convey a sense of authenticity. I heard you boys do that regularly. Is that true?

  5. montburan said


    In the old forum days those spaceboys had a term whenever Bambi appeared in this manner. They called it “Blitzkrieg.” I remember very clearly they used this word to describe how he would go, boom, boom, boom. Usually in rapid successions to demoralize their enemies. Then as soon as it started it just all died.

    So I think the good news is we can expect him to personally pen the next few articles very soon. The bad news of course for the rest of blogosphere is its going to be terrible quiet,just like the western front. though it would do well if they just remember, its a b’hood trick and they shouldn’t be affected by it. Its after just full of sound thats all it is really. So do take care all and do keep your chins up. For the rest of boys, I am going to tell Mummy!

  6. As It Is said

    I was looking for something to read and suddenly I thought of The Intelligent Singaporean. Not the IS per se but “darkness”. I am so lucky that coincidentally you appeared with a new essay to entertain, advise or share. Thank you “darkness”.

    I went through that period of loneliness, not once but thrice. I had never bothered about the two earlier periods but on the third, I began to fear. I feared being alone. I had to get out of the house just to be with somebody or chat with somebody, anybody. Its like a kind of phobia and I simply could not control myself, I mean the fear. But once I past that stage, everything seems so peaceful.
    Now, I simply like to be alone. It is so rewarding and eaningful. There is no need for company or companion. Life is just beautiful, peaceful and serene. I am in my own world and the whole world is with me. Mine and mine alone. As you have said, once we break through the barrier of pain or fear, we move to the next phase, the next stage. Those who have not simply cannot grasp nor understand.

    I admire you and I had like to join you and be your friend but since I treasure loneliness more than anything else, it is better that we remain:

    AS IT IS!

  7. koalabear said

    “I admire you and I had like to join you and be your friend but since I treasure loneliness more than anything else, it is better that we remain:

    AS IT IS!”

    LOL! Dat’s funny.

  8. guppy said

    wtf is this! Some of us write enough mail to sink the titanic and not a single reply! This Irene, never even heard bfr writes and it gets a 4 pg reply! I think, I am not coming here any more, its insulting and deaming FU!

  9. Nonsense said

    By Rohaniah Saini.
    1452 Words
    19 December 1995
    Straits Times
    (c) 1995 Singapore Press Holdings Limited

    HERE is a man who takes something as unglamorous as brown clay and transforms it into objects that people display in glass cupboards with cunning lighting.

    So many of Mr Iskandar Jalil’s works have been snapped up even before his exhibitions start that frustrated buyers have written in to complain.

    So, he will have to tell his wife, Saleha, that the pieces people have reserved before his one-man exhibition at Takashimaya on Friday will have to be “unreserved”.

    It will be the potter’s third one-man show in a 35-year career.

    In his Kampong Kembangan home, 210 pieces cram the floor of the living and dining rooms, waiting for the packers.

    He has held many exhibitions with other artists and potters but restricts his solo shows to once in five years. Having a one-man show is not a matter of churning out a few pots.

    “It is emotionally and intellectually taxing,” says Mr Iskandar, a full-time lecturer in Temasek Polytechnic’s School of Design.

    The coming show is to be called A Dialogue With Clay for good reason.

    After 35 years getting his hands muddy with clay, Mr Iskandar, 55, feels he and his medium are finally starting to talk to each other. To have a dialogue, there must be voices first.

    “The clay talks to me and I answer it,” he says.

    Indeed to him, the clay has a voice. For the clay is human. And it is a woman.

    His notes for the exhibition brochure says: “It can be as tempestuous as Rita Hayworth or as sensual as Ava Gardner. One day, you can coil with it, another day you can “slab’ it when you are angry, and on a romantic day, you can be very amorous with it on the wheel.

    “It fascinates me day and night for the last 35 years and I have yet to get her consent for marriage.”

    Mr Iskandar’s first show in 1985, called Soft, Earthy And Pliable, defined only the start of the relationship. That developed into The Potter’s Journey in 1990, which showed a more mature understanding of the medium.

    “It was a very intense passion in the beginning,” he says. “But now, it has distilled into quiet reverence and respect.”

    In his family, it is a standing joke that pottery is his “mistress”.

    Yet, Saleha, a home economics teacher, daughter Elena, 21, a National University of Singapore undergraduate, and son Edzra, 25, a student at the College of Physical Education, have learnt to live with this other woman that Mr Iskandar likens to “an elusive butterfly with a come-hither appeal”.

    Saleha helps with the pricing of the works; Elena gives feedback on the usefulness of the pieces; and Edzra often helps him conceptualise.

    Strangely enough, Mr Iskandar met this “woman” by accident, in the same way that fate brings together life partners.

    As a trainee in the Teacher’s Training College in the ’60s, he decided to take up art when he discovered that art students who passed their examinations could not even draw decently.

    “Playing with clay was easy for me, a kampung boy,” says Mr Iskandar, who grew up in Kampong Chantek in Bukit Timah.

    In 1966, he won a scholarship to do textile design in India.

    In 1972, a ceramic engineering scholarship took him to Japan, a focal point for pottery, which left a lasting impression on this Japanese-speaking gaijin (foreigner).

    Pottery a craft for use or art for show?

    MR ISKANDAR’S family uses his bowls, mugs and containers for mundane things like bubur kacang (green bean porridge), salt, sugar and coffee. Even his grey cat Ashley eats biscuits from an Iskandar bowl.

    People who buy his works call them works of art, like restaurant-owner Hazizah Ali, who uses his pots as a dining-table centrepiece.

    Ambassador-at-large Tommy Koh regards him as Singapore’s No. 1 potter and buys his pieces to collect or present to visiting VIPs.

    He says: “Both my wife and I love his pottery. We like their shapes, their glazes, their textures, their combination of Japanese and South-east Asian aesthetics.”

    So is pottery a craft for functional use or art for display and ornamentation?

    Mr Iskandar, the 1988 winner of the Cultural Medallion, Singapore’s highest award for the arts, replies: “Pottery is special because it encompasses craft, art and design. But some of the younger potters don’t know the difference between art and bread-and-butter. To them, everything they do is art. That’s rubbish.”

    His works have travelled to Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, India, Australia, the United States, and are reported to adorn the homes of Malaysian royalty, former US President George Bush and Hongkong Governor Chris Patten.

    But unlike some Singapore artists whose paintings command sums of more than S$50,000 apiece, he sells his works for between S$50 and S$1,000.

    His wife, he says wryly, laughs at his prices.

    “So, I’m no millionaire,” he says. “I’m a pioneer of pottery and I must not kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

    “Higher prices for pottery will come after my life-time after a ceramics culture has evolved. Cha-no-yu or Japanese tea ceremony cups can sometimes cost S$1,000 because there is such an established tradition.”

    However, pottery is slowly gaining enough recognition for some to have gone into it full-time, including one of his students, Mr Hasan Zolkifly Ramli.

    Mr Hasan, 34, a fine craft design graduate from the University of Ulster, describes Mr Iskandar as a strict but inspiring teacher.

    “When we were at the wheel, our posture and attitude had to be correct,” he recalls. “Every twitch of the muscle had to have purpose. No whistling, no joking as we had to respect the clay. What influenced me was his insistence on using local materials.”

    The best clay in Singapore, says Mr Iskandar, is the fine white clay at Jalan Bahar near the Choa Chua Kang cemetery. He gets clay for free, he says.

    Sometimes, on the road on his Yamaha Virago or Harley-Davidson Sportster, he would stop a lorry carrying clay from a construction site.

    He would say to the perplexed driver: “Where are you dumping it? If you tell me, I will give you S$50.”

    Like a piece of pottery himself

    CLAY is both metaphor and medium. After years at the wheel and the kiln, he has crystallised his philosophy as a potter.

    “I talk, communicate and even have a dialogue with clay to achieve what I want. If I find the clay and myself as one in my concept and work, I am satisfied. I am closer to Allah, I am at peace with the elements.”

    The closeness to God is significant if one were to think of God as the Master Clay-Firer himself, in the context of the religious idea of Man being moulded from a lump of clay.

    And reference to the elements is significant if one were to remember that earth, water and fire are part of the alchemy of making pottery.

    In fact, there is a primordial intuition for pottery that fascinates Mr Iskandar.

    “I often wonder how my right hand synchronises with my left hand and how they work blindly with the brain,” he says.

    Yet, no matter how much he explores new frontiers in his craft, he comes back to the basic shape of the bowl.

    “There is humility but awesome power in the bowl. It is the shape that links me to generations of potters over the centuries.”

    Sitting in the living room of his simple home and stroking his brown cat lazily, he is like a piece of pottery himself.

    His sun-browned body is made compact by sports, especially running. His Nike Air-clad feet take him to Changi Airport and back, around sports complexes, Bedok Reservoir and Bukit Timah Hill, and to the finish line in marathons. He also scuba-dives with his children.

    His aura is as earthy and as grounded as clay.

    He would like to retire, and devote more time to his craft and to organising the writing he has done over the years. And to continue his courtship of clay.

    He says: “The end of the courtship is not in sight. The engagement and wedding will be in the next generation.”

    Mr Iskandar Jalil’s solo exhibition will be held at Takashimaya Gallery, Level 4, Takashimaya Department Store, from Friday to Jan 14 from 10 am 9.30 pm.

  10. astroboy said

    I like this article very much, that explains why you’re always the last in the pack lol.

  11. wbg said

    Singapore and the materialism of the people are both too small to understand loneliness.

    True loneliness is not only experienced from meditations but also from the independence from worldly materials and as Jesus once said it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

    Singapore has so many rich men but how many can resolve their worldly burdens and immoral cravings and ascend to heaven when the time comes?

  12. astroboy said

    wbg are a fundamentalist christian?

  13. As It Is said

    Wasn’t it Jesus or God that said it is the meek who will inherit the Earth and they shall go forth to the Kingdom of God?

    It is the Rich who are now inherit the Earth and, therefore, they shall go forth to Heaven. No?

    Why did Jesus went to the mountain to meditate 40 days and 40 nights?

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