Language…has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone. (Paul Johannes Tillich)

I have always and ever been a study in contradiction – I am always both this and that. That’s part of being human, I think – the complexity and the changeableness.

I have always really identified with the mythos of the phoenix – the cyclical nature of it, the circularity, the rise and the fall. That’s me. I am both outgoing and personable, and reclusive and introverted. I am just one or the other at different times, cyclically. To everything there is a season, and a time for all things under heaven has been one of the strongest ideals / ideas in my makeup.

Lately, I find myself daydreaming about going to a hermitage. I always find myself thinking – at first – that a week would do it, and then the longer I entertain the daydream, the longer my ideal stay stretches. I’ve even scouted out places for hermitages – looked them up online, and priced them out and everything. One day, I’m strongly attracted to the whole no-phone, no-internet, no-tv, cabin-in-the-woods scene, and another day, I want to go up to a nice place I stayed once in Phillips, WI and enjoy all of those things, and the aloneness, too.

If I were a phoenix in fact, I would now at this moment be in the ashes stage of things – having already had a period of great growth and productivity, having allowed all that was unnecessary or outgrown to burn out of me. I have been so content in quiet. I have been so content in solitude.

I go through this cycle frequently – the first part starts with burning enthusiasm, and I just take in, take in, take in – absorbing everything that comes my way. Snapping it up and moving forward and doing so with energy, enthusiasm and verve. This sometimes coincides with the next part of the cycle – where I put out, produce, share, interact, and make things or formulate ideas, write blogs, write in my journal. Sometimes I flip-flop back and forth between these two phases for awhile – and the whole time, it feels pretty good – I feel alive and vital and invigorated.

And then I enter a phase like the one I’m in now. Where I wanna go all Thoreau and retreat to a cabin in the woods somewhere and just be. Not think, not do, not take in, not produce – just be. And I’m finally realizing that this is just a part of who I am – and that it’s a necessary part. Without the solitude, I burn out. Without the ability to just sit and be, I simply flame my way through life without taking things in deeply enough to make them true and lasting parts of who I am.

I’ve given thought to whether or not this is a depressed state – maybe, in a way, it could be considered one. I suppose that my other natural state of ebullience and enthusiasm so contradicts this one that it seems so. But there’s no real sadness, just quietness. There’s sadness when I’m flying high, too. There have been times of my life when lying in the ashes for too long has grown into a depression, but I know what that looks like now, and this is not it.

I like the fact that I can live in both worlds – the outer one of bustle and product and learning and interaction, and the inner one of synthesis and quietness and meditation and peace. I like the fact that I can be both things – and maybe, I am just getting better at putting words to the feelings of each and getting better at honoring each part of the cycle. The time when I haven’t done this, when I’ve denied myself a part of this, I’ve suffered. I’m really not interested any longer in making myself appear to be in certain mood or a state in order to put others at ease. It does me a disservice – and really, I think it does others a disservice.

Where in God’s name did we ever get the idea that we had to be forever happy? That if we weren’t, there would be a pill to “fix” that? Why did we ever move away from just letting things be in their natural state, in the natural progression and cycle? It’s become systemic in this society to “fix” damn near everything with some pill. Ugh. You know, it’s totally natural to be quiet. To not produce. To not be eternally and perpetually connected or available. To just be. To be in solitude. For a while.

To crave solitude and to find ways to embrace that need and fill it are healthy. To step back, to assess, to become still – these are all healthy things. When they stretch on and on, they’re not so healthy – but the need for solitude is something that I believe is innate. The need to engage in a period of rest is innate.

What a commentary on civilization, when being alone is suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it – like a secret vice. (Anne Morrow Lindbergh)

If we never stop moving, if we never go inward and engage our own soul, that is unhealthy. If we are unable to or uncomfortable with being alone for fear of what we might just find within, that’s unhealthy.

There’s just so much to see and read, to take in, to learn, to engage with, to be available for, that there are honestly times I just get plain old world-weary of it. We live in the most connected society ever. It’s tiring. I, for one, remember life before the advent of the cell phone – and I loved it. I loved going off the map for awhile without there being this strange and unnatural unspoken expectation for you to make yourself available to all others simply because you are in possession of a cell phone. That is unhealthy.

I’ve been digging this alone-time thing. I’ve been digging being quiet. It’s not that my head is empty or that my heart is empty – it’s that they’ve been so filled that I need time to discern what gets to remain and what doesn’t. This past year and a half has been so utterly full of changes – and most of them awesome ones – and so full of movement and doing, that I truly haven’t had the time to make meaning into a meal – it’s been taken in snack-sized bites.

I’ve come to a time where it was necessary to sit alone and break bread with myself. To go inward and feel all the feelings I didn’t have time to feel before. To draw together all of my experiences and all the thoughts that go with them and to see them in connection and conjunction to one another. To play with ideas, or to just let them sit there in my mind and see what happens. To dwell. To be quiet enough to hear the answers to all the prayers I’ve prayed in the past year and a half.

It is only when we silent the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of truth that life reveals to us, as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts. (K.T. Jong)

I’ve grown adept at staking out my corners and letting the world know that I am okay…that I just need to go off the map for awhile. For the most part now my friends, my family, my loved ones understand it and respect it. It’s not so much that they give it to me, but more that I took it whether they were going to give it or not, and they’ve just gotten used to it. They maybe even see the benefit of it – because just like all work and no play make me a dull girl, all interaction and no solitude makes me a crabby one.

By all means use sometimes to be alone. Salute thyself; see what thy soul doth wear. (George Herbert)

I’ve given some thought to how this might play out if I ever have children. Once you’re a parent, your rights change. There’s a different order to things, and a different set of responsibilities that have to be attended to. One of the hopes is that I’d be able to show my children the value of solitude, and teach them to be calm islands in the river of life around them. To show them the value of all ways of being: the furor of fire, the flexibility of water, the stability of earth, the peace and purpose of air. The depths of spirit.

I grew up in the era before children had online calendars and their parents scheduled play dates and became glorified chauffeurs. I grew up hearing, “Bored? There’s no such thing. There’s plenty to do, and if you can’t find something, just sit there. Eventually you will.” And subsequently, I know how to have and enjoy downtime, as well as knowing how to occupy myself and engage with others. How to do both.

For now, I’m enjoying quiet. I’m enjoying naps. And I’m enjoying solitude.

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