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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.
This morning did not start out well. On my way to go pick up my cousin for school, I had the insistent and persistent sense that my ferrying services would not be needed today. Every single time I have had this feeling (the “I don’t know why you’re even bothering leaving. That boy is not going to school today” feeling), I have been enroute, and gotten a text message telling me not to come. Again today, I got that feeling, and again today the boy did not need me to take him to school. Only today, I discovered this after I’d been sitting outside his house for fifteen minutes. He and my uncle were both very sorry, but to be honest, that was totally beside the point.
Hot on the heels of this little annoyance, I call my sister only to discover that she has invited a virus into her computer much in the same way one might invite a vampire into their home. My sister, the inexperienced computer user (obviously), doubted that there was anything to be so concerned about. I spent about twenty minutes calling and waking my poor fiancé to get his take on things, calling her back with information and instructions, and calling him back to apologize for harassing him so early in the morning. Finally able to convince her that this was serious – call the bank, don’t even touch your computer serious – I got off the phone, heaved a deep sigh, and continued my long morning commute.
The day was not off to an auspicious start.
I arrived at Three Sisters, and I had about an hour and a half to myself to kind of decompress and invite calm back into my sphere. I also chose to turn off my phone. Dani and I had a great day (I always do when I’m there – love it, love it, love it) – very productive, busy, and fun. So productive, busy and fun, we didn’t have time to eat, and since I was having so much fun, I didn’t really notice how hungry I was until I left.
So, I called my fiancé to get the scoop on tonight’s victuals, and he (per my earlier instructions) had already eaten. Great. Hmmmm. I was flying solo, super tired, and super hungry – and I couldn’t really decide what would be the most economical and least pain in the rear…. I realize that this shouldn’t have been a major decision, but my brain had atrophied by this point, and it sure felt major.
I called Rosati’s pizza in the Falls, deciding that, since I only have to please me, I’ll get the pizza I like, which no one else does – the Chicago style deep dish, all goooey and delicious with cheese and a buttery flaky crust and rich, chunky tomato sauce smothering all of the cheese and toppings…YUM. I call to order this delectable dish fit for the gods (or at least fit for me) only to hear, “I’m sorry ma’am, we’re all out of deep dish crust.” I literally said, “You make me sad.” I have no idea what the poor man thought of this, but he was very accommodating as I attempted to make another selection. I must have sounded as disappointed as I felt.
I arrive at the pizza joint, ready to dart inside and retrieve my pizza at the exact nanosecond he said it’d be ready, only to be told that it would be another ten minutes or so. At this point, I am tired, and so hungry that I feel dizzy and have a headache blooming across my forehead. I call Wittler (my fiancé) to tell him (or warn him, depending upon whose perspective you’re viewing this through…) that I was on my way home. Poor man. He sounded somewhat alarmed and not a little bit scared, even though I told him I wasn’t gunning for him.
The entire ride home, my poor little car made the whirring, spinney, rattling noise that my uncle (the mechanic) warned me was the harbinger of doom and my car’s imminent demise. Drat, drat, and double drat. So with the annoying and anxiety-producing whirring in the background, and the litany of the day’s issues running doggedly through my head, and the issues of the past weeks thrumming along nicely just for rhythm, I drove home.
With the exception of the middle of my day (while I was at Three Sisters’), this had not been the best day.
Wittler was very solicitous when I walked in the door, dutifully oohing and aahing over the scarves I bought out of the new shipment at the shop, and keeping his distance the way you would from a dog you’d just met and didn’t want to bite you.
To survive, we must begin to know sacredness. The pace at which most of live prevents this.
For a long time now, I have kept up a punishing pace. I am very hard on myself, and more demanding of me than others would be. I am a hard and exacting taskmaster. And, I’ve decided I am too damn nice. I need to learn to say no sometimes. Even to myself.
As I trudged into the front room with the pizza and Practical Magic, and the announcement that I planned to do whatever I liked this evening without interference, I realized that I don’t do that nearly often enough.
Before the age of cell phones, which I am thankfully old enough to remember and appreciate, I used to go off the map. Get lost for a while, have an adventure, do whatever the heck I pleased, for just a little while. I don’t do that anymore – and today, I realized just what that is costing me.
Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again.
— Joseph Campbell
Where are my sacred spaces now? I used to have favorite and secret haunts that soothed me and fed my soul. I have starved myself of the sacred, and withheld the opportunity to replenish myself, and I feel it.
I do too much for other people. I say yes to things far too quickly. I have “dutied” myself out of the pleasure I found in just being with myself.
So, tonight I told Wittler that soon – very, very soon – I’d be taking a day just for me. That I would hold it sacred, and that I wouldn’t be answering the phone, or telling anyone where I was, and that everyone would just have to somehow manage without me for one bloody day. Dani does this for herself, and in hearing her talk about it, despite my obstinacy, the Universe finally found a way to creep through the cracks of my stubbornness and get that seed in there.
I cannot remember the last time I even took a few hours for myself that did not involve going to visit with someone or weren’t simultaneous to doing the laundry at my folks’ house.
I have not been honoring my need to be alone with myself.
I have not been honoring my need for silence.
I have not been honoring my need to explore my world, to explore myself.
I have not been honoring myself.
Live your life as you see fit. That’s not selfish. Selfish is to demand that others live their lives as you see fit.
— Anthony DeMello
For the course of my entire life, I have been led to believe that in order to be good, I should find ways to be unselfish (which I’ve apparently translated to mean selfless). In order to be good, I needed to find ways to be of service to others. That is not in itself an untruth, or a bad thing. It should have been prefaced, though, by the idea that in order to be of service to others, I need to first serve myself. I need to take care of me, first. I need to love me, first. I need to serve me, first. Then, I can take the fullness and breadth of my whole and healthy being, and serve others.
The wonderful irony of the Universe is that I have said this very thing to at least three people in the past few weeks. It wasn’t until today, that I could see it with new eyes and hear it with new ears, and take it into my being, where it most needed to be.
So, my lovelies, I am going to indulge in watching one of my favorite movies, and I am not going to empty the blasted dishwasher, I am not going to answer my phone. And Wittler, since he is smart and knows me so well and loves me so well, will steer clear of the front room so I can have the me time I so desperately need. And, most importantly, I am going to start scheduling time for myself, before I schedule time for everyone else.