“Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it.” Thomas Merton
Do you feel a difference between loneliness and solitude? Are you comfortable with either one? What makes the difference for you?
During this time when we are limited as to where we can go, there is one place we can always go: inside ourselves. This inward journey may be frightening. It may be exciting or uplifting. It may be boring or it may totally change our lives.
Solitude Can Help Identify Our True Feelings
We don’t always need solitude in order to travel inward, but the lack of distractions often helps us focus on what we are thinking and feeling. Imagine you’ve just had a conversation with a friend and shared how unhappy you are living alone. Instead of receiving the sympathy you expected from her, she basically tells you in a clearly irritated voice to stop complaining and just be glad you aren’t sick.
What was that about? Perhaps at first you feel angry because she has a husband and a child, so she’s never alone and you think she’s lucky. So what are you really feeling? Hurt? Anger? Sadness? Abandoned by someone you trusted to always be with you?
May Sarton says, “Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.” When we are lonely, we often feel we are less than we want to be. We are lacking a roommate, a job, a mate, a hobby, an activity to keep us busy because we don’t want to be disturbed by our loneliness.
The Richness of Being in the Moment
Solitude, on the other hand, is like that rich almond chocolate brownie I always buy at Green Sage. When I eat it, the pleasure spreads through my whole body and my mind lets go of any other concerns. I am completely in the moment.
Solitude is like that. It broadens and deepens the present. It fills one inside so that the lack of a companion or a good movie to watch is irrelevant. It allows one to sit in silence so that what we would consciously observe about our lives and the world deepens and fills us with understanding or awareness that we didn’t have before.
The Challenges of Staying Centered
I thought that during this pandemic I would have more time to just take it easy, read more books, and take walks. Well, it hasn’t worked out that way. Every day seems to fill with unexpected problems. The technical challenges keep coming. Today I was unable, again, to log onto the online issue of the local newspaper. I started chatting then accidentally disconnected the chat. Then I called customer service who tried to help but was unsuccessful so that person sent the problem to the technical people who will call tomorrow.
At other times, I spend hours trying to determine if a medical bill is correct. It doesn’t have the doctor’s name on it and it doesn’t show what the insurance has paid. When I go online to the insurance portal, the information is unclear to me and often not current with the date on the bill.
Deepening To Find Our True Selves
I keep saying I’m going to meditate or just sit on the deck and stare at the sky. When I finally allow myself to be still and forget about the list I made of the things I must do that day, I feel separate for a moment, alone. But when I close my eyes for a few minutes and take a deep breath, I get a glimpse of solitude. As I let myself just be, I slip into a richer place.
The warmth of the sun, the cool of the breeze caresses my body. My breath deepens easily and quietly fills me. The bird song becomes a beautiful aria and part of me flies from tree to tree with the squirrels. I become one with all that is and my present is rich and beautiful. Whatever problems have been dragging me down have disappeared.
In solitude I am not really alone. I am deeply connected to Spirit whose energy is around me. It feeds me with deep feelings of contentment. Even when I am sitting inside without the beauty of nature, what is deep inside shifts to a fuller sense of self. As I sit in this solitude, not forcing my mind to find solutions to problems, but letting myself just be, the healing I need often appears.
When I return to daily activity, I am calmer, more able to solve the problems that arise. I have accepted myself at the deepest level. A richness of spirit fills that part of me that felt lacking and incompetent. I know I will learn what I need to learn with time. In that moment, this solitude of deepening is all that matters.
© 2020 Georganne Spruce
Further readings on the topic: