Since graduating college last May, I’ve spent more and more time by myself. I lived in a trailer by myself in Washington, I spent many solitary, unemployed afternoons strolling through Chicago, I even did a hike along the Pacific Ocean beach where I didn’t see another human for 48 hours. Now I find myself alone again as I wander around the country. Not just alone in a physical sense, but alone in a technological sense. That is, I’m (mostly) off the grid. Or #OTG as Matt would say. That means I can’t text a friend when I’m reminded of a shared memory, I can’t mindlessly browse Facebook statuses from my couch, I can’t google the definition of an unfamiliar word in my book (“Angle of Repose” by Wallace Stegner), I can’t check-in, I can’t update, I can’t share. I usually get one of two reaction to this: “that sucks” or “that’s great.” And yes, sometimes it sucks and sometimes it’s great. Sometimes I’m anxious and sometimes I’m peaceful. Sometimes there is loneliness and sometimes there is solitude.
“Loneliness is solitude with a problem.” -Maggie Nelson
Solitude is a peaceful moment with the self. A chance to explore the soul. An inward dialogue to discover the great truths of the universe. Unraveling the path within- one’s purpose, passion, place. It requires a confidence reaffirmed from within, not from friends, family or anyone else. Loneliness is wishing for something more. Someone to distract. When insecurities and anxieties blitz the mind and the need for someone else becomes overwhelming. What else? What if? It is confusing, frustrating and yeah, it sucks.
Last week I found myself on the lonely side of the spectrum. After a long, exhausting day of work, I was overcome with a crippling sense of uncertainty. I felt like I was the only person in the world. Alone and lonely. A quiet took over, running deep through every muscle, silently walking and wandering without purpose, yet always seeming to make the wrong move. I didn’t know what caused it. I didn’t know what to do, where to go or what to think about. I was at such a loss. My gut, my natural tendency, was failing me. I lost the path.
But I didn’t panic, I took a breath, brought the uncertainty and loneliness into my awareness, held it in my consciousness and walked with it. Sat with it. Tried to understand it, dissect it, find its origin, but mostly I just let it flow. Succumb completely and helplessly to its hold. Don’t hate it. Don’t fight it. Just be it. For it is only a moment and it is only a feeling.
Soon enough, with the help of some tea and a pen, it transformed into a great sense of peace and solitude. I was comfortable again. I returned to myself. Sometimes that’s all it takes. But it takes that. It takes deliberate effort. Intentionality. And it’s worth it. Those brief moments of loneliness are far outweighed by the more frequent, more powerful, more enlightening moments of solitude.
“The blessings for which we hunger are not to be found in other places or people. These gifts can only be given to you by your self. They are at home at the hearth of your soul.” – John O’Donohue
Many of our greatest innovations and creativities rise from moments of solitude. Connecting with The Source, our intuition, a deepened relationship with God, with the Tao. We are given the “Power of the Slowing.” We find new meanings. We find solutions to old problems. We find ourselves.
“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” – Pablo Picasso
Today, we live in a hyper-connected world. I’ll be the first to admit that when I’m on the grid, I browse Instagram & Facebook for hours, I snap selfies while “reading,” I’m constantly distracted from myself. That’s why I love being #OTG, because I eliminate that urge, that addiction. Cold-turkey.
Often we refuse solitude because we’re scared of what we might find within. What if I’m boring? or stupid? or distracted? or judgmental? or average? So instead we avoid it, concluding that the self is simply the mirror’s reflection, nothing more. We’ve become so reliant on the approval of others in likes, comments, tinder matches and constant connectivity, that we forget to ask ourselves for approval.
“Many people suffer from the fear of finding oneself alone, so they don’t find themselves at all.” – Rollo May
We’re all unique in our strength and weaknesses and that’s OK. No, it’s wonderful. It’s what makes life interesting and exciting. We are not set in stone, completely defined in personality or opinion. We are constantly adapting, learning from every new experience, living. So take a picture for yourself, write a letter to yourself, take a moment for yourself. You’ll be amazed at the dynamic, thoughtful, and fascinating individual within.