I want to be alone. I want to spend plenty of time deeply engaged with others. But others don’t come first. They used to, they always did. It was what I always knew and thought I’d always want. But not anymore. It’s become one of the most important and dramatic internal shifts of my adulthood. I have discovered that my solitude is the single most important source from which I move through the world. Without it, I thirst and hunger and move towards things, experiences and people looking for that longing to be satisfied which only my solitude gives me. And then I remember that it’s time to be alone again.
I’m not talking about just ‘being alone.’ Many of us know about that, live alone ourselves and maybe even understand what I’m talking about. And I’m not talking about the loneliness that comes from prolonged periods of being alone with no other contact with kindred spirits and intimate friends and partners. No, I’m talking about another kind of solitude.
There’s the being-alone amidst the nitz and fritz of daily life without particular intention or focus related to that alone-ness. I like that kind, too, although that’s not what I had intended to write about when I began. It deserves some attention too: it’s the kind I’m in a lot when I’m traveling and when I’m home alone. I figure out what I want to do, how and when I want to do it and I take it from there. Yes, that’s it, that kind of being alone is the doing part – how do I do my days? Setting my pace, writing and accomplishing what’s on my lists, seeing the sights, eating when I’m hungry and not when the clock or anyone else says it’s time, waking and sleeping at odd or familiar hours, moving through the days according only to me. Oh, indeed, I do very much love this kind of alone-ness. But that’s very different that the ‘other’ kind. And this kind couldn’t satisfy me or be the only kind I have. No, that wouldn’t do at all.
There’s the embrace and creation a certain kind of solitude that gives rise and room for reflection, inspiration and expression. And that’s the kind I’ve come to cherish and require.
Like right now and right here, in Lake Basin Campground, in Lakes Basin Recreation Area in Plumas County in the Northern Sierra Mountains in California. I had meant to go to the Wild Plum Campground, a favorite for years spanning back to the David times and a place I’ve shared with many dear friends. I headed there first, but there were no sites available for the entire week-end, so I headed further into the Lakes Basin area and then thought it better that I wasn’t returning to a known place. This taking off and camping alone is a fairly new activity and it seemed fitting that I would come to a known and beloved place and yet stay in a new area. Yes, while feeling the wistful remnants of old memories, now I’m creating my own.
The Godyssey and I arrived yesterday and we’re now settled in at almost 6000 feet elevation amidst the towering trees of pine and fir, the sweetly pungent smells that uniquely say Sierras and the cerulean shade of skies that exist, I am convinced, nowhere else but here. It’s mid-morning and the sun is ablaze above my head. The birch tree leaves are shimmering in the shadows and the light, but cool breeze. Already it’s warm, a far cry from the night-time temperatures that were in the 40’s. The surrounding peaks, oh the surrounding peaks and the Sierra Buttes and those certain crevices in the sun’s shadow – they’re all still dusted with plenty of snow! Miles of hiking trails lead directly from the campground to loads of surrounding lakes – there’s no need to get back into the driver’s seat until we leave on Saturday. I took a several mile hike yesterday, didn’t see another person on the trail and was accompanied instead by dense forest, showering waterfalls, a sweet and grassy lake, abundant wildflowers and gargantuan granite formations. Hiking at this elevation takes a little adjustment, and the steep trails are giving me an invigorating work out. These are the kinds of days I am especially exhilarated to be in a body and to be ‘using’ it!
This morning I have already been able to indulge in the two different kinds of being alone that I speak of: I awoke early and then fell back into sleep for another deep and full three hours, waking much later than usual. I decided I’d write for a little bit and then begin my hike for today. That was two hours ago and still, I sit here writing, having thus decided that the morning and early afternoon time will be for writing and then the late afternoon and early evening will be my hiking time. I didn’t know that last night or even this morning when I woke up. I even felt a slight internal battle – “Oh c’mon, you’ve got to go hiking right now. You can’t spend the whole morning writing. It’s too beautiful – you’ve got to leave the campsite and go see what’s all around.” Blah-blah-blah.
“Want to make a bet? I want to write and I want to hike and I’m gonna do it all today – right now, the writing is what’s calling me and nothing else matters.” That’s the voice, thankfully, that won!
I lovelovelove that I can create that, go with the energy that shows up in the moment and make absolutely no other adjustments. If one other person was here, the dearest person in the world to me, still, I wouldn’t have been able to have this kind of experience.
Being back in California reminds me that I don’t always need or want these kinds of experiences, but I do want plenty of them. Living with Mary this past month has shown me how thrilled I am to have a loved one nearby – it’s delightful and life-giving and fun with its own depth and shared spontaneity to share time and space together – but I can’t do it without also having this. This quality of solitude. And it really, really helps when that other loved one also requires her own depth of time and space.
It’s back to the balance, the balance of connection and solitude; and as I find my way more deeply into all the different kinds of solitude that are so satisfying to me, it takes more of it to discern what I need, how I need it and how to give it to myself.
Already, in less than 24 hours of being alone in this kind of environment and with holding an intention of diving deeply into my own presence and process, I can feel the sense of connection with self and with Source. It’s like a de-cluttering process, making room for energy to flow more smoothly, and thus have more access to it; and I can already feel the quench of this thirst, like a cool drink on a sweltering summer day.
What I find is that when my alone time only feels like I’m alone and I’m not connected deeply to self or to Source, that’s when loneliness can envelope me. (Of course, it can also envelope me in the middle of a dinner party or some other gathering, but that’s another story.) And almost always, loneliness does come up. It’s come up already since I’ve arrived here. I’ve learned not to shrink away from it, though, not to be afraid of it; but instead to let it in and listen to what it has to say. It came twice yesterday – once as I was sitting at the campfire and another time as I was lying in bed, cuddling up under the covers and wishing it was with another body instead. What did it have to tell me in both of those times? What I’ve found is that its visits are perhaps as frequent as they’ve ever been, but they don’t stay as long and they feel now more like waves of energy and emotion that come, pass through and go on their way. I notice them, but I’m not of them and they simply don’t scare me the way they once did. They seem like emotional weather storms – sure, sometimes they are like hurricanes, blowing through with gale-force ferocity and leaving destruction in their wake. But more often, they’re slight tropical storms, maybe some strong winds, just as likely lighter ones; and as quickly as they arrive, they depart, leaving some things stirred up, but without any major damage to show for it.
So this time they showed me that indeed I am loving the connection of being with others and that I want to share these kinds of special moments with a beloved. That’s all. It’s nothing devastating. It actually feels quite fine. So I feel it and then I go back to tending the fire or cuddling deeper under the covers and in the midst of all the feelings, there’s plenty of gratitude, too, that I can feel it all.
What I’ve discovered, too, is that when I’m lonely just for another body or any body around, that’s probably the best time to stay with myself and to simply feel into the longing. When anyone will do, it’s best that I do the doing! When I notice, though, a longing for a particular person, that feels more personal and relational. What I want in that moment is an experience I know of from being with them, that only being with them gives me, so it feels more congruent, cleaner somehow. When it’s the former, it feels like I’m just looking to get my need met by someone else, anybody else and that feels like it could get yucky and mucky, parasitical somehow. It feels like I’m using whoever it is just to keep me away from feeling the discomfort of my longing which is mine to feel, no one else’s to rescue me from. While I’ve sometimes felt the overwhelming ache of longing deep in my stomach and my pelvis, felt like it could swallow me up and annihilate me; the truth is, it’s never happened. The work is to simply be with the longing, feel into it, feel what’s under and around it, breathe into it, recognize that ultimately, it’s the longing for divine union; and feeling that is certainly something to celebrate! And then l e t i t b e .
Are there any heads nodding out there? Does anyone else resonate with all this? Poets and writers way more accomplished than me have waxed with great aplomb on this subject – May Sarton, Mary Oliver, Terry Tempest Williams, David Whyte, Rainer Maria Rilke, and so many more.
In this moment, this is my simple contribution.