"The cure for loneliness is solitude."
"Without great solitude, no serious work is possible."
Working with people who experience disturbances in their moods, such as depression and anxiety, I have the privilege of being a companion (or accomplice) on many fearful journeys. Some of these sojourns are internal, navigating rocky and treacherous pathways through ancient deserts and frigid mountain passes that make up the topography of troubled histories. Other expeditions are external and consist of ominous, winding trails through an outside world populated by dangerous characters, both strange and familiar, inside and outside the family, at once inviting and hostile. These trepidatious treks are often lonely ones. Yes, I provide company, for a small sliver of time each week, but much of the way features desolate isolation that feels hopeless, extending to an unknown horizon.
Like it or not, we come into this world alone, and that's the way we leave. Surrounded by well-wishers, celebrants, gawkers, or mourners, there is no other abiding companion we are always with but ourselves. Is this why solitude is so repulsive to some? Is it because it reminds us of the emptiness we visit for such a short time? Arriving and leaving with reticence implies we'd rather be where we came from or where we are going. Perhaps "here," whatever that means to us, is just too much to take. The mysteries that bookend our little lifespans can seem more like home.
And when we are alone, who is it we're alone with? Is it with a cherished Self? part loving friend? part co-conspirator? Are we, on the other hand, alone with everyone on Earth? everyone who's visited? everyone who is to come? Or are we with no one? Do we feel as though we are part of the very vacuum we're expected to fill? Whoever we are alone with when we practice the art of solitude, we'd better get used to. For most of our time here we can always count on some form of "aloneness."
Some of us take to solitude naturally, others must learn to move toward that inner light. Some of us find a teachers to help us face the emptiness that promises such fullness. These teachers can take many forms. Some make us think they will never leave, then do. Others make us want to escape their gravitational fields, and we find ourselves flung away into the abyss before we know it. Still others are somehow able to lend us some of their solitariness for awhile, until we feel our own resources for tolerating nothingness materializing.
I'm not here to tell you I've mastered this art, or to tell you how I've molded my inner space into a place of divine comfort in times of outer chaos and confusion. But I can tell you it's peaceful in there, that all the resources we need are available, somewhere inside.
If we are to learn from those who came before us we must head their advice: Seek the natural world (whatever that means to you). It's where we came from and it's where we're going back to eventually. John Muir, taught us that, "In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks." So what are we seeking? Is it awareness? understanding? acceptance? What is it that so many have found by steadfastly and single-mindedly turning away from the conventional distractions, irritations, and comforts we find in the roiling busyness of social engagement? There's only one way to find out. I believe you will find answers, but the questions are all yours. I don't pretend to understand it. But I do know what one of the existentialists who inspired my style of counseling had to say about it all:
“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”