Loneliness and Solitude | Part 2 of 2
Part 1 focused on loneliness. How it felt to me, and the kind of person I looked for to dispel my loneliness. I described the impossible expectations I had of you and, of course, of myself in my search for someone who would adore me just as I was.
I described how this affected my work ethic and the resentment and anger I felt toward people who seemed to be slacking off. Not pulling their fair share of the load. I talked about my lust for downtime, even though it was never on my to-do list. In fact, I was better because I didn’t take personal time off or sick days or even vacations. Even though I was full of screaming loneliness.
Today I’m thinking primarily about solitude. Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out has pushed me to think further about the connection between loneliness and solitude. What follows is my first attempt to put this in writing with reference to myself.
The practice of solitude is for anybody.
Solitude isn’t the special practice of women and men in religious orders, or pastors or other religious workers. It’s a portable practice available to anyone at any time, in any place.
I need to practice solitude intentionally and regularly.
Solitude doesn’t just ‘happen.’ It takes time. I can do this by journaling, or reading and reflecting on myself. Anytime, anywhere. But it must be sometime, somewhere. I can’t just wait for it to ‘happen.’ Or wait until I’m ‘in the mood.’ In fact, feeling particularly lonely might be an invitation to stop and practice solitude.
Practicing solitude won’t take away my loneliness.
Situations arise regularly that engender loneliness in me: the death of a loved one or close friend; moving to a new community, feeling lost in a huge crowd of strangers. Loneliness reminds me that I need trusted friends in my life. Not to take away my loneliness, but to accompany me as sisters and brothers on similar journeys, dealing with similar thoughts and feelings.
Practicing solitude begins with welcoming myself.
This is a surprise for me. Practicing solitude isn’t about judging myself. It’s about welcoming and getting to know myself as though I were a stranger. Offering myself hospitality. Being happy to see myself at the door! Inviting myself in. Listening to myself, taking myself seriously, admitting my feelings, encouraging, affirming and challenging myself. Sometimes telling myself the sad truth. Treating myself as the mature, responsible adult woman I am—one of God’s beloved daughters. Does this sound self-centered? It isn’t. It’s about taking seriously my status as one of millions of human beings dealing with life as it is, not as I wish it to be.
The practice of solitude softens and opens my heart to other strangers.
Empathy and compassion. What I feel for myself can become what I feel for you. Not in some magical way, but because I’ve learned to welcome myself as a stranger. I know how much I need this from myself, and I’m learning how to offer it to you. All those things I offer to myself (such as a listening ear) become ways to welcome you as well.
When my heart experiences compassion for others in situations like mine, I don’t feel so lonely or needy. Instead, I feel part of the human race! One of God’s creatures like everyone else. Able to receive others and to be received by them. Without trying to change them or their stories. And without needing their approval.
Nouwen says loneliness suffocates; solitude receives. I like this distinction. It doesn’t mean we’ll all be happy and get along all the time. It does, however, mean we’ll be able to open our hearts to each other from time to time.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 February 2015