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On solitude and choosing to be alone

Maverick Life

REFLECTION

On solitude and choosing to be alone

Image: Matthew Henry / Unsplash

Choosing to be alone is an invitation to the unknown — it’s a stretching out of our hand to say, ‘Here I am. I’m willing to hear what comes to the fore in silence.’

After a gruelling battle with pancreatic cancer, my mother slipped away from us one morning as we sat around her, holding her hand and singing to her. The sun shone. Outside, a bird flittered to a tree; a car engine revved. Sounds of life carrying on, even as a life was lost. 

After my mother’s death, I was haunted by a sense of being alone in the world. Shortly after her death, I got divorced. I remember the first day that my ex came to pick up our daughter to spend a weekend with him. Hugging her tightly, I smiled and helped buckle her into the back of his car, settling her doll on her lap. With a kiss to her cheek, I told her to have fun. I watched the car pull away, walked back to my house, shut the door, and folded onto the floor, bereft. 

The loss of my mother and marriage brought to the fore a deep sense of loneliness that rose up like bile in my throat, settling its weight on my chest, suffocating me as I called out to the silence. 

Most of us are deeply afraid of being alone. We actively seek out others, we like the busyness that comes with ‘doing.’ We feel good when we fill our calendars, when we mark time with action, with distraction. We are comforted by sound — the reassurance of others in conversation, music we love, the television playing in the background. Even when there is no sound, there’s the noise in our heads — the sound of our ‘to do’ list jostling for space in our minds. 

Finely woven into our fear of being alone, is the idea that no one will want us, that we might be destined to spend the rest of our days alone, without a sense of belonging to something, someone. 

Yet, ironically, some of our deepest experiences of aloneness are when others surround us — the many moments spent with others that silently carve away bits of our soul. Sitting amongst those who don’t see or hear us, the toxic relationship that we hold onto for fear of being alone even though while we’re in it, we’re more alone than we’ve ever been. That person we’re holding on for — waiting for things to work out, even though we secretly know that it’s just a story we tell ourselves because we need to believe in something. 

While having others in our lives is important, we are social beings after all, there are dividends in guarding moments of solitude. In fact, being alone, by choice, is critical to the human experience. The desire to be alone and freeing up time for it opens up space for becoming intimate with ourselves. In this intimacy with ourselves, we are able to reflect, to see things that are impossible to see without solitude. 

Stepping into aloneness by choice opens the gateway to allowing our minds to wander, to sift through and make sense of what is going on in our lives, to synthesise the undercurrent of our thoughts and emotions. Choosing to be alone is an invitation to the unknown — it’s a stretching out of our hand to say, ‘Here I am. I’m willing to hear what comes to the fore in silence.’ It is an investment in ourselves, in repainting the tapestry of our lives and adding in colour. In being alone, we are able to look at who we are, who we once were, and who we want to be. It is from this aloneness, that we are able to shed what no longer serves us and emerge with new ideas and ways of being in the world. 

Sitting in silence also helps us better understand our relationships with others. After time spent alone, we’re able to better appreciate those we love and hold dear, those who are near and those who have left. We’re able to gain perspective on the nuts and bolts of relationships and what we might need to do to strengthen our ties to others. Importantly, time alone can also help us see where toxicity breeds in our relations with others, where there is wounding that has become so par for the course, that we have stopped seeing it. Mostly though, in time spent alone, we get to see ourselves — with all our fault lines, in all our beauty. DM/ ML

Also read this story by Joy Watson, from our Love, Unstoppable series: The ties that bind

The ties that bind

Gallery

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