Laurie Erdman at Chronic Wellness Coaching is a woman who lives with a Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis; she reminds us that, historically, the way we have handled being alone has changed dramatically:
“The word ‘alone’ did not always mean an absence of others. The word was coined in medieval times, and originally signified a completeness in one’s singular being. In religious terminology, ‘solitude’ typically meant the experience of oneness with God.
“Yet all current meanings of ‘alone’ imply a lack of something.
“Invariably, solitude meets with social questioning, if not censure. Perhaps most striking, solitude conjures up pangs of loneliness. The very idea of solitude may evoke deep childhood fears of abandonment and neglect, and cause some people to rush toward connectedness.
“Surprisingly, it can also tell us that we are not taking time to be in contact with our inner selves – to be alone.”
Laurie suggests that learning how to enjoy time alone can bring the “ultimate in peaceful moments”. Solitude, she explains, is when you can shut out all the responsibilities, obligations, duties and chaos of life and create a small sanctuary of healing calm:
“Psychology is only just beginning to distinguish aloneness from loneliness.
“People inside a tight-knit nuclear family can be just as unknown and lonely as those living on their own. Attachments are not automatically fulfilling relationships. In some cases, attachments are maintained only at the cost of extreme personal compromise: people speak of being shackled and held hostage in a relationship. Certainly there are well-made marriages, but if we are primarily social animals, why would bonding prove so arduous?
“Now, more than ever, we need our solitude. Being alone gives us the power to regulate and adjust our lives. A restorer of energy, the stillness of alone experiences provides us with much-needed rest.
“Alone-time is fuel for life.”
As Laurie says, distinguishing (good) “aloneness” from (bad) “loneliness” can be a tall order.
Even while writing this article, I had a hard time finding an appropriate image to illustrate it. Searching online for pictures representing “woman+solitude” inevitably resulted in photo after photo of grim grey faces staring through rain-flecked windows looking like they’d just lost their best friend.
“More than ever these days, I want to shrink the world to the couple of rooms in my house where I’m most comfortable. I’ve been declining requests for my time, and the social whirl is less compelling than it ever was. To me, a perfect evening often means stretching out in the den and vanishing into a good novel. It’s part of the healing process, of coming to grips with my new vulnerability.
“I want to nest. I’m doing well physically, but my spirit is still convalescing. I take pleasure in the most gentle rhythms of daily life: walking the dog, meeting a friend for breakfast, getting a haircut.
“I’m still reinterpreting myself in the face of illness, and that takes time and quiet. It can’t be rushed, and I can’t do it successfully if I’m caught up in our huckster culture’s unrelenting ruckus.”
Like Dana, I too want to nest. My own days living with ongoing cardiac symptoms caused by coronary microvascular disease are now categorized as what I call “one-outing days” or “two-outing days” or (rarely) “three-outing days”, with lots of quiet downtime in between each outing to repair and recuperate.
It’s not that I don’t love spending time with family and friends, but I’ve discovered that this time needs to be carefully balanced with quiet. When a busy morning can be followed by a lovely afternoon enjoying a book or a solo walk along the ocean, for example, I get to appreciate my own company while recharging my batteries – and without having to think at all about communicating.
For many heart patients, it seems that even keeping up our end of a lively conversation can feel exhausting.
And as author Dr. Ester Buchholz reminded us in her book:
“Others inspire us, information feeds us, practice improves our performance, but we need quiet time to figure things out, to emerge with new discoveries, to unearth original answers.”
Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay
Q: What’s your favourite form of creating moments of solitude?