There are many ways to practice being alone.
There is the restless spectrum of FOMO, a fear of missing out on a world missing out on us. We consume comfort in redundant, high-glycemic answers. We spiral into numb scrolling and autopilot, soothed by algorithms.
Then, if we’re lucky, there are moments where we break open. We reach out from within like some tender octopus, our fraying edges holding up a frail offering of ourselves. We search for communion with some soul which might hold up a mirror to ours. We surrender, perhaps in moments of incredible courage and discipline and persistence, to something which transcends us.
Isolation contracts. Solitude expands.
Isolation assumes the lack of fulfillment in ourselves and others. We hold others responsible for our loneliness. (We were good at isolation before quarantine.) We protect ourselves in a calcified shell, unaware of the potential of that hard container. That calcification could either become the armor which separates us from the world. I wonder if that same shell might, under a different lens, serve as a cocoon — some excruciating crucible of transformation.
Solitude is the path of the creator. Solitude helps us find and hone who we are. We unfold into that terrifying glance into the still, profound well of ourselves. We might transform in the loneliness, which allows us to glimpse a fullness of ourselves — even for a brief moment. We follow a thread in a labyrinth.
Perhaps in plumbing our own deep wells, we come to recognize the others who are doing their own deep work. We might find them in the works of art which break us open. We might come to love the process of the other — distinct and different from our own — and thereby see the worth of our lonely work. Solitude requires communion between the transcendent within, and without. Ironically, solitude requires relationship. Transformation requires a witness. We can’t do it alone.
“It is a question in marriage, to my feeling, not of creating a quick community of spirit by tearing down and destroying all boundaries, but rather a good marriage is that in which each appoints the other guardian of his solitude, and shows him this confidence, the greatest in his power to bestow.” — Rainer Maria Rilke
One of the many gifts of relationship is to hold, and be held accountable to, one’s own solitude. I wonder if this is a way to create community — challenging each other to cultivate the ragged threads of truth we find in the chrysalis of our own spaces. Some days we come back from our deep-sea with the tremulous beating heart of a scallop, and some days with sour stones. The rare pearls come from long-withstood irritations. Some days we tap into some unbidden flow of wisdom. We need someone to receive us, to remind us that we have some beauty to offer to the world after all. We challenge and encourage each other to keep following the threads, to some unknown future.
Maybe through that difficult practice, we weave some grand unseen tapestry with the guardians of our solitude. Maybe that’s how we make a future together.