SOLITUDE

And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost . . . was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit. (Luke 4:1, 14)

 

When I was nine, I read a book about a hermit who lived in a cabin in the woods all by himself. I’d never heard the word “hermit” before then, but as soon as I finished the book, I ran to find my mother to announce,  “Mom, I know what I want to be when I grow up! A hermit!”

I love solitude. Even as a child, though I enjoyed playing with friends, my happiest hours were those I spent in a tree house with a book, or on my horse for a daylong ride, or writing poems in my bedroom. I am always most relaxed when I am alone. And paradoxically, as Lord Byron noted,  “in solitude, where we are least alone” is when I feel least lonely.

It’s not that I don’t like people. I love a rich conversation or a holiday party as much as anyone. But what I most look forward to is the after-time, when I can be alone and reflect on the conversation, or smile at the party memories.

As a teenager, I lived in rural Sonoma County in California. I loved going to San Francisco, the big city, for outings and cultural events; I loved the lights, the bustle, the sounds and smells, the people. What I loved most, though, was coming home at night, weary and happy, to hear the owls hoot and watch the moon play with shadows in the apple orchard. Sometimes late at night, like many teens, I’d sneak out my bedroom window. But whereas most sneakers would meet up with friends, I would walk into the woods in my pajamas and sit on a log in a clearing and listen to the night. I’d often pray, or sing to the deer. I still remember those quiet, solitary nights as a highlight of my youth.

When I was twelve, I realized I had to make a choice. It had become clear to me that to be so solitary had definite social disadvantages. I wanted to be a contribution in the world; I wanted to help people. That was the year I read stacks of biographies and found my heroes: Jane Addams, Albert Schweitzer, Martin Luther King. I could see that my dream of becoming a hermit was not the path of the hero I wanted to be.  I would have to learn to be “sociable.”

So I did. I did it so well that people to this day describe me as bubbly, outgoing, warm. And the warm is real; I really do have a deep love for people, especially one on one. I can often “see” people’s spirits and I can feel God’s love for them, which allows me to be a conduit for His love. I treasure those sacred connections.

But the bubbly and outgoing? Not so much. That’s pretend, the choice I made at twelve years old. I’ve been pretending for so many years, though, that it almost feels natural, even to me. I’ve become an effective leader. Yet I still sigh with relief when the people tasks are over and stillness returns.

Some people are people people, while others, like me, are more introverted. There’s no right or wrong to it. I still need large doses of solitude to stay sane. I’m not kidding; I really lose it without it. As a mother of six, solitude is hard to come by. But over the years, I have found ways to make sure I at least get the minimum requirements. There were the many years I got up at 5:00 to grab a quiet hour of meditation and devotion before the hubbub of the day descended. I am known for my frequent “personal retreats”. I’m on one now. While my girls are away at Girls Camp this week, I am holed up alone in a friend’s second home in central Oregon. It’s wonderfully quiet and deeply restorative. Sometimes I go to the beach. Often I go to the nearby Cistercian Abbey, which offers guest housing and silence. I go to the temple every week, almost always alone. Once, at near breaking point, I left my four kids home with my husband and went to Florida for a month, staying in a relative’s empty house on the Alafia River. I lived a very disciplined life for that month, and I came home with such deep clarity and peace that it lasted for years.

It’s about balance, of course. We all need people, but that part’s easy, at least for the bulk of our years. We all need some solitude, too, and that usually requires some planning. But the spiritual benefits of solitude far outweigh the small price. It’s when we’re alone and still that we can most easily hear God speak to us. It’s our times of introspection that fuel our efforts to change. It’s those sweet hours of private prayer that connect us to our Source.

What about you? Are you a happy loner, or do you hate being alone? How do you meet your need for solitude?

About Lisa G.

(Poetry Board, Blog Team) is mother to six and grandmother to nine and a half. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and loves travelling, reading, napping in puddles of sun, strawberries and dark chocolate, and most of all, Jesus.

19 thoughts on “SOLITUDE

  1. I dream of being alone. To be somewhere so quiet, so removed from human voices that I can hear my own pulse, or just the leaves blowing through my mind.

    Having quiet time by myself recharges me more than anything else, compounded beautifully if it’s going to the temple. At the moment my “me and quiet” time is once my sons are in bed sleeping. I stretch out and inhale the night. I love it.

    That being said, that Abbey sounds delightful – I wish I could go with you!

  2. I am the same way. I live to be alone, but I have four children, so it’s not easy. It is when I am alone that I feel the most true to myself. I, too, made a choice in my teenage years to learn how to talk to people. It isn’t me though, and it drains me greatly. I don’t have the luxury of the temple every week, personal retreats. My luxury are my evening runs. An hour or two where it is just me, running. I treasure those days. I learned early on that if I do not get alone time, I am a very cranky and emotionally unstable person. Being alone restores all the energy I lost during the day by interacting with people. Being alone helps me feel grounded and gives me the ability to show compassion when I am around people.

    1. You sound just like me, Michelle. I encourage you to try trading kids with a friend or relative, or hiring childcare so you can get some regular alone time. Weekly temple attendance makes a HUGE difference, so I’d start there. If you have a decent parenting partner, tell him you just need 3-5 days every year (your birthday, New Year?) for a solo retreat. Give him personal days, too, if he wants them. Or trade with other moms. We create our own “luxuries”. Your evening runs are a GREAT idea! Swap one night out for the temple?

      1. I’m 3 hours from the temple, so weekly trips simply aren’t possible with our life right now. My kids are 6,5,3, and 1, and my wonderful husband is in grad school and works nights. Someday I hope to live within an hour of the temple, and then I can go when the kids are in school! Maybe I will suggest a few days away for my birthday. In my 7 years of parenting, I have never been away from all of my kids at once– I always have one or two. That sounds like nirvana. I don’t know what I would do, besides listen to the silence, which would be absolutely wonderful.

  3. This was lovely. And I’m with Kel–the idea of that abbey actually took my breath away. What a beautiful place to have nearby. I often wish we had houses of worship that were open and quiet, available any time for any length of time. Thanks for sharing your aloneness.

  4. I am an extrovert, but have found in my last 2.5 years of a major trial and major life changes that it has taken down my level of extroversion. For me it’s not so much that I need the solitude, but that different things require more energy. I recently read the book “Quiet” and was interested to read that so many people make that decision to become more social when they are truly introverts.

    I’m very curious as to what you meant by a “very disciplined life.” It sounds amazing!

    1. Yes, “Quiet: is a good book, welcomed by all introverts in an extroverted world.

      My “very disciplined” month was strictly scheduled, with times to get up, read scripture, pray, practice meditation (I used the book “Wherever You Go, There You Are” as my first guide to meditation), walk, eat, write, sleep, etc. I put myself on a strict diet too; I think I used the Zone that month. I went to church every Sunday and to the beach just twice. I never called anyone, I didn’t listen to music or watch TV. I had no computer. I conversed with God nonstop. It was a lot about regaining control of my life, and finding out what God wanted me to do with it. Best thing I ever did for myself and my family.

  5. I grew up in the Bay Area near a monastery that was nestled in the hills a 20 minute run from my house. Going there was my way to regain calm and peace. It was my favorite place to go throughout high school. It was the place I wanted my husband to see to know me better. I think I am equally introvert and extrovert, if that is possible. I love to be by myself. I also love people. Of my 5 children I have 2 extroverts, 2 introverts and probably one mini-me. I love alone time. I love throwing a party. (And I’ve learned not to freak out before them during prep). Thanks for the insightful post.

  6. I think I am equal parts too. With ten kids I don’t feel like I get enough of the introvert time as I would like though. I try to cycle my days of “extrovert” stuff (play dates, errands etc.) with stay at home ones. I relate well to the idea of LOVING getting together with friends and then LOVING the quiet time (relatively) later. One way I compensate for not getting long stretches of time is by writing in my journal often. Madeleine L’Engle in her Circle books talked about escaping at times to be alone too. And I love the Wherever You Go, There You Are book too.

  7. Sage, I grew up (sort of–was there from age 16-18) in the Bay Area too. What monastery did you go to?

  8. Lisa, for me this post was literally heaven-sent. God has been urging me for quite a while to create solitude in my life. I managed it for several months, but then life took over again and I forgot. Just a day or two before reading your post, the Spirit had given me a little nudge, and then your post brought clarity and direction to that nudge. It is time for me to act again, to choose to create solitude, time to heal and grow. Today I took a 2-hour solo hike with a long pause for meditation, made reservations for 5 days away & alone, and ordered Wherever You go, There You Are. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  9. For anyone who, like me, feels that finances are a barrier to taking a long solo retreat, try airbnb. I just booked a private room & private bath, with full access to the kitchen so I can bring food … for $34 a night. The host is a single woman, and her home is in a quiet neighborhood 5 minutes from hikes and nature, but not too far from my home so no travel expenses. Basically everything I dreamed of. On the website, you get a thorough description of the space and the host(s), as well as reviews from real people who’ve stayed there. I’m officially an airbnb addict … anniversaries, family vacations …

    1. airbnb.com is a great site. I just booked an Albuquerque B&B for $36. There are a million ways to keep costs minimal. I just spent a week at a friend’s second home in central Oregon for $20 a night. I had the whole house to myself. Networking!
      There’s always a way if your intention is clear.

      Cheri, I’m so glad you are making this happen for yourself. May you find much peace and clarity.

  10. I grew up as an only child; solitude was my friend. She offered me gifts and challenges. The hours of self-direction we spent together led me down thriving, curious, creative paths I might not have found otherwise, but there were times of loneliness when I longed for more interaction with corporeal peers. (I once begged my affectionate, attentive parents for “a big brother, a little sister, or a dog.” It may not have been in that order.)

    My first year in college I craved restorative moments alone with my friend, but found her elusive no matter where I turned — until another friend showed me a secluded swale between two elevated, tree-lined paths not terribly far from my on-campus dorm. Sitting and kneeling and praying down there in solitude’s silent companionship — without interruption — felt heavenly!

    When our daughters were young my husband took them on monthly daddy-daughter dates as much for my sake as for theirs. He’d learned (the hard way) that investing a few hours of giving me solitary time prevented the evidence of “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” symptoms.

    For his sake I secretly hoped I’d outlive him. (The sweet man floundered when left too much on his own.) I figured that with solitude as my friend, I could manage to “move on” better than he would. Of course, I pictured that happening after raising a family, spoiling grandkids, and serving a mission (or two) together — NOT while in our mid-40s with kids in their teens and twenties still in high school and college.

    (Sigh.)

    My relationship with solitude in young widowhood has been rockier than I’d pictured it. For a while she and I weren’t on speaking terms at all. The louder she shouted, the more stubbornly I ignored the benefits of our past relationship. Instead of seeking her company more often, I pushed her relentless intrusion away.

    Time, experience, living my life, and a bit of therapy intervened in our estrangement. We communicate better now, but still as acquaintances rather than the close-knit friends we once were. It’s getting better, sometimes. One day we’ll be friends again.

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