I’ve spent more time alone in the last few years than in the rest of my years all put together. Being in my own company is what’s easiest on my nervous system and what’s most conducive to my healing. As I connect with more people on the healing path, I’ve discovered that spending absurd amounts of time alone is the reality for most people living with chronic illness. Needing lots of rest and extreme self-care seems to set us up for lives of solitude.
Many of us, including myself, go from being social, extroverted creatures, to spending most of our time in our own company. While this has become my norm now, and I appreciate it most days, I’ve resisted this shift to a more solitary life.
At first all this alone time was devastating. Shifting from an active lifestyle and busy schedule to having no distractions was utterly terrifying. The challenge of being alone initially was that all the ‘undigested’ stuff from years of living started to come to the surface. That heartbreak from 6 years ago that I thought I had healed, random memories from my youth that I hadn’t thought about in forever, and the pain that I had stuffed down under all the yoga, the dance parties, and the socializing all bubbled up. I realized that the years of avoiding the ‘feel bad’ had created an accumulation. When you don’t have the energy to keep pushing it down there’s no place for it to come but up. I’ve seen this happen for others on the path as well.
While I thought the sheer intensity of feeling was going to swallow me whole, deep down I believe my soul was smiling and saying, “Finally, we got her attention!” I had been running from the very feeling process that would help me become more whole. Most of us do this in our own way.
I’ve learned that I can have solitude be potent and transformative or I can resist it and waste the opportunity I’ve been given. I can see this as a horrible inconvenience or as the chance of a lifetime to heal and transform not just for myself but for all beings. I believe that we do work behind the scenes for those who are out in the bustle of the world.
Sometimes we do just need to watch movies, snack, and feel sorry for ourselves, that’s part of the healing process too, but if we stagnate there we are missing the potent opportunity that’s been divinely orchestrated for us.
In my experience, there is a major difference between ‘aloneness’ and ‘loneliness’. For me, aloneness or solitude is a state in which I feel at peace with being alone. I enjoy my own company and spend my time nurturing myself, doing what brings me pleasure, and I’m in 'my flow’. Loneliness is something very different. When I feel lonely, being alone is painful. I feel sad or grief-stricken and feel like something is missing. When we are lonely we often feel separate from life and disconnected from ourselves. It’s up to each of us to learn how to enjoy our own company, whether we are in a recovery process or not. It’s up to each of us to open to the potent opportunity of solitude and to make ourselves available for the gifts that it can bestow.
You were not called to the sidelines for nothing.
In the Carlos Castaneda books I read as an impressionable teenager, Don Juan describes ‘recapitulation’ as an intrinsic part of becoming a ‘spiritual warrior’. Recapitulation is the process of reviewing our life experiences and ‘digesting’ them so that we can move forward in wholeness instead of living in a fragmented state. Recapitulation, while excruciating at times, grooms the ‘spiritual warrior’ into a ‘man or woman of knowledge.’
Blaise Pascal said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” In my own solitude, layer upon layer of ‘stuff’ came up to be digested in my awareness until finally I hit the nugget at the center of it all: feelings of lack of self-worth and being unlovable and an awareness around how so much of what I had been doing out in the world was an attempt at earning love and acceptance. There were many painful truths that I had to sit with including years of pent up anger that I hadn’t ever let myself feel.
So, what awaits us once a lot of the 'digesting' and emotional healing is done? For me, it’s been an experience of my true nature and a wide-open space of clarity and meaning. Sufi mystics call this process ‘polishing the mirror’. When you get all that undigested debris off, we find that we are pure and luminous beings, connected to the heart of all that is.
Ultimately, the gift of being alone has been having ample time to connect with my heart, my intuition, and the stream of insight and wisdom that flows within me. I believe this stream flows through each of us and we can tap into it.
In the spaciousness of solitude what was trying to find me found me.
On the best days I feel connected directly to the lifeline of the divine. I offer my mind, my heart, and my day in service to spirit. On these days regardless of how strong my symptoms are I feel content, at peace, and in the flow of life.
I know, I know…the spiritual philosophies do very little for us when we’re feeling lonely or in the throws of all our undigested emotional debris. Knowing intellectually that we are all one or that we are connected feels like bullshit when we're lonely. For many who are living this healing process, we have very little contact with the outside world and when you haven’t talked to anyone all day it’s easy to lose perspective.
What I can tell you for sure is this: now would be a really good time to make friends with yourself. You’re not going to get through the day if you keep being a jerk to yourself, criticizing, belittling, or disapproving of yourself. One of the greatest gifts to arise from my healing journey is that I finally made friends with myself. I learned how to be nice to myself, to encourage my mini-successes throughout the day, and to tell myself, ‘good job’ and ‘you’re doing okay’ when I feel discouraged.
I find when loneliness arises the best thing that I can do is notice it and be present with it. I may also call a friend or reach out because sometimes loneliness is just there to let us know that we’re due for some human contact. If we can't ever be alone with ourselves without feeling lonely however, it’s letting us know that we have a little self-development work to do.
It takes great courage to face ourselves—a courage that many people never find.
The journey of healing asks us to have the courage to face all aspects of ourselves and to feel what needs to be felt. Much of the potent work can only happen if we nurture open space to be in our own company. Once the bulk of the debris of our past and the unhealed stuff comes through us, it’s up to us to stay open and curious as to what wants to emerge in the newfound clearing.
And while our solitude can heal, it can also hurt us if we don’t balance it with relating with like-minded and loving souls. We’ll look at creating a web of support that we can turn to when we’re due to come out for some conversation, connection, and support on another day.
:: REFLECT ::
- How do you feel about spending time in your own company? Do you cherish it or avoid it at any cost?
- What do you feel is the best use of your ‘alone time’? Are you doing that?
- What are you avoiding in the busyness of living that comes up when you stop and sit in your own company? Pain, anger, loneliness, longing?
- What’s waiting just beneath the surface that wants your attention?
Copyright © 2015 Marie-Ève Bonneau