Solitude and Gratitude.
“You need to make peace with it, man.”
Overheard on packed peak hour train.
Much of my spiritual practice of the last six years has been about learning to accept situations that I don’t like. Life has repeatedly dealt me blows I found deeply painful, that made me angry… that I experienced as negative in some way, but was powerless to alter externally. Perhaps this will always be the case – I don’t find it beneficial to imagine what other horrors lay ahead of me (a particular dangerous indulgence for someone with a history of mental illness). Though in reality, the blows have come with almost predictable regularity since the age of 13, I only discovered the real “Secret” – acceptance and gratitude, six years ago, after becoming disabled.
I believe our only choice in such a circumstance is to make peace with what is. In doing so, we find true freedom. But I cannot honestly say that I am able to practice acceptance consistently, not yet. I am getting better at it, and, given this ability is what is going to keep me alive, my spiritual practice is the absolute centre of my life. In fact, over the last four weeks, I have reoriented myself to this centre again, and, in doing so, my true self. It has been a good time to get in touch with what I need, what really matters to me, and what I really want. What I discovered is that I don’t need or want much at all. Just to be myself, and embrace people who give me the space and love to be myself.
So, I’ve accepted my life, as it is. Like many people, over the years, I’ve had to accept death, the end of relationships, chronic illness, physical limitations, a predisposition to depression. I continue to practice embracing the situations that I initially want to resist, knowing well that my non-acceptance inevitably leads to more suffering. I am so tired of suffering.
One such situation that I’m learning to accept is being alone.
And when I say alone, I’m not just talking about not being in a relationship. I mean that, on most days, I live in solitude. I live with family, I socialise, and I have friends. And yet, I am mostly alone. Writing is a solitary pursuit. I adore it. But, even beyond that, I am alone.
It is odd, at the age of 27, that I find myself in this situation. It is not what I pictured my life would be seven years ago, let alone when I was a youngster. But since acquiring my disability, this has been the case. Not because of my disability, of course not. It just is. The people I used to know pre-disability fell away from me, and that is not necessarily a bad thing – I had people in my life who did not have my best interests at heart, who brought out the worst in me. Love-hate themes in relationships were a staple. Thankfully, new, wonderful people have come into my life over the years. But most of my time is spent alone. Furthermore, given previous losses, I don’t like to cling to people or circumstances. I understand fully, the impermanence of form, and that my own life is just a speck in linear time and the enormity of the Universe. You could say I have a very “right brained” perception of the world. Making peace with this perception, in itself, has been a tremendous challenge. Over the last four weeks, I have learnt self-acceptance.
Those four weeks have also liberated me from the anxiety I felt about the solitude itself. It is okay, truly, to be alone. We live in a culture that worships extroversion, frenetic activity. Yet this is not the reality for millions of people. Many people are alone, feel alone. Many people live feeling disconnected or inadequate because they don’t fit it, because they don’t have, because they don’t live – and might not want to live – conventionally, and have unfortunately bought into the idea that there is something wrong with that, with them. If you happen to be one of these people, I want you to know you are not alone.
The best thing we can do, for peace of mind, for spiritual growth, for emotional wellbeing, is learn to embrace the solitude. By this I don’t mean increasing isolation, or loneliness. I mean learning to value and be grateful for those times you find yourself on your own, and seeing the beauty in it. As an introvert, this comes naturally to me – I am never bored, and if I didn’t have alone time on a daily basis I would wither very quickly. My ability to be present and enjoy the company of others is to a large extent contingent upon me getting that “ME” time. Still, I struggle sometimes thinking that there is perhaps something wrong with this, or that I should be “over there”, doing something else… be somebody else. When nothing could be further from the truth.
I guess what I am trying to say, in a longwinded fashion, is that if you need solitude, go ahead and embrace it. And if you find yourself experiencing solitude but feeling resistance to it, make peace with it. Accept it, learn to love it. Even, be grateful for it. One of the many liberating epiphanies I have had over the last few weeks came in a moment of acceptance of both the external circumstances and inner reality of the life I have been given, in a moment of solitude: “I am different. There is nothing wrong with me. I accept the way I am. I am grateful for this realisation.”
And I accept that this is what life is, for now. I accept it will not always be this way. I will enjoy it while it lasts 🙂