When I was in college a friend of mine pointed out to me that I was avoiding being alone. He offered up that I might want to look into why I was so resistant to it. That set me on a path of inquiry about solitude that eventually led to me not only loving solitude, but to making sure I get a dose of quality stillness every single day.
I grew up in a loving family of 6 where being alone meant only finding a quiet corner or closing a shared bedroom door, but never really being truly isolated. When I bought my own house, silence and solitude felt threatening, like it held secrets that I had never dared face. But, in fact, I found that welcoming a practice of solitude little by little– turning off the television and just sitting inside of an empty house for 5 or 10 minutes at first– helped me to begin a relationship with myself on a deeper level. I learned to listen to what Mary Oliver referred to as the ‘soft animal of (my) body’. I learned how to get to know me, and I slowly began to strip away the “polite and good girl” filters that I always thought were permanently secured in place. I learned to listen to only me. And I fell in love with me and with privacy.
Now, at 43 years old, I make sure I have quality solitude every single day. Sometimes I sit alone in my car after turning off the key and close my eyes for five minutes. The solitude in the car is complete because even the air around me stops swirling. Other days, I carve out time for 20-30 minutes of centering prayer. Another way I integrate solitude is to intentionally eat meals alone (like I’m on a mini-sabbatical from the hustle of my day).
All of these practices are ones I try and add to my day, but there is one way I make sure that I get solitude every single day- I make intentional use of bedtime.
For me, bedtime is the perfect place to pay attention to being alone. I use the time to strip away the “nice and polite” filters that I have inevitably put on during the day and to feel the muscles in my whole body relax one layer at a time. Bedtime is sacred to me, because it will always and forever be a part of my daily routine– no matter what else I plan or do or get pulled into, I know for sure that I will always eventually have to go to sleep. So, I fiercely protect bedtime as that time to connect to myself on a deeper level and to bear witness to myself letting those filters go until I am only honest, authentic, imperfect me.
That college friend and I have since lost touch, but I think about him sometimes and how that one small inquiry turned into a personal quest to know my own interior landscape. A landscape that turned out to be the native land I return home to each night. If I ran into him again I would thank him; because he, unknowingly, invited me home.