Community//

Look Inward for What’s Essential

Time in solitude allows us to reflect on what we need to learn about ourselves and others.

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Spending time in solitude on my SUP
Spending time in solitude on my SUP

Alanis Morissette’s hit song, “You Oughta Know” became a battle cry for those who knew the bitterness of a significant other finding someone else. When we’re emotional, we like to listen to songs that resonate with what we’re feeling. But they only pacify you for a short time. They don’t heal you.

We then crave sensory pleasures that distract us from our pain. We eat, drink, gamble, engage in excessive sexual pleasures — anything that pulls us away from our feelings. No, we say, we don’t want to feel. We even look for ways to suppress our thoughts. But these don’t heal you, either.

James Allen writes that solitude is essential in bringing balance and wholeness back into our lives.

The outward world of pleasure, personal contact, and noisy activities is a sphere of wear and tear which necessitates the counterbalancing effect of solitude.

Allen maintains that solitude is a place to return to gather our strength within. It is a clean, deep inhale when the challenges and the conflicts of the world deplete us of oxygen. An inner life plays an intrinsic role in our wellbeing.

Man’s essential being is inward, invisible, spiritual, and as such it derives its life, strength, from within, not from without. Outward things are channels through which its energies are expended, but for renewal it must fall back on the inward silence.

Photo by Beth Bradford

The necessity of solitude, of course, challenges many people who say we are beings of community — that we need interactions with others to learn. In some contexts, yes. As infants, we learn language and how to communicate. We observe behaviors of others and model them according to what is rewarded and what is punished.

Our community, though loving, might tell us what we want to hear so that we don’t learn what we need to learn. We only listen to messages that tell us we’re right. We might search for people like ourselves to energize the emotional experience and keep the drama. Being angry can be a rush, and it feels so much better than grief or loneliness. We might blame the other for the souring of the relationship and unconsciously attract someone similar the next time.

We do learn how to behave through relationships. Marianne Williamson has said that every relationship is an “assignment,” and the exposed parts of ourselves in these relationships show us our thorns. Our introspection allows us to remove those thorns so we don’t fall into repetitive patterns.

Solitude, then, requires us to sit with whom we might have the most conflict — ourselves. We must be truthful to ourselves and decide to turn from the behaviors and attitudes that cause harm to ourselves and others. It is then that we feel the roller coaster of emotions begin to wane, and we begin to hear the voice of our spirit. It sings softly to us in our moments of despair, and it harmonizes to our melodies of delight.

Solitude requires us to sit with whom we might have the most conflict — ourselves.

Humility is a tough, but noble, pill to swallow. Allen writes that solitude encourages us to be true to ourselves.

[H]e who loves Truth, who desires and seeks wisdom, will be much alone. He will seek the fullest, clearest revelation of himself, will avoid the haunts of frivolity and noise, and will go where the sweet, tender voice of the spirit of Truth can speak within him and be heard.

Photo by Beth Bradford

We can’t learn from the people who challenge us unless there is some time for introspection. Most of the time, we don’t want to be alone because we might have to face a dim reality — that we might have been wrong.

We might have to face a dim reality — we might have been wrong.

When an animal is injured, it doesn’t rely on others to heal it. It doesn’t get into more fights. Instead, it goes off alone and licks its wounds. It must take time to rest and heal.

Rather than bounce to the next distraction, conflict or relationship, seek separation. This is where growth begins. Rather than cut the weeds from the surface, you uproot them completely. It might upset the soil, but it readies it for you to plant new seeds that are more fruitful.

This post was previously published on Medium.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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