About Solitude… and more…

by Simon Goland, July 23, 2009

Today’s Reflection is about solitude, surprises, and gratitude.

I woke up early this morning, before the sunrise. Thus, I had the opportunity to watch it, enjoying the birth of a new day, in pristine and peaceful solitude of a little secluded Williams Beach. Sitting and watching the ocean, thinking about the fact that I woke up several times through the night, just to watch the stars and listen to the sound of the waves, playing their endless sound all through the night. Sipping tea, thinking about everything and nothing in particular, with nobody around – except for Tobi, impatiently waiting for me to do something really important, like throw him a ball.

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” – Cicero

I was also thinking about an email that I received a couple of days prior to it, which is fitting into the theme. The email is about a reflection I wrote several years ago, yet it feels fitting to share it again. The email is from a person we will call C, who stumbled upon it when searching the Internet… for something…

It [the Reflection, which I am reposting below] was exactly what I needed to hear. I’m really not sure exactly why I’m writing this, except that after reading this I felt that you would understand and appreciate how I am feeling.

At a point in my life when I knew nothing of a spiritual path or journey, I had a very deep and abrupt spiritual experience. After that my life changed drastically. Just a few days after this experience, out of nowhere someone just knocked on my door and handed me a flier for a workshop, and there I was very blessed to meet a very gifted teacher. He was like a father to me, I studied with him, and lived with him for a few years. I traveled with him, and helped him teach and organize his workshops. Then very suddenly he “passed away”. When they told me I thought they were playing a cruel joke, because he really was a “master”. Though I was in shock, I let go of any attachment, and went on with my life. The thing is, that for the most part, for whatever reason, I have never had any experiences or connections like that since, and whenever I attend a class or workshop, they always seemed so “light” to me. So for years I just accepted that, and decided on a life of solitude and self study, which was very alien to me, because I always had to have a relationship, and hated to be alone previously. I immersed myself in all the great teachings. I grew and learned so much until my love and my soul were overflowing just about 24/7. I am so grateful for my solitude, and I truly live in bliss.

It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

And the reflection that sparked this email from C follows.

Solitude is not suffering through an evening with our own company but taking the time to make a good neighbor of our company. Many of us don’t value our solitude. Many of us will do anything, even suffer bad company, to avoid our own company. To many of us solitude simply means we can’t get a date. Not that we have made one with ourselves.

Coming to one’s own company is something that many of us only arrive at kicking and screaming. If you asked people how they felt about an evening at home alone with themselves, a fair number of the honest ones would answer: “Boring.” The dishonest answer in the main would be: “I would love an evening at home by myself but can’t ever seem to find the time.” Which translated means: “So boring I have no intention of finding the time.”

Most of us move from the company of families, to dating, to relationships without ever passing through solitude. The experience of solitude is not taught in schools. What passes for solitude to most people is the sense of being left out, or not fitting in, or feeling alone in a crowd. Coming to the pleasure of one’s own company is very different than personal or social estrangement.

Coming to the pleasure of one’s own company isn’t anti-social. In fact it is the opposite. Those who are not comfortable with their own company are never comfortable with others. Little makes us better company than being comfortable alone. Many of us looking for someone special in our life have never met the most special person in our lives. Ourselves. This doesn’t mean we’re more important than others. It does mean that we can’t really be in a positive relationship with others until we’ve firmly established a relationship with our selves. There should be a rule that none of us can get engaged until after we’ve “gone steady” with ourselves.

Just for the record, coming to the pleasure of our own company isn’t narcissism. The basis of narcissism is self-hate and low self-esteem. Needing to always tell ourselves how great we are is a neon sign flashing: “We don’t think we’re that great.” In solitude we discover that other’s can’t treat us “right” until we’re used to treating ourselves properly. No one else can say they love us and it mean something to us, until we can say it to ourselves. People try to take a shortcut on this all the time. And it doesn’t work. No one else can give us what we don’t think we deserve to give ourselves.

What people often say they want, or they feel is missing, in a relationship is honesty. But most of the lurid and gossipy forms of dishonesty are generally causally preceded by an altogether different form of dishonesty. People who have no idea who they really are or people who haven’t accepted themselves cannot be in lasting relationships with partners who they haven’t accepted for who they are and who themselves have no idea who they are. This kind of dance has everybody stepping on everybody’s toes. Sadly this isn’t about bad people but people who simply haven’t ever spent enough time in their own company. The world would be a better place if we spent less time calling others liars and spent more time taking an honest look at ourselves.

“A good marriage,” wrote the poet Ranier Maria Rilke, “is that in which each appoints the other guardian of his solitude.” Many of us come to relationships without our solitude intact. Growing solitude in a relationship is very different from growing to feel alone in a relationship. Relationships strangle the participants if our need for solitude is not allowed to breathe. This is not an argument for separate vacations but the simple respect of each other and each other’s space in time and space.

A partner who wants you to grow into whoever you are becoming has a much better chance of being your partner when you get there. A partner who doesn’t shy from not meeting your expectation and is more interested in meeting their own expectation is a partner you can expect to be honest. A partner who isn’t afraid of being alone, or being left alone, is not in a relationship out of fear but out of choice. And is a whole different kind of partner.

When we are a friend to our self we can move into real friendships. And not until.

Friendship first requires self-friendship and to be a guardian of another’s solitude require us to first stand guard over our own. Friends and lovers who share solitude have the pleasure of both company and self. Nice company if you can get it.

Take a moment to learn how rich you are. Value your own company. Come to the pleasure of your own company. Know the wealth of knowing you. What is it in you that makes you YOU?

I have learnt silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers.” – Kahlil Gibran

Have a beautiful day, inside and out.