Solitude is for me a gift of midlife. Growing up, I went from busy house to crowded dorm, to apartments overflowing with visitors, to career, marriage and children. The only place I could go without someone else was to the inside of a book. I don’t think I knew what solitude was, but I got my first taste of it when I went to graduate school at age 36.
Early in graduate school, before having to complete internships, I would have one day a week when I had no classes. After the children went to school I would make my way to the medical school library we were allowed to use. Once inside I would take up residence in an isolated study carrel. Surreptitiously I would remove a forbidden thermos of coffee and a bagel from my school bag. For at least four hours I was in a place where no one knew me or expected anything from me. With books, pen and paper, coffee, bagel, and privacy I had everything I needed for productive reverie.
School did get busier, so the luxurious library days did not last. In time, however, my parenting duties became less hands on. I graduated from school and eventually was able to go into private practice. It would probably be important to say here that for my work I am required to focus intently on encouraging my clients to be aware of their own thoughts and feelings and to follow their dreams. To do my work I must be aware of myself, yet the work is not about me. My own self actualizing must take place outside of the office.
I have been fortunate enough to be able to limit my practice to three days a week. The purpose is of course is to give me time to recharge myself – essentially, to take the advice I so often give to my own clients. Having two work days to myself ,though, often seems to exist only on paper. The time gets taken up. Obligations intervene. And sometimes I just don’t use the time well.
Nonetheless, having these two work-free days has changed me. I know now that I must have time alone in order to feel connected to myself. I have “things to do” which take me deeply inside myself and lead to a sense of peace and well being. Without my solitude I am vulnerable to professional burnout, to becoming numb to the world around me, or to being just plain cranky.
I didn’t want to mention it but since the holidays I’ve noticed all three manifestations listed above. I was feeling little enthusiasm for the activities I usually enjoyed. Wanting to want to do something but not having the energy to do so is very melancholy. Since I now had this blog, my lack of magpie-ness was disconcerting. How long would this last?
Clearly I would have to take some action. I started by having a nice heart to heart with myself. I was feeling out of balance because, with all the festivities, I had gotten out of the habit of finding daily solitude. Then I got sick, but had to carry on anyway. Then my husband got sick and did not carry on anyway. He stayed home for several days. I was finding it hard, post holiday, to return to the routines which keep me in sync.
So on my most recent day off, Friday, I made as few plans as possible. I closed the computer and the Ipad, reached for my trusty composition notebook, and wrote and wrote. What did I write? Nothing of significance to anyone but myself. I whined, I felt sorry for myself, I prattled, and vented my frustrations about feeling so stuck.
My angst began to clear. I found myself flipping back through my notebook to where I had left off in my most recent letter to my sister. I had abandoned it earlier in the week because it was so deadly boring. Upon rereading I decided it wasn’t so bad after all. So I added a few pages before turning to my knitting and adding to the poor pitiful sock I’ve been working on for some time. I stopped in time to whip up some chorizo and brussels sprouts for the book club. It was a new recipe, so I wasn’t too sure of it, but almost all of it was eaten.
Saturday dawned damp and chilly. I contemplated a photo shoot, but the weather was most unwelcoming. I still had my unfinished letter and sock to work on in the morning. But what would I to do in the afternoon? Draw, I told myself. I got to work on a sketch of my niece Mary Hannah, who has waited patiently for me to paint her portrait. My fingers were delighted to once again feel the circular needles and the pencil.
As the sun went down my husband and I contemplated our plans for the evening. We opted to go to a local coffee shop and hear an acoustic music group The Stray Birds. As we settled in at the standing room only event, I marveled that only one week earlier I probably would have talked myself out of going. Knowing that just made the fiddles, banjoes, bass, guitars and elegant harmonies all the more sweet.
Now it is Monday. Part of my day to myself has been taken up with two routine medical tests, but I’ve rallied. Except for this blog post, I’m not wasting time on the computer. In a few hours I will have to leave for yoga. I am savoring the fact that after just a short time of solitude my creative energies returned to the point that I could write, knit, draw, cook, and listen to live music. It’s a miracle!
My preference is long stretches of uninterrupted solitude. In my perfect world I would be free to stay in my pajamas for days, sipping coffee as I moved from one activity to the next. Read awhile. Write awhile. Check out the sewing machine. Document everything by taking a few photos. But if I can’t have my perfect world, I will take the world I have. I can still connect with myself in a shorter length of time as long as I am consistent. I can add a few sock rows while watching The Battle Of Britain. The sock may not be finished today, but knowing I did one thing gives me the energy to go to the next.
Of course the real gifts of solitude are not any finished projects that may come from it. No, the important parts are the self knowledge, the being with self, and the life affirming energy, all seemingly emerging at once. The time invested in solitude repays itself many times over. To quote May Sarton:
“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.”
Here’s wishing you a week full of richness.