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Cultivating Solitude (Lesson 35)

You’re about to read Chapter 35. Want to start this story from the beginning? Go here.

“My singleness is a privilege, not a punishment. I am choosing it in every moment, at some level at least, or it would not be happening.”

That’s something I wrote in 2014 right after I got home from seeing the movie Boyhood by myself.

It’s also one of the first things I ever shared with Paul.

Which, in retrospect, feels kind of…prescient? Or maybe just ironic.

On my own is all right

In any case, I am effectively single today, and I am so grateful that I feel okay.

Every day is different, and yesterday was hard.

I understand why, but it doesn’t matter. I’m just thankful I had a friend to call when I had a VERY close brush with Paul’s Facebook page. I didn’t end up looking, but it was astonishingly tempting.

Simply put, I miss him and I was desiring connection. But Facebook pages are fake. Or, more accurately, they are inherently incomplete.

Fortunately I thought to call for help and my friend answered the phone and I made peace with reality and left Facebook alone.

Then I adjusted my focus and made the most of my time, and by the end of the evening, I felt well and truly fine.

Loneliness and solitude are not the same thing

Katherine nudges us toward the topic of solitude as though she expects we are all opposed.

“I know. You suddenly want to earmark this page and turn to tomorrow’s reading,” she says, after asserting that “you’ve got to go right into the center of your lonely feelings so that you can soothe and comfort your frightened, despairing heart yourself.”

But she urges us to stay where we are. “Please don’t steal this brilliant healing from yourself,” she continues. “The years we’ve spent hiding from ourselves have cost us and we’ve grown weary and worn. We must find it within us to gather the courage we need to face the monster down and heal the terror of our aloneness.”

I do not disagree. But this does sound dramatic.

Maybe because, for me, confronting my loneliness is nothing new.

For at least seven years, I have been actively engaging in self-exploration, specifically with a focus on healing what Katherine calls “the terror of our aloneness.”

I totally understand that “loneliness is not the real enemy—alienation from ourselves is.”

The cure for my loneliness does not actually come from other people, although of course spending time with others is a true need that brings legitimate comfort.

But at the end of the day, the antidote for loneliness is satisfying solitude.

Solitude can be a blessing

Solitude is always going to be valuable and necessary.

Even inside an intimate partnership—heck, especially inside an intimate partnership—each individual requires a secure sense of self.

And people who have partners and families and other outside pressures often seem to be scrambling to find even a few minutes for themselves alone.

Meanwhile, I’ve got hours upon hours, day after day.

“What a luxury to have those long stretches of hours to just be,” Katherine says.

She urges us to appreciate exactly where we are in our processes.

“This is a special time in your life,” she says. “Don’t miss out on the opportunity that it presents by wishing you were somewhere else.”

One of the inspirational quotes I have plastered around my apartment is attributed to someone named Yung Pueblo who puts lots of spiritual poetry on Instagram.

“Wanting always interrupts being,” the square printout reminds me all the time.

And it’s true.

Or as Katherine frames it, “The secret to being happy in life is to choose what you have.”

Lesson 35 in practice

The homework for Lesson 35 was delightful. All we had to do was sit still for 5–15 minutes and then journal about the experience.

At first I was a little confused—is this the same thing as meditation?

Then I decided not to overthink it, just to do as I was told.

Sit in the stillness. “No newspaper, no television, no journal, no book, no telephone calls, no Internet, no pager, no activity.”

(“No pager,” LOL.)

So I sat. I stayed on my couch instead of my floor cushion. I hugged my knees to my chest and simply hung out with myself.

Some thoughts showed up and I did not try to chase or feed them. Some others followed. I allowed those too. Mostly, I just soaked in the scene, noticed the details of my apartment, observed the feelings in my body.

And when my timer gonged, I wrote down my thoughts.

I’ll spare you the transcript, but here are some highlights:

-“I really do love/appreciate every detail in my apartment. All of it is intentional. What a luxury to have my own personal space like this.”

-“It won’t always be like this, but I always need to remember/access this energy/awareness.”

-“I really am okay with myself. I genuinely like who I am.”

Back to Boyhood

A couple weeks after Paul and I met at a friend’s party last December, I saw a post of his on Facebook. It was about the movie Boyhood.

I don’t remember what it said exactly (and I am definitely not about to go try and look it up), but basically he was suggesting the movie was overrated.

It just so happens that when I’d gone to see Boyhood two years earlier, I had a transformative experience. So much so that I came home and gushed about it for, like, a thousand words.

Those words definitely included the phrase “OH MY GOD I JUST LOVED THE MOVIE.”

So when I saw Paul’s post, I definitely disagreed with it. I wasn’t bothered by his perspective—but for whatever reason, I was compelled to…wait for it…

…paste my two-year-old rant into a private Facebook message.

Outside of casual chat at our friend’s party, Paul and I had never spoken before.

But that didn’t stop me from dumping half a ton of personal essay into his chat window, no sirree!

And you know what?

He loved it.

We had an engaging and inspiring conversation about perspective and bravery and creativity that night.

I had no idea that a month later we’d be dating, that soon after that I’d fall in love.

I just knew that being vulnerable and open felt right. And I went for it.

And I am so not sorry.

Yes, in light of our current situation, perhaps its ironic that the writing I shared with him emphasized solitude.

But when I read it again today, I still stand by what I say:

“I had a lovely poignant breakthrough while watching Mason drive to college, alone, to the perfectly selected soundtrack of a song called “Hero” performed by Family of the Year. All of the sudden I just had this quiet realization, this thought that maybe I was alone on purpose. Maybe it was a privilege. Maybe I came to this planet precisely to have the exact experience I am having—to luxuriate in solitude, in Manhattan, alone. Maybe the universal interconnectedness of the true truth is indeed blissful and fulfilling but a particle piece of me wanted a different opportunity, to understand separateness and individuality, to know the satisfying ache of relentless independence.

Maybe this is not a mistake. Maybe I am meant to feel everything I feel, maybe I wanted this to happen, perhaps I self-selected my loneliness; it really does seem possible and of course believing so is immensely reassuring, a comfort beyond anything else I could be offered.

My singleness is a privilege, not a punishment. I am choosing it in every moment, at some level at least, or it would not be happening.”

And the way I concluded my impromptu essay back then might as well be a direct echo of how I felt yesterday after sitting still:

“And as a huge massive bonus, I do not feel alone tonight. I mean, I do feel alone, but I feel completely okay with that. Privileged, even. This is space I have created. I can breathe into it and make of it what I choose, amen.”

Love > fear,


Want to know what happens next? Proceed to Chapter 36.

Missed what happened before? Go back to Chapter 34, or start from the beginning.

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Love > fear