We spoke previously of the challenge of loneliness and how it can be made more difficult and painful from the isolation that results from the current pandemic. This situation invites us to reach out in whatever ways possible to make contact with one another. It also calls us to recognize that, for a variety of reasons, many people can become more withdrawn and unable to reach out, and need others to reach in to them.
At the same time a counterpart to and response to loneliness is what may be called solitude. We are each a unique person, and there are no carbon copies of any of us. We are also quite complex, with a vast variety of backgrounds, life-situations, experiences, reactions, thoughts, feelings, and much more. We are to a considerable extent a puzzle, a question, a mystery to ourselves, as well as to one another. Solitude, time spent quietly by oneself is a way to journey to and get in touch with our inmost self.
We have also mentioned the contrast between homelessness and homefulness with ourselves. It is easy to live on the outskirts of our lives, immersed in busyness and externals, and endlessly striving to meet the expectations of others or our society. This approach only increases our loneliness, our experience of being an absentee landlord in our own home.
Solitude, distinct from loneliness, is a time of quietness by ourselves. It may be initially uncomfortable, but if we are able to be immersed in life with awareness and openness, that time in our own company can be a time to reflect on our life, our experiences, our relationships, our place in society.
One helpful and yet possibly at first unnerving question is: “Where do you live?” We can ask this question beyond the immediate sense of our street or city location. In a conversation with my son at the age of seven, he spoke of the world inside us in terms of different towns. He spoke of happy town and excitement town and the like, with examples for each. I asked him if there was anything further, and he said that way, way at the back was love town. I suggested to him that as long as we know that there is a love town we will be alright even if we cannot always be there, but are for a time in lonely town or angry town.
This story may helpful for asking in which town we live. Is it lonely town or the town of fear or hostility or anxiety or hope or love. Do we move among different towns, or are we stuck, so to speak, in one of them. In what town would we like to make our home, and how do we get there? What is the deepest place in us, and are we there seldom or often.
If we try to spend some quiet time by ourselves, we may at first feel uncomfortable. We may recognize that we are in fact living most of the time in hurt or fear or angry town. I think that these are part of all our experiences. At the same time, we may also gradually be aware of something in us that is deeper than all of these feelings. It is who we are beneath and beyond and more than these. We may also sense that this is a place of sacredness and worth, even if we are seldom there. And it is our real home.
One writer, Gordon Cosby, extending it beyond experiences of quiet time by ourselves, puts it this way: “In our deepest beings we are all contemplatives. We glimpse what this means in times when we surrendered ourselves to a piece of work and the hours seems as moments. We are contemplatives when we are absorbed by an experience of love, beauty, wonder, grief, or when we are able to be present to something or someone with the totality of ourselves. “
Erich Fromm, in his book on the meaning of love, The Art of Loving, says that our common notion of activity involves doing something external to ourselves. He says that such busyness may come from being driven, whether by anxiety, greed, insecurity and the like. Being truly active means that, whatever we do, including sitting quietly, comes freely from within ourselves, not compelled from without. He later adds that genuine communication with another also depends upon its flowing freely from within.
In Fromm’s words: “Love is possible only if two persons communicate with each other from the centre of their existence, hence if each of them experiences themselves from the centre of their existence. …Even whether there is harmony or conflict, joy or sadness, is secondary to the fundamental fact that two people experience themselves from the centre of their existence, that they are one with each other by being one with themselves, rather than fleeing from themselves.”
We might say that we are truly free when we are at home to our inmost self and can then be truly at home to and even a home for one another. We can speak more of friendship in future reflections but leave things here at this point. May you find your true home within yourselves and live there and from there, and become more and more a home for one another.
Norman King, January 11, 2021