Friday, April 26, 2013


If only we looked forward to keeping company with ourselves the way we anticipate actual company.

We might prepare something special to eat, or tidy the area where we plan to hang out. We might consider what activity we'd most enjoy doing on our own.

Instead, we go off alone only when the tasks we consider important are done, no one needs us urgently, and we can spare the time. Even those of us who schedule regular times of meditation or prayer often see solitude as something good for us rather than times to relish. 

Julie Cameron, who wrote The Artist's Way, a self-help book aimed at helping adults recover their lost creativity, advised readers to take an afternoon a week to be alone and play as a child, swinging on a swing at the park, feeding ducks, kicking rocks or a ball. She believed this to be crucial for getting in touch with the younger, true self.

She wrote, “Rather than being taught to ask ourselves who we are, we are schooled to ask others. We are, in effect, trained to listen to others' versions of ourselves. We are brought up in our life as told to us by someone else. When we survey our lives, seeking to fulfill our creativity, we often see we had a dream that went glimmering because we believed, and those around us believed, that the dream was beyond our reach. Many of us would have been, or at least might have been, done, tried something, if . . . if we had known who we really were.”

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Being alone has small charm for a person who doesn't want to be in that state.  The refugee. The stranger. The newcomer. The recently widowed. The empty nester. The kid  who is left out.

Even those of us who like solitude know that unwanted aloneness can be painful. It would be insensitive of us to not feel compassion for those who long for company.

But that often isn't the problem we face. In a world geared toward groups and togetherness, we sometimes find it hard to be sympathetic to our own need for time apart.

If we do respect it though, we can come back to the world refreshed, ready to offer ourselves to those struggling with aloneness.

Friday, April 12, 2013


At a Saturday writing workshop I asked participants to write on the topic, “I Am a Changeling.”

In the ancient stories, fairies or wicked spirits would steal a couple’s baby and replace it with a different one, sometimes one of theirs. Until fairly recent times in Ireland and Scotland, parents believed this to be an explanation for why a child was mentally ill, disabled, or a poor fit in the family.

Because writers often feel like misfits, I thought a group of them could have fun with the topic. But I had misgivings, too, and wondered if some in the class might have trouble relating to the subject.

I was surprised that about a third of the participants chose to write about how they were, in fact, actual changelings. They felt like they had never belonged in their families. The rest of the writers had stories of their own about being out-of-place in the world.

Truth be told, most of us probably feel like we don’t exactly fit in. Trying to fit costs us a great deal in energy.

That gives the time we spend apart importance. When we’re alone, we can be our authentic selves. When we’re alone, we can be easy with who that is.  

Friday, April 5, 2013


When I read about people in poor, crowded countries who live with 20 or so other people in a small shack I wonder, “Do those individuals ever get any solitude?” When I hear about a multi-generational family that has moved under one roof because of the bad economy, I wonder if family members mourn the loss of opportunity to be alone. 

But maybe I overvalue the importance of solitude. I grew up in the rural Rocky Mountain West amid lots of empty space. As a kid, I and my dog ran free. I left in the morning and sometimes didn't return until dark. I explored fields where cattle grazed, ran up and down mounds of dirt, saw deer on hillsides, visited neighbors' horses, and rode them whenever I got a chance. I came to love solitude and silence. Maybe not everyone has a need to be alone. Maybe it's partly habit, partly cultural. 

Then I come across a quote from a great thinker or poet, like this one from C.S. Lewis. “We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy—therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.”

I probably don't need to figure out whether solitude is a universal desire that occurs in everyone. I only need to respect that longing in myself and find ways to accommodate it.