October 18, 2011

Inviting solitude: finding your truth

If we are serious about being artists, or about being true to ourselves, I believe that it is essential to spend time alone.  Only by spending time alone can we get closer to our own ‘real’ lives, our own ‘real’ selves.  The world is so noisy – hundreds of people with different opinions, requests, and demands, the television, the radio, the babble of work, the internet, email, the phone…

How can we begin to know what we really believe or who we really are if we don’t give ourselves a chance to reflect on things without all those other voices ringing in our ears?

But being alone is easier said than done.  First there are the practicalities – how do we fit in twenty minutes of sitting quietly, when there are three children to cook for, the gas bill to be paid, and the garden choking up with weeds?  How do we explain to our partner that we know we haven’t seen them all day but we need to go and spend half an hour doing nothing before we ask them about their day?

The second difficulty I find is that being alone can be an uncomfortable business.  The first few minutes of a cup of tea in the garden can be blissful, but then I start to feel guilty about the washing up waiting for me inside.  The first day of a week’s space can feel luxurious, but then I start to feel a little sad, or bored, and would much rather go out with my friends instead.  Don’t get me started on my recent five day Buddhist retreat in France!

Being alone can be uncomfortable, because it gives us a chance to get in touch with feelings we may have been tucking away to one side.  There’s nothing to hide from, no-one else to focus on, and we may not like what we have to say to ourselves.

So why is it worth persevering?  What do we get from letting the uncomfortable feelings arise, maybe writing them down, or simply experiencing them and not distracting ourselves?

I can’t tell you whether it will be worth it – to answer that question you will have to find your own solitude and see what happens.  But I can tell you what I’ve gained from being alone.

I know myself a little better.  I’ve learnt that I’m prone to fill my schedule to the brim, and that this is not helpful to my creativity.  I’ve learnt that I find it difficult to just ‘be’, and that ‘getting things done’ is something I use to avoid certain aspects of myself.  I’ve learnt that sometimes I hugely enjoy doing nothing.  I’ve been better able to reflect on decisions I’ve needed to make. I’ve had new ideas which have led to new writing.

Most of all, alongside the learning and the experiencing of feelings and the new ideas, I’ve been able to nourish myself – to give myself some peace.  To give myself a chance to let go of old thoughts, to let the muddy waters settle.  To rest.

If you’re interested in what you might learn, start by creating a space for solitude today.  Decide whether you’d like to set aside a short amount of time each day, or a longer length of time once in a while, or both.  Think about what time of the day would suit you best.  Where will you go?  What will you do – meditate, write a journal or draw in a sketchbook, go on a fun trip to an antiques shop or a stately home, or just sit and let your thoughts run free?  How will you stop yourself from filling this time back up again?

May Sarton wrote ‘Journal of a Solitude’ in 1973.  She writes of her spiritual and artistic journey, quietly and with a steady determination.  Her intention is to focus on the times when she is all alone in her house, to try and get at her ‘real’ life. I’ll leave you with one of her quotes.  Enjoy getting to know yourself.

“Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember nothing stays the same for long, not even pain. Sit it out. Let it all pass. Let it go.”

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