Essays

Appreciating solitude

It is finally quiet.

My life before I moved was mainly a search for quiet. Oh, there were other things I did throughout that time: work, family, relationships, fun (i.e. drinking), travel, etc., but most of those activities were driven by a search for stillness and silence.

If I bury myself in my work, will I reach that flow state? If I give my family what they want, will they leave me alone? If I give my girlfriend what she wants, will she leave me alone? If I drink enough, will I fall asleep and stay asleep? If I travel to a place where no one knows my name and face, will it finally be quiet?

Of course, it doesn’t work that way. I knew that then, but I know that now. And that is why I was so pleasantly surprised when I woke up the other day and it hit me: it is finally quiet.

1. No, really, it’s quiet.
I previously had a room to myself (in a house that I owned and shared with one other person, and yet I just had one room?) and those borders were sacred. It had taken me years of dealing with a family that thought opening doors without having to knock was their privilege to exercise, and even the thought of that now puts my back up and makes my skin itch. I hated it. I had them mostly trained to leave my alone by the time I left, but even then, just the noise of a television slightly too loud or just a bit too much banging in the kitchen could have me tensed and on edge.

To combat that, I’d geared myself up for combat. From sleep masks to ear plugs, to unplugging all the electronics in my room to prevent any buzzing. My room was a fortress of silence, and darkness, because even light leakage felt like an encroachment upon my space. I was barricaded in a bunker on my own making. A bomb shelter because everything was an attack.

I don’t do that anymore.

My apartment is open. The only important door is my bedroom door and I’m less inclined to close it. I freely occupy the space and meander through it. I don’t need total darkness anymore; in fact, my bedroom is never completely dark but I sleep deeper and easier than I ever have before. I only wake up once or twice a night now and easily fall back asleep. Before, well…

I am less concerned about everything being its place and a place being there for everything because no one ever moves my things. I don’t need to fit myself into someone else’s life / design / structure. I am not an interloper; I am not a stranger in a strange land. I am home. This is my home. I have a home.

And in this home of my own, I don’t seek or need total silence because I simply have privacy and peace. Also–

2. It really isn’t completely quiet.
In the mornings, I hear birds and the rumble of the garbage truck down the alley. In the evenings, my elderly neighbor’s TV I can hear through my bedroom walls (and she has told me to stop by and knock to tell her turn it off, but I’d never do that, because that’s her company and it truly doesn’t bother me). Joggers sometimes pitter-pat up the alley outside my balcony; occasionally I hear some movement in the apartment above mine.

But I’m not bothered. I no longer exist in a state of permanently feeling under attack and penned in by all sides. I feel free. And so, while I enjoy the peacefulness and solitude, I don’t need the quiet.

I’m at rest.

3. Rest does not imply idle.
I do more now than I ever did before and that is because an object that has rested has stored up fresh energy for usage. When you are in a constant state of high alert, you are expending energy. When you are in a constant state of movement: (1) going from your family house to your office and (2) from your office to your girlfriend and (3) from your girlfriend back to the office and (4) from the office to happy hour and (5) from happy hour to dinner and (6) from dinner back to a home (you don’t even know which one anymore and none of them are your own) and (7) wash, (8) rinse, (9) repeat, (10) toss in alcohol and (11) food and (12) not enough sleep and (13) not enough exercise and (14) not enough of anything–

Hell, that was exhausting writing it and even more exhausting living it. You are busy, you are expending energy, but it is not productive. You don’t get much out of it.

I rest more now and yet I do more, too. The proof is visible in the last three months:

  • My friendships are better: I am more present, available, and joyful than I have ever been before in this space
  • My health has improved: My persistent allergies have mostly dissipated
  • My sleep has improved: I sleep. I really, really sleep, and I wake up rested
  • My work is better: I’m less distracted and I spend more time in the flow
  • My “work” outside of work is better: My hobbies which were always ‘on the list’ to get done are actually getting done: my cooking skills have expanded, I’m trying new things, and I’m having fun
  • My “fun” is actually fun: Before “fun” wasn’t really fun – it was drinks and complaints and going to restaurants, maybe. Travel, but tepid? Now it’s all sorts of things with a variety of people whom I never would have had the chance to meet or know before. From rekindling old friendships, to food truck festivals and crab feasts, bar games, trivia, and card games — just laughter and joy, everywhere

Now, I rest, and therefore, when I’m awake, feast on my life. But, it’s not all fun and games.

4. Loneliness happens.
We are not good at being alone in this country. They don’t teach us that in school; we don’t learn it in the schoolyard.

Instead, they give us tools to combat being alone: Facebook and Instagram when you’re searching for connection; Tinder or OKC when you’re looking for validation that you are seen and wanted; endless television shows and movies when you are too tired to think, but still afraid of being left to your own thoughts and feelings.

We have avoided it so much that we have forgotten that loneliness doesn’t last forever. It’s a feeling and not a state of being. Also, being alone does not equal being lonely, and it is a learning hurdle to parse that.

In recent months, while settling in, I’ve been hit by a wave (or a few) of loneliness. The first few times, my instinct was to cover over it with the things above. I watched more TV in the first few weeks of being here than I have in the last three years of my life. But, a curious thing happened: as the rest of my life began to change (the sleep, the work, the fun, etc.), the feeling would come back, but I noticed things about it now:

  • It was familiar because despite all the hustle and bustle of my former life in my former city, I had felt lonely throughout! but,
  • It was unfamiliar because before it had felt like a personal failing and now it more of a mild irritant, a house fly buzzing around my ear that I couldn’t quite swat

So, instead of reaching out for Facebook, Instagram, et al., on a quiet Sunday of the most recent occurrence, I texted my best friend and said: “Dude, I don’t feel right, but I don’t know what it is. Can we talk?”

3,600 miles away, across an ocean and in a different country, deep in the later hours for him, he responded immediately: “Sure, dude, let’s hop on Skype.”

And then we talked. Two years ago, he had made the same move I had, away from the noise and the obligations and the expectations and all of the junk. We got down in the hole together and so together we put loneliness back into its proper place of just being a feeling, a passing storm in an otherwise great summer’s day. It is a momentary dislocation, a momentary irritation, but a necessary one because ‘conquering’ loneliness is a step on the way to appreciating solitude.

5. I appreciate solitude.
This state will not last forever.

I don’t intend to live by myself forever; I deeply want a partner and want to raise a family and do all of those things. However, those things are less “goals” or even “trophies” to put on my mantle (see, I got engaged, look at the ring; see, I got married, didn’t I land myself a great one; see, see, see, see–) and instead are just natural steps along the journey of my life that is really just one thread interwoven amongst the broader tapestry of all the people in my life.

I am no longer in a rush. There is no need to be!

Instead, I am here, in this state of solitude, and I am grateful for it because I needed this. I needed to learn how to appreciate this. We are born alone with our thoughts and feelings trapped inside our skulls and chests. While we may expend great effort and make great strides in connecting and communicating with others, the human state is fundamentally one of being alone.

And it’s okay.

From this place, if we embrace it, if we come to celebrate being in the presence of just oneself and reckoning with who we are, what we love, what we want, and what we need – from this place will spring creativity and joy. This is where we learn to value ourselves.

From here, from a place of solitude, is where we lay the cornerstone and set the foundation for living a full life.

That’s what I want. That’s what we all want.

 

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