Friday, December 21, 2012

On Being Lonely

There is an art to being alone, to finding comfort in it and seeing its potential. For me, more than anything else, being in the Peace Corps has re-routed my perspective.

If there’s one thing I do when I’m alone, it’s think. I think about any number of things and lately I think about home. I imagine the mountain range in winter, the crisp stillness of days when snow floats silently from the sky. I think about my friends and all of the amazing things we've done. The silence of being alone, the symptom of a fishbowl, reminds me of my awe for the world, reminds me of the love I bear for my friends and family; mostly it reminds me of ... well ... me.

The first thing I tell people about the Peace Corps is that liking oneself and ones company is a requirement. With nothing to do but think about life and self and growth, strange things start to happen. Sometimes it’s forgiveness and letting go – as easy as dropping a pebble into the sea and watching it sink it’s farewell; other times it’s acceptance and self-love – looking into a mirror and seeing something beautiful there. Sometimes it’s unbearable – nagging thoughts circling like birds above their prey, picking at weaknesses and drawing blood; other times it’s pure bliss – that moment of nirvana when the world stops and calm quiet descends, a moment of clarity without meditation, a point of light in the mind as warm as the sun on a spring morning.

It’s purposeful; not always filled with the pursuit of knowledge, but pursuit of self and useful introspection. Journal pages are filled with ramblings, some of them profound. Books get read and pages are typed – reflections of this life and those that came before occur with regularity.

And in the silence, somewhere along the way, you start to listen and what you hear sometimes surprises you. Having thought you knew everything about yourself, you realize you are just an acquaintance of yourself. And a gate opens somewhere and more than you ever thought you had to say comes tumbling out. Things that are old - antiques you thought you’d lost or sold, things that are new - things you hadn't realized you picked up along the way. Some of them are obvious and ugly and you realize you want better company.

All the while you’re getting to know yourself – silence being a sneaky catalyst to a reinvention long overdue. And without noticing you begin to change, begin to like yourself in your entirety, begin to leave the ugly things behind because forgiveness seems more important in the silence.
You do a spring cleaning and what’s left is a clear, empty room. Pictures and memories line the walls, an open window filters love and light everywhere and a comfortable chair waits for your return. This is where you come to think, enjoy and relax. It’s where you feel safe and free and loved. It’s your room in your house - your heart and your mind. It existed there all along, but fearing loneliness like most people do you neglected it, let it clutter.

But you see, there’s a difference between being lonely and being alone. And once you've mastered one you will never feel the other. The company of people is meant to be worshiped, but you marvel at the fact that you like your own company, too. Dinner and movie, a book at your favorite coffee shop, a late-night stroll under the stars. You find that you've become aware of the world – no more vultures in the sky. You see beauty all around you, reflected in you, because as well as loving the world you recognize your place in it. You are more beautiful because you belong to it.

And it loves you in return – sends you the sun and life giving rain, grows you flowers and gives you sustenance, sends the wind to tussle your hair and you understand that it’s a gift. Every breath. And you are lucky just to be standing here, sleepy eyes and grateful heart.

This is what being alone has meant for me. An expansion of awareness, of appreciation – the ability to love and laugh and cry when I need to cry. Some people call this God, I call it life; you can call it whatever you'd like. I crawl into bed with it every night and needn't fear it’ll leave before morning; and wouldn't you know, I’m always smiling – even when I’m alone.

Welcome to 2013 – take some time to be alone this year; you might find something you like.