The idea and topic of solitude is nearly always on the tip of my tongue and in the foremost part of my brain. Some people fear that word – think it implies some kind of negative situation: the act of being alone. I understand that the idea of complete aloneness can be a terrifying thing for many of us – but I can’t imagine a life where solitude didn’t play a leading role.
My love affair with solitude started back as a sophomore in college. No, I didn’t love being alone at 19 – hanging out alone, driving alone, eating alone – and frankly, none of that happened. As a young college kid, I was usually stuck in some run down apartment with five other clamoring girls and my days were filled with loudness and chaos. I knew nothing of peace and little of quiet.
My life sort of changed upon the entrance of Rainer Maria Rilke. If you know me well, you know that my relationship with this poet is at its weakest point, fierce–and at its strongest, completely overwhelming. It would not be overreaching to say that his words pulsate through my life in a very real way. A topic that Rilke covers at length is solitude and the importance of it in your life. The pain of it is sweet and ultimately turns into a need that brings a wealth of comforting and self-awareness.
“love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind…”
“the point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development.”
This idea of protecting someone’s solitude is something that many people can’t wrap their head around – why would you in fact, encourage your beloved to spend time away from you? Our culture is completely obsessed with the avoidance of lonliness. With running away from quiet. We are an untrusting culture and we fear what the possible outcome could be of protecting the aloneness of another. I try to remember that in our aloneness we develop ourselves, understand ourselves, and grow as people. There is a powerful freedom in that – and I want to protect it for those I love. I want them to protect it for me. As I enter into a marriage in a matter of weeks, one of the most comforting things to me is that we practice this. We give each other the gift of our own solitude.
“Love consists of this: two solitudes that meet, protect and greet each other.”
After reading a lot about the importance of my own solitude, at 19, I decided to practice it. For nearly 2 years, I took myself out to dinner once a week. I read. I wrote. I watched people in a way that I never would if I had not been alone. I sat for hours in coffee shops. I went on long walks. I drove into the mountains. I cooked alone. In many ways, those singular moments helped to create my core personality – the best parts that I still love today. My independence. My creativity. My need to write. My desire to hear my own thinking. And comfort in my own skin. Sure, that has come and gone over the years – but the practice of being alone makes it much easier to find on days when I feel like a foreigner in my own life.
A lot has happened in the past 10 years. Sometimes solitude finds you when all you want is someone else. And other times, when all you want is to be alone – you can’t shake others around you. It is a hard space to find. This morning, a good friend of mine posted this video, which was an amazing, wonderful, beautiful reminder to spend time with yourself. That you are enough. That you can love and relate and connect, and still take those moments of pure aloneness for yourself. We should enjoy them. We should look forward to them. And, if we have an art, we must take the time to practice it. I am taking note – again.
“Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.”
All quotes by Rainer Maria Rilke.