Cat From The Mat

Sacred Solitude

“Solitude stands in the doorway
And I'm struck once again by her black silhouette
By her long cool stare and her silence
I suddenly remember each time we've met
And she turns to me with her hand extended
Her palm is split with a flower with a flame”
~ Suzanne Vega

From January through March 2020, I was fortunate enough to complete a teaching residency in Japan.  Living in a new environment had its challenges, especially when my Japanese (Nihongo) was not up to snuff.  I love their cuisine, culture, and customs, but I do not look Japanese.  In fact, with blue and white hair, I might resemble an Anime character.

As much as I connected with local friends and colleagues across the country, I spent lots of time alone, while teaching throughout hospitable Nihon.  At times, I felt isolated, ranging in degrees of discomfort.  Right as the US was closing its borders, I completed my work commitments and returned to NYC, the then epicenter of Covid, from the frying pan into the fire.  My initial two-week quarantine expanded into months on end.  It’s now September, and my isolation continues.

I used to consider myself an extrovert, but I have learned that I also really do like my own company. Spending so much time alone, without making it problematic, has been a practice.   I am actually quite an ambivert, equally introverted and extroverted.  And yet, I am yearning for that parallel balance around me.  I miss the energetic presence of others.  I want a hug.  We humans need touch and social community.

What is the distinction between loneliness and being alone?  I know what it’s like to feel lonely in a marriage or in a crowd.  When I have that lonely feeling, it’s perhaps because I am not embracing ALL parts of myself, especially those which are unfamiliar or unpleasant.  But being alone is something different.  One of my wise Japanese yoga friends suggested to consider solitude to be a sacred practice.   

Loneliness is often considered an undesirable state, marked by a sense of separation.  However, solitude is an experience of being alone without feeling lonely. It is a constructive state of engagement with oneself. Solitude is a desirable state of being alone while providing sufficient company.  It takes awareness to shift the current mundane into the sacred.

The word solitude has its roots in Latin, from solus “alone.”  It can mean seclusion, remoteness, retirement, and even peace of mind.  Solitude is also defined as wilderness, unspoiled area, or emptiness.  

In some eastern thought, emptiness is not considered a cavity, but rather space held for expansive potential.  It’s a container for creativity, a pregnant void.  The question then is how am I to participate with this great empty pause we are in?  Am I being more creative by slowing down, seeing more, and doing less?  Can this be a much needed reset?

Many of us are spending time alone and need to connect with others.  Some of us are in spaces filled with too many people/roles/duties, that we wish to escape and be quietly solo.  The key is to embrace these polar parts of ourselves without labeling them as right or wrong. They wish to be acknowledged just as they are.

I have many parts that cohabitate inside.  There’s the relieved part of me that appreciates the lack of triggering of my FOMO (fear of missing out) during the shutdown.  There’s the depleted part of me that is getting rest after being kicked off the gerbil wheel of decades of busyness.  And there’s the anxious freelance part that is worried about paying bills or failing to maximize this timeout.  My petulant teenager inside finally has the chance to be inefficient and just have fun.  The angry, shocked, and devastated part of me cannot believe the divisive state of my country.  Yet,  I return to my familiar self full of gratitude, for the immeasurable abundance within.  It's as if  I am anything but alone!

Are you tired of the hustle of doing and want to enjoy the fruits of your labor?  Are you slowing down enough the identify what truly matters?  Whether you are home alone or busting at the seams to get space, I encourage you to find what brings gracious self-connection, while making room for all of your parts. With breathing room,  self-compassion and clarity can arise.  From this place, skillful action is possible. This is the invitation of yoga, off the mat and into the world.

Happy Labor Day and "Quarantigue" (quarantine fatigue)!  Change is the constant, so let’s band together and shift our internal and external communities.  We can all be alone together…solidarity in solitude!

Cat From the Mat blog

September 2020