“Still, in spite of all the civilization and people around me, I find it amazingly easy to reach a transcendent state of aloneness, as if the years of solitude at the cabin were so intense they laid a well-worn path of synapses and relays in my brain, providing a familiar shortcut.” ~Sean Gardner (as quoted by Lionel Fisher)
Over the summer, I had the chance to read Celebrating Time Alone: Stories of Splendid Solitude by Lionel Fisher. In this book, Fisher weaves together his own story of time spent in intense solitude with the stories of many people that he interviewed who had chosen similar periods of aloneness to explore the many aspects of solitude.
He shares the stories of a wide range of people, coming from many backgrounds and circumstances. Some chose solitude intentionally and structured their lives in ways to give them that time away. Others had periods of solitude thrust upon them through the death of a loved one or the loss of a significant relationship. The situations defining their solitude varied widely, but each person found solitude to be a life-changing experience.
Fisher explores both the good and the bad that come with solitude: the loneliness, the freedom, the lack of sex, the authenticity, the fears, the joys, the challenges, and the gifts. At the heart of each person’s story is the tension between the desire for solitude and the desire for relationship and connection with others. This tension is one that I know well from my own journeys into the small amount of solitude that I am able to create in my own life, so having the opportunity to view others’ struggles with this tension was helpful.
The story that has stuck with me the most powerfully since I read the book is the one of a woman who chose to live for eight years in a remote Idaho cabin (9′ x 12′) with no bathroom, electricity, or running water. After taking four years away to earn a graduate degree, she returned for another seven years there. During the final seven years, she worked part-time teaching Freshman English that required a stay in town two nights a week; the other five nights were spent back at her cabin.
The story of her experience with solitude and the hardship she was willing to endure to obtain that solitude was remarkable. But the part that really stuck with me is how she was able to carry that inner solitude with her when she then moved to downtown Santa Fe, living in a small apartment in the middle of town. The quote that opened this post is her description of having solitude always available to her despite now being surrounded by people with whom she interacted regularly. This is how she described it after having lived in Santa Fe for four years and having undergone enormous changes in her life. (I won’t ruin the story by telling the details of this part because it’s too beautiful a story to reduce to a summary here.)
That idea has stuck with me, and I find myself pondering it frequently. What would it take for me to reach a point where my experience of solitude is so well-worn into me that I can bring it up any time, where ever I am, no matter who is around me? What would it be like to have all of the solitude I crave right where I am without having to upend my life and move to the wilderness? If is possible to cultivate that level of solitude without having ever experience that kind of intense aloneness?
I don’t know any of the answers, but I am intrigued by the idea of reaching the point where I carry my solitude with me. What a treasure that would be! I believe the journey to discovering this for myself is one well worth taking.
A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.