Alone But Not Lonely

In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion. ~ Albert Camus

Why a Spiritual Retreat?

In mid-May when spring is absolutely gorgeous in Tucson,  I made my decision to go on a solitary retreat. I recognized I wanted to be alone, but not lonely. I wanted to silence the thoughts that were constantly spinning in my head, those shallow attempts to calm myself with busyness and mental “what ifs” and “I shoulds.” It had become a kind of perseveration. I had so much internal chatter and emotions skittering around. I felt I was getting mixed up with words – alone, loneliness, solitude.

My husband and I are each other’s main cheerleaders/ supporters/listeners. We also have our own approaches to dealing with stress. We both need time to explore our interior thoughts, and kind of find our own way before we share with each other. Of course that involves different timelines. Most of the time, we both don’t have high stress needs at the same time. Most of the time.

This was not one of those times. Why won’t he talk with me? I was ready to talk and listen. He wasn’t. I labeled my feeling loneliness. It really was dis-ease with being with my own scattered thoughts. I needed someone to listen and help me sort it out. While I was at the Redemptorist Renewal Center in Tucson, I booked two sessions for spiritual direction.

Spiritual Companioning

How recent has it been that you had the experience of having someone listen to your words? Really listen, where there was no evidence that they are flipping through their own mental files deciding what to say. I had two sessions with a sister from the Order of St. Francis. There was a stillness to her listening that was simple witnessing, and as she said, “Companioning on your journey.” I got that opening and ease I longed for. And with it came the re-awareness of my Higher Power.

After each of my sessions, I went over to the pool. It was deserted one afternoon and populated with one other person doing the finger scroll checking messages on his phone, and then leaving without a sound. The sun warmed me as I sat back in the chair by the pool, eyes closed. Taking a leisurely swim, the water was a distinct and refreshing contrast to the sun.

Coming Home

When I think about the quiet of the library and the pool at the Center, a feeling of stillness comes over me. Not the heavy stillness of fatigue or inertness of being overwhelmed. The feeling is one I get when I look at a calm body of water. Here at home it’s the smooth surface of our little spool on the patio after sundown. An occasional cricket chirps. The only other sound is of my own breathing. I’m captured by the sight of miniscule points of white lights that are the stars. I feel an ease and comfort in being alone, on my own.

I came home released of tension, and in possession once again of myself. I regained the comfort of hearing no inner dialogue entreating me that I should do something. In solitude I find I can do some spiritual work. Solitude is once again an antidote to loneliness.

Who is your listener?

Where/how do you find and cherish solitude?

Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. She also enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Tucson Tellers of Tales, and just about anywhere there’s a mic. 


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