I’ve been thinking a lot about the tension between the need for community and the need for solitude.
I remember the first Christmas after my divorce. My boys were four and seven at the time. Their father and I had planned for the boys to spend Christmas Eve and morning with me and then the rest of Christmas day at his house. My parents were away so this left me alone for the afternoon and evening of Christmas day. Although Christmas had been a day of family and church community when I was growing up, I had convinced myself that my general dislike for the commercialization of the season would make it no big deal to spend a large portion of the day alone.
To my surprise, it was very difficult. Try as I might, I could not shake a sense of being unmoored. I wandered around the house, unsure of what to do. I wanted to be with family even when I remembered that large family gatherings can often be an exhausting combination of work, small talk and turmoil as old buttons are pushed. I told myself that it was just another day, but it wasn’t. It was a day filled with memories- the aroma of cooked turkey filled with sage and rosemary dressing; working in a hot crowded kitchen alongside my mother and grandmother; smiling to see my dignified grandfather in a tissue paper hat; singing carols at church; watching TV specials together; playing broad games. It was the one day when the commercialization of the celebration of the birthing of the light/Christ child was at its low ebb- stores were closed and people came together with family, friends, and community.
The longing for solitude and the ache for community reflect important needs of the human soul. Both can feel like blessings when they are chosen. But involuntary solitude can be terribly lonely, and I think of all those who do not have family or friends and my heart aches. Involuntary community- attending events out of a sense of obligation when we are exhausted- can feel like a burden, and I think of those who are aching for a moment to sit down and be quiet and alone in midst of all the hustle and bustle.
Sometimes we can shift our experience by simply being aware of what is and choosing to engage in it- to be fully present with ten minutes of desired solitude as we take a bath; to allow ourselves to pause and really see the family and friends who gather, remembering that the unpredictability and impermanence of life means we cannot take for granted that they will be with us next year. Choosing what is, even when the situation is not completely voluntary, can allow us to relax and receive the blessings of the moment.
And sometimes we just have to hold the tension between the ache for belonging and the longing for solitude, until a new way of being with what is comes to us.
May we come to appreciate both being alone with ourselves and being fully with others. If we are lucky enough to belong to community, may we reach out and make room in the circle for those who are not so blessed. If we have been blessed with the time and awareness to really be with ourselves, may we become (as Rilke put it) the guardian of the other’s solitude when he or she needs to turn inward. And may we find both contemplative solitude and heartfelt community, and help create both for others in our world.
Oriah is the author of the international best-selling books: The Invitation, and The Dance, and The Call (published by HarperONE, translated into eighteen languages.) Her much loved poem “The Invitation” has been shared around the world. Trained in a shamanic tradition, her medicine name Mountain Dreamer means one who likes to find and push the edge. Using story, poetry and shamanic ceremony Oriah’s deeply personal writing and her work as a group facilitator and mentor explore how to follow the thread of our heart’s longing into a life where we can choose joy without denying the challenges of a human life. www.oriah.org www.oriahsinvitation.blogspot.com https://www.facebook.com/Oriah.Mountain.Dreamer?sk=wall
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