Thursday 9 July 2015

52 Ordinary Words: Alone

Together with other members of Kim Manley Ort’s Google+ group, Adventures in Seeing, I’m using David Whyte's Book, Consolations to reflect on a word a week.  Our first word is Alone.

Extroverts are said to find their own company unacceptable, which was never entirely true for me. I liked own company, occasionally; and I was fine, if I could choose when and where I found myself alone.

It wasn’t until illness forced me into a relatively solitary lifestyle – which obliged me to spend a lot of time on my own – that I began to appreciate how good it is to be alone; and to live in silence. Indeed, once I began to really appreciate the latter I found myself enjoying being alone for considerable periods of time. 

But everything I now know came about because I was metaphorically thrown in at the deep end; I could either sink or swim. For me, necessity was the mother of invention.  

I am not a naturally contemplative person, but I am a spiritual one, so I knew there had to be an answer to my question, “What am I supposed to do with this great chasm that’s opened up,before me?”  Of course it wasn’t as simple as that.  I was obliged to ask myself several hard questions and I had to learn to listen - to really listen - to the voice of my inner wisdom: that still, small voice of calm.

Whyte says that, in order to benefit from solitude, we must be prepared, like a snake, to shed our outer skin.  And as my old life fell away - and silence became my friend - I began to hear a different story and then, eventually, no story at all.  I lost the need to know.  I became comfortable with not knowing; for I had lost the need to ‘interpret and force the story from too small and too complicated a perspective.’  I learnt to honour myself, by choosing to let myself - and others - be...

Whyte maintains that this quality of aloneness does not need the physical conditions of an empty and isolated terrain to experience ‘contemplative intimacy with the unknown,’ but I beg to differ.  I do need to be alone for several hours in each and every day and for a couple of days in every week; otherwise I cease to feel centered and grounded.  But I do agree that my disinclination to answer the telephone or to reply to an email immediately is viewed with suspicion – as if there’s something wrong with me!

In the fullness of time I hope I do hone the discipline - what Whyte calls ‘a sense of imminent aloneness' - because I want to ‘understand the singularity of human existence whilst experiencing the deep physical current that binds us to others,’ without having to physically disconnect myself from the presence of other people. This may take some time.

Until then I am happy to attest that Marianne Moore got it right; ‘The cure for loneliness is solitude.’


  1. Such a thoughtful and lovely text, Sophia. I agree with so much that has been said about the need to be alone - to find myself and to re-center. I was thrust into living alone nineteen years ago and realized that the only way to overcome any feelings of loneliness was to make friends with this new way of life and living. I did it step by step, day by day - and finding new treasures along the way. Now contemplative solitude is necessary for my well-being. Having said this, I also greatly enjoy interaction with fellow kindred spirits and being with others, but I still shirk big crowds and gatherings and lots of distracting noise!

    I love your photo of the bench framed by flowers and greenery - so contemplative! That hint of deep blue sky makes me feel that the sea is maybe not far away.

    1. Thank you, Sandra. I chose this image because it suggested to me that if you sit still long enough, flowers - metaphorically or otherwise - will bloom! Solitude can become addictive, so I remember to take the middle way - to be balanced in all things.