Solitude. A refuge where latent thoughts are allowed to unfurl and grow, perhaps planting the seeds for a revelation of self-discovery. Poetic as it sounds (if I do say so myself), it’s not always the most accessible or attractive pastime. This is because it all too often reveals the hardened places of the heart that are unwilling to change, that go unnoticed by others. And that is why I tend to postpone it until suddenly some external circumstance causes internal dissension. Until the disharmony is further analyzed in solitude, it will rob the present of its full vibrancy and perhaps distort perceptions of interactions with others. So not only is solitude important in its enactment of self-analyzation, but it is also helpful in its post-operative effect on relationships.
No one should have had an easier time on the solitude retreat than me—I’ve been described by my mom as a “lone wolf,” and I [somewhat-pridefully-somewhat-reluctantly] concur. It’s not that I don’t like being alone, it’s that I don’t like being perceived as a loner. I worry about not appearing social enough, or people thinking that I think that I’m better than them or something. Realistically no one is keeping a tally of how much time I spend alone/with people, and the only times my mom calls me a lone wolf is when she is cautioning me to be safe after I’ve told her about going hiking by myself. Nevertheless, I’ve identified with the loner persona, as I think many people have at various times in life.
Enter the Solitude Retreat. The Fellows had the opportunity of going to Fisher Towers for a camping trip, which was meant to be a slower-paced trip than we usually do, in that a chunk of time was reserved for us all to be alone. Wow! This was going to be slow-paced; we weren’t going to have every second filled with stuff requiring physical activity. I didn’t know our Fellows program had it in us to do that. Anyways, I got to my isolated patch of land where I was assigned to spend an undisclosed amount of time. It was weird at first — I thought it’d be easy to be alone, but I had a hard time getting my mind to shut up, or at least follow one stream of thought long enough to marinate with it. It was like I had been subconsciously bursting with inner conflict and only by waiting it out in solitude was I able to confront them. I didn’t like where they led me, to journaling about some anger from the past that I wanted to be done with.
But coming out of that time, I felt a sense of wholeness that I hadn’t felt in a while. I had been shoving aside this underlying problem in favor of soaking up the social attention, which only perpetuated the procrastination, as the idea of solitude became less and less attractive. Additionally, my time spent with people was not of the best quality because my inner conflict was, on some level, compromising my time with them.
I can draw these conclusions looking back on it, but prior to the Solitude Retreat I was not aware of how the negligence to self-reflect truly impairs one’s ability to connect with others in the moment. Coming out of that time of just sitting with my thoughts, I felt more grounded in myself, and from that, I was able to express myself better and form meaningful conversations. It’s not easy to schedule down time that is mentally engaging, much less down time that is self-evaluating. I’m still struggling to figure out what it looks like, but I do know that it doesn’t have to be the same every time. Sometimes I paint and that’s enough, sometimes I journal, and sometimes I just do a self-check and pray. The important thing is to cultivate self-awareness, which floods over into relationships as authenticity.