The danger is clear. If you want to be with people, if you recognize a need for a healthier balance in that area of your life, by the simple expression of it you might sound needy or afraid to be alone.
As I reflected on this at length over the past twenty-four hours I realized I do not fear isolation. Yes, that’s what I said — I am not afraid to be alone. It’s been a long process of coming to understand my self better and finding a certain level of personal contentment with solitude.
For many years I ran from solitude and the longings of my heart, filling it with the distractions of activity or work or later alcohol. When I was single I was afraid to be alone. Though I lived alone by choice, I would constantly seek out people and things to do. In my twenties I was able to fill my time with service and met many wonderful people that way. Now my life is full of the busyness of a young family and when I have precious moments of solitude I love it; a walk in my garden, a drive in the country, strolling through a book store, or sitting in a coffee shop. These things that would have made me crazy for years I now cherish.
I relish my private thoughts and activities — my free time. I am learning how important they are to sorting through what I think. When I lose that private time I can quickly become tossed to and fro by the ideas and convictions of other people in my life or the experts I have to quickly elevated to a higher level of enlightenment than myself simply because they have a higher degree or they speak loudly.
So how do I reconcile this with the idea of a yearning for community? Simple. They are completely different ideas.
In Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen he says:
“There is much mental suffering in our world. But some of it is suffering for the wrong reason because it is born out of the false expectation that we are called to take each other’s loneliness away. When our loneliness drives us away from ourselves into the arms of our companions in life, we are, in fact, driving ourselves into excruciating relationships, tiring friendships, and suffocating embraces. No friend or lover, no husband or wife, no community or commune will be able to put to rest our deepest cravings for unity and wholeness. And by burdening others with these divine expectations, of which we are often only partially aware, we might inhibit the expression of free friendship and love and evoke instead feeling s of inadequacy and weakness. Friendship and love cannot develop in the form of an anxious clinging to each other.
When I speak of community, I do not mean something to take away loneliness or aloneness.
Again from Nouwen,
This difficult road is the road of conversion, the conversion from loneliness into solitude. To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. … this is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search.
This is a wonderful place to dwell and like all lessons in life, we travel back along the same road many, many times. But I am learning to be content with feel my feelings, and wait for The Companion (God) to speak. And when it comes to a need for community that is a completely different thing. They are both themes in one’s life that do not need to be reconciled with one another. But they do need to be understood.
Nouwen talks about a conversion from loneliness to deep solitude. A space to develop your passions, ideas and opinions. Rainer Marie Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet says:
“What is going on in your innermost being is worthy of your whole love.”
So this place of solitude makes us into deeper people, better able to experience community, to love others and genuinely love being with them. We can enjoy our differences of opinions. And most important, others don’t exist to meet our needs but to experience a give and take of ideas and respect.