As a busy "caregiver" and "artistic type", I'm familiar with the value of aloneness. Sometimes I just need to be away from the demands and distraction of other people in order to think/feel deeply, to get a clearer sense of whatever is emerging from the crazy sea of worldly data and craving my creative attention. I love these spaces in my life. Arguing with that call is almost impossible, anyway; putting it off too long seems to be hazardous to the health of my psyche.
Loneliness, though, has been quite a demon in my story. At first glance, it is entirely different in quality from voluntary solitude, tending to appear as a hollow portrait of lack and emptiness, with nothing voluntary about it. I've been lonely off and on throughout my time in schools, jobs, marriages and therapies--alone in my head, heart, and in the midst of crowds. I used to think it was just depression or some kind of inherited kink in the energetic hose. I could never figure it out, really, and cycled for a long time through stern lectures from my adult-self to the "needy" child within. I was too bright, too young, too whatever to be so pathetic...I just wanted to knock it off. If it was biology, then to hell with it. Wasn't about to be jerked around by fluctuating hormones...and so forth.
I learned, over time, to distract myself from the pain of loneliness in many different ways. It was another fine coping skill to add to my repertoire. It worked, too, for a while.
What is it about middle-agelessness that so quickly peels off the illusions? Why is it that the thick buffalo-head, so effective in scaring away the really difficult states of being for so many years, just falls off? Does it get too heavy, too ridiculous, too painful? I don't know. What I do know is that there comes a point when there is no one left to blame--not even oneself--in the vast, empty space of one's own being, in which purposes and distractions rise and fall like the grass, through seasons which pass more and more quickly.
Here I am in the whirling year (oh my god, it's June, already?!), and I wake up in the middle of the night as I turn over into the cold side of the bed. Before the first thought manages to surface, I feel myself, somewhere, to be in pain. I pull a pillow into my stomach and try to go back to the sweet peace of unconsciousness. But the silence is heavy, my heart is heavier, and I'm too tired to think my way out of it.
Now, this is an ideal situation, and deep down, I know it. I recognize this demon as one I've never befriended, that will sit on me until I die if I don't get into where it lives, if I don't accept this invitation.
Oh...the surrender is almost instantaneous. Oh, the pain is intense! It's like a room that dwarfs me, as if I've fallen into a forbidden void...I just breathe, and wait. I find that I want to see what comes, and so, it does...grief, sadness, and fear...not of a final thing, like death, but of more monuments to grief and sadness. There is an ocean of them, built by me, and then built by all of humankind. The pain is too vast to be personal. Everything, as a matter of fact, is too vast to be personal!
I look into this feeling in my heart, in my body, circulating through the local and the universal, and find it rising and falling in a familiar fashion, like notes in a song. The grief and fear are brief and lovely, perfectly formed, only to dissolve in that slippery way that all forms have. It doesn't matter, I realize, how many of these memories and monuments I build. They are already gone, and I can't hang on to them to save my life. Something has unclenched. I find myself in state of gratitude for the impermanence of life, the fullness of it. Not a discreet, objective state of gratitude, but an active explosion of gratitude, an awestruck participant in this throwing up and tearing down of feeling-forms.
Loneliness has naturally transformed into a spontaneous beauty that sadness can't mar in any way. It isn't that some quality has been added to ease the pain--it's that nothing can be added or lost (even the belief in gaining or losing). What sort of being is this that can think, feel, believe, disbelieve, learn, unlearn, so permanent in its flux? An inalienable human, being deeply.
I don't sleep the rest of the night, as the demon has become a sort of muse, whose depths are fascinating. There is no regret over the length of time this complex relationship with "alone" has taken to develop. I realize, also, that voluntary solitude is a rough, uncommitted sketch, a thin layer between here and nowhere, the familiar tip of a giant iceberg barely showing above the waves. Further exploration is always called for. I love it, and I love you.