Last night I woke at 3 a.m.
When you live on your own, 3 a.m. is about alone as alone gets.
So I lay there, in my ‘aloneness’.
At this point, staring into the darkness, the ‘lonely’ dog sat at the end of my bed. Would I feed it until it lay full and satisfied and snuggled with me under the sheets?
I knew that the weight of it lying there with me would be suffocating. I knew it would be dark.
As I contemplated this emotional defeat, a thought slipped into my head…
‘I am so lucky to be alone’.
The thought made the bed seem warmer. My eyes began to adjust to the dark.
A memory surfaced, just as memories tend to when it’s 3 a.m. and the subconscious is in that slippery state between the past and the present.
I remembered a conversation with a Balinese woman whom I had once befriended.
The Balinese live in beautiful family compounds, or Karangs, where several generations live together. At the entrance to every compound is a painted number stating how many live within and it’s not uncommon to see sixty and higher.
I had remembered thinking how wonderful it would be to live with so many people and to have their support and love and I had asked her what it was like.
‘To tell you the truth, I just want some time to myself.’
I thought about her and I thought about what a privilege it was to have this sacred early hour to myself. I thought about how lucky I was to have a beautiful space to myself in which to dream and turn and marinate in inky darkness.
‘I am so lucky to be alone,’ I repeated.
Perhaps I was beginning to spin a thread between loneliness and solitude.
Solitude. Now there’s a word.
Solitude brings silence. Buddha says that when a person knows the solitude of silence and feels the joy of quietness, they are free from fear.
However, Western culture seems to suggest that we should be afraid of being alone. Very afraid.
When Tom Hank’s character Chuck, was ‘Cast Away’ on a deserted island, rather than being ‘free from fear’ he was consumed with it.
So much so that he painted a washed up volleyball with a face, called it Wilson and conversed with it in a desperate attempt to deny his solitude. To shut it out.
I understand the need for connection, yes, and I’m not suggesting that a life without connection is richer than one with it (preferably not with a volleyball).
What I am saying however, is that when we are confronted with ‘aloneness’ perhaps we could befriend it? Perhaps that dark space isn’t so menacing after all? Perhaps it’s delicious? Decadent? Devine?
Perhaps we could convert it to solitude?
Many thought that Jessica Watson, in 2010 the youngest person to sail solo around the world, would have felt lonely.
But far from painting sporting equipment with eyes and a nose, Jessica actually felt happy.
About a month into her journey she told the Sydney Morning Herald: “I might be about as physically alone as you can get, but I’m not depressed about it at all. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.”
There’s a reason that people go to the mountains and hike and sail solo, it’s because they’re not only conquering the task, they’re conquering themselves.
Not only does solitude give us the power to defeat our inner demons, but it brings us the opportunity to look outward.
Solitude gives us space to be quiet; both from the noise of conversations with others and from the noise of our own ‘monkey minds’.
I remember Dr Ramesh Manocha, head of the Meditation Research Programme at the University of Sydney and the man who introduced me to meditation, giggling uproariously at the difference between the Western and Eastern definition of this ancient art.
The Oxford Dictionary, for example, says that to meditate is to ‘think deeply about something’.
Dr Manocha however, suggests that in actual fact meditation is the complete ‘absence’ of thought.
You may or may not call it meditation, but I bet you have experienced that moment of solitude when you are quiet, calm and relaxed and then you suddenly ‘switched back’, realising that if only for a moment, you had complete ‘absence of thought.’
It’s during these moments that I feel most connected to nature. I think it’s because with the quieting of my mind, the sounds of the natural world rush in to fill it.
I wonder if that’s how Robinson Crusoe felt when he awoke at 3 a.m. alone on his island with nothing but the sound of the monkeys and falling coconuts.
Was he indulging in the decadent dark, defeating his inner demons or did he conclude, as Defoe wrote in his novel of the same name ‘that it was possible… to be more happy in this forsaken, solitary condition that it was possible (to) ever have been in any other particular state in the world.”
I hope so.