I’ve been drinking up some much needed alone time since Labor Day. The summer was filled with friends and family. It’s such a blessing to have a home that everyone wants to visit!
Yet after a few months of it I began to feel emptied and drained. When I spoke to people about it, they couldn’t really understand it. They wanted to “fix” it; “fix” something in me that allowed it to happen. How can you fix the essential nature of a woman? Would you even want to? If there’s a need – you fill it. This is my strength and my weakness (another fascinating paradox with so much truth – your strength is your weakness and visa versa)!
Anne Morrow Lindbergh understood the nature of a woman and the challenges she faces in her book “The Gift of the Sea.”
“Is this what happens to woman? She wants perpetually to spill herself away? All her instinct as a woman –the eternal nourisher of children, of men, of society – demands that she gives. Her time, her energy, her creativeness drain out into these channels if there is any chance. Traditionally we are taught and instinctively we long to give where it is needed – and immediately. Eternally woman spills herself away in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the time, the quiet, the peace to let the pitcher refill.”
When I am “spilled away” I feel like I don’t know myself anymore. Something essential gets lost: My relationship to myself.
I cannot just know myself in relationship to others. I need a creative identity that allows me to say something of my own. I need to know myself. When I lose that, I am unable to give to others.
“When one is estranged from oneself then one is estranged from others. Only when one is connected to one’s own core is one connected to others.” (Anne Morrow Lindbergh)
So I am finding myself again. I find my core, my essence in the sweetness of solitude. This is where I rebuild, rejuvenate, draw myself together again. The inner life feeds me. It’s where I go for answers. It’s where I connect with spirit. My creativity draws out who I am, what I believe in and how I feel about things.
“As humans we need time alone to find the true essence of ourselves… the firm strand that acts as the center for indispensable and innumerable human relationships. We are the still axis of the revolving wheel of relationships.”(Morrow Lindbergh)
As artists we too need solitude. It’s where we create. Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips says that “our capacity for ‘fertile solitude’ is absolutely essential not only for our creativity but for the basic fabric of our happiness – without time and space unburdened from external input and social strain, we’d be unable to fully inhabit our interior life, which is the raw material of all art.”
It’s quite a feat to balance the need to be in relationship and the need to be in solitude; our need to be in togetherness and in separateness. It is a paradoxical push and pull that requires great skill and understanding. Yet is essential, especially in the most intimate of relationships like marriage.
“It becomes an act of superhuman strength to give space to the other when all one wants is closeness. And yet this difficult act may be the very thing that saves the relationship over and over.” (Gibran)
Another poet, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:
“It is a question in marriage, not of creating a quick community of spirit by tearing down and destroying all boundaries, but rather a good marriage is that in which each should stand guard over the solitude of the other. Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exists, a wonderful living side by side can grow up if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole and against a wide sky.”
Anne Morrow Lindbergh describes the late stage of a successful marriage as being two separate wholes. A stage that is earned through years of challenging, messy navigation of this concept.
“For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation. “ (Rilke)
At the same time, whether in a relationship or not, feeling at home in ourselves is just as essential. “You only are free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place.” (Maya Angelou)
The great and mysterious Paradox of Life continues to call forth our strongest selves. In the sheer messiness, confusion and gray are of it all, we must continue to let go, accept, rise up, love, and create.