Photo by Ann Foorman
For February’s Day of Silence, we’ve chosen a beautiful reflection written by Kristen Lin, editor of The On Being Project. On Being explores the great questions of meaning in 21st-century lives and at the intersection of spiritual inquiry, science, social healing, and the arts. What does it mean to be human, how do we want to live, and who will we be to each other?
Each evening, after the motion and melody of work and life retreat, there’s often a quietness that enters the room. I haven’t always known what to do with this strange guest. In the past, my first instinct has been to shy away from it — to text a friend or call my parents, wipe the counters or turn on the TV. But in the months since I attended Sandra Cisneros’s live On Being conversation, I’ve understood this quiet as something important to welcome. “Solitude,” Cisneros says, “is sacred.”
The author of The House on Mango Street elaborates in this week’s On Being: “We tend to think that we have to have a partner or we have to be out every night. But the time that you’re alone or when you think that you’re unpopular — you don’t have a date or you’re at home — that time is for you to nurture you. So think about what a gift it is when you’re alone.”
Being alone does not always feel or sound like a gift, especially when one is venturing into something new. Wendell Berry captures why walking into solitude, despite its discomforts, is the basis for cultivating our connection with the world. “Always in big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the unknown, and it is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into,” he writes. “You are undertaking the first experience, not of the place, but of yourself in that place. It is an experience of our essential loneliness, for nobody can discover the world for anybody else. It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that it becomes a common ground and a common bond, and we cease to be alone.”
Befriending solitude can also help us deepen what it means to love others. As Pádraig Ó Tuama illuminates for us in last Monday’s Poetry Unbound, “We’re always just one person, and we can never be the other person that we’re with. That’s the point: We love them, we hope.” What’s special about love, Pádraig reminds us, is precisely that it’s created not in unity or assimilation, but rather in dance or duet — between two solitudes.
The next time the quietness of life reveals itself, consider getting curious about how it might shape you — and your relationship to others and to the world. As Cisneros shares, “I live alone now, but I’m not lonely. I feel very loved by the universe and the trees and the clouds and the sky and the sunsets and my dogs and the people who are in my life and my students.”
Perhaps to embrace our aloneness is to allow ourselves to belong to the world.
Kristin Lin Editor, The On Being Project,
With you as you close your month of February,
Peri and Barbara