Finding Love In Solitude

12 Jan

“Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.”  – bell hooks

This evening I built another fire. A fire with wood that I split alone, stacked alone, and carried inside alone. I found childlike delight in the process, choosing each log individually, brushing off the snow, and positioning it for ideal splitting. Every movement, every motion, was different from the last. No swing of the mull was like another, and yet there was a beautiful repetition and form that I repeated over and over again. The process, which began months ago with a dead tree in the woods, ended in this fire that warms my house and my heart.

My heart, like all hearts, needs warming. And the heart of this winter has brought many challenges: the anniversary of my father’s departure from this world, the end of a long relationship, and my sister’s close call with death just days ago. Behind the simple joy of cutting wood and building fires looms a shadow that I cannot shake. From all outward appearances, the shadow is an utterly frightening place, an abode of deep loss, desolation, loneliness, and immense vulnerability.

When I encounter this place, I want to run. The primitives in my mind – the lone animal in me that sees a predator or stumbles to the edge of a chasm – tell me to move as far away from this place as possible. “Find people, find love, find companionship,” it shouts. “If you stay alone, you will be eaten.” And while this is true in the natural world of packs, clans, herds, and flocks, the spiritual world may demand something else.  So I think about how “Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.”

When a friend shared the above quote by bell hooks, she had no idea just how pertinent it would be for me in the weeks to come. I had been struggling for months with a decision to end my relationship. It was a decision that I knew would send me into a familiar place of existential fear and grief. And when I finally made that decision, the initial relief and newfound hope gave way to intense memories of companionship and love, which left me feeling deeply empty.

But as another comrade reminded me quite recently, a current loss opens the door to all the losses of our lifetime. As I was working the wood tonight, there was an anomaly. Just as I landed the mull perfectly on the round, some fibrous shrapnel slammed into my forehead, just above my right eye. I involuntarily fell to my knees, and after taking a moment to regain my composure, a flood of sadness followed. The sadness was about my father, whom I lost five years ago. It was about the days that we spent cutting wood together and stoking our wood stove. And it was about my sister, who just a few days ago was rushed to the hospital with a life-threatening emergency. It was about the time she and I spent playing outside, riding horses, and fortifying our beaches on the little creek below the house. When I lean into these memories and the grief surrounding them, I find abundance, warmth, and love.

Without having moments of solitude, I could not know this experience. I would have someone to distract me, to talk away the pain before I find the gold. While friends and companions are important for the soul, I know that I must be aware of when I am using them to escape the grief that is, in fact, my friend. Grief is like the sickly puppy I rescued years ago. She is now a beautiful dog who gives back every ounce of love I gave her. Grief appears empty – feels empty – on the outset. But when you are able to discover its tender underbelly, it transforms into love and light.

My plea to you, the reader: Spend time with friends and loved ones, but also take that long pause. Build a fire, all by yourself.  In lieu of a fire, light a candle and sit with yourself.  To be alone for long periods of time can give you the chance to be comfortable in your own skin, tend to the grief of a lifetime, and emerge with immense love and courage.

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Tibet, 2005: Max sending wind horses into the sky. Photo: Kristin Brudevold

3 Responses to “Finding Love In Solitude”

  1. Colleen Gaynor January 12, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

    Lovely sentiments, Your dad was a great man and did wonderful service with preserving history and natural lands in our sprawling suburbia. I myself LOVE solitude and going into the depths of self. I love it so much, that I find my deepest growth is actually in the challenge of relationship. Tis a delicate balance always. All the best, and I hope Kristen recovers and is back to full health soon.

  2. Karo April 5, 2016 at 5:23 pm #

    This is such a beautiful writing and really speaks to me, as I grapple with how to be alone in the absence of intimate loving relationship and deep grief. I wanted to correct you on a small point, which is important to me: bell hooks is bell hooks and not Bell Hooks.

    • sukhophet April 6, 2016 at 11:32 pm #

      Thank you for your comments and the correction — duly noted and duly respected. May you find the love within the grief, as raw and unforgiving as it sometimes feels.

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