watching the world go by.
i'm looking through a window in the house where i now reside, across the street where i now live, at the S.P.A.C.E (School of Performing Arts and Cultural Education) Theatre complex, the former site of a Catholic church that has been transformed into a place of creative learning and expression and community celebration.
it's a view that i'm getting used to, along with a rhythm of life that in some ways is similar to what it was in the past, but in other ways is drastically different.
i'm once again connecting with people in the ebb and flow of their days, in the places and spaces of their lives that are both public and private, excruciatingly painful and exuberantly joyful, but with whom i am only just becoming acquainted.
i'm sharing stories that to me are familiar, but are now shaped by a new community and context, along with more recent life experiences of which i am still in the early stages along the journey of processing and recovering.
i'm spending part of my time in the present sorting through the happenings and hurts of the past in hopes of discerning where my life might lead into the future.
and i'm living in this familiar, yet different rhythm of life mostly alone.
the people that i've known as 'home' for the past 22+ years are about 1,200 miles and one time zone away from me about 75% of the time nowadays.
and prior to moving to Ukiah, the number of days i had lived completely by myself in my life equaled the number of songs by all the contestants on American Idol, The Voice, X-Factor, and Justin Bieber combined that i have ever liked or ever will like, and the number of hairs that will remain on my head by the year 2025 (provided i am still breathing in the year 2025).
somehow, this didn't fully dawn on me until a few weeks after arriving here.
i imagine this is largely due to the fact that, over the course of my life, while i have been fortunate enough to have many amazing people enter and enrich my life in a myriad of ways, and i've stumbled into a calling that engages me with people at all ages and stages in the journey of their lives, a considerable amount of my time is spent reflecting and ruminating, reading and researching, wondering and writing, mulling and meditating, doubting and discerning, playing with ideas and illustrations and praying for insight and illumination. and almost all of this is done in a place and space with no one else around, all by myself.
for all the ways my life is inspired and empowered by significant people, i spend a great deal of time alone.
and as an 'extroverted introvert', i cherish those times in solitude (whether they are my Mondays off or a solo retreat of a few days), not just because i tend to enjoy them, but because i need them in order to regain energy and refresh my sense of Spirit and self.
but taking time away as a regular part of your rhythm of life is one thing.
living alone for 22 out of each 28 days is something wholly other.
the dear people in my new community have been incredibly kind to me in many ways, particularly by recognizing my new life situation and responding with numerous invitations to join them in their homes for meals. i've taken several of them up on those offers, and have enjoyed some warm and wonderful food whilst engaging with some warm and wonderful new friends.
many long-term, long-distance friends have called and written to me, offering their continued friendship and support, which i have truly cherished.
and the main question that comes from them regarding my new season of life and vocation is not at all surprising.
'living so far from home, aren't you LONELY?'
for all the ways i treasure having time to myself, it feels strange going to sleep with no one else around or beside me, enveloped in nothing but a comforter of cryptic calm, and waking up to that same deafening din of silence.
in all the times i've imagined what it could possibly be like to live a more solitary existence (the life of a writer, per se), i never realized that being by yourself more as a way of life can really start to play some serious tricks on your sense of self and your perceptions of reality.
we all have 'inner dialogues' with ourselves, those conversations that take place within our psyches and imaginations.
but mine are now happening happening more and more out loud, with an increasing cast of characters vying for my time (and consuming most of my food and beer in the process).
at first, i thought that all that interior chatter escaping into expressive language was just a coping mechanism, a way for me to hear someone's voice (even if it was my own) and fill that cavernous chasm of emptiness and loneliness with something, anything that resembled human presence.
but then i began to realize that if all i was feeling was mere loneliness, i could connect via voice or written verbiage with any of those dear family members and friends, close by and far away, and find relief and reassurance that i am truly not alone in this unfamiliar new territory i am traversing, this strange new season of solitary sojourning.
no...perhaps the voices inside my mostly empty head that are seeping out through my voice into my mostly empty living room are a personification of something more primal, a manifestation of mysterious emotions meant to set my mind in motion towards a more complete comprehension, my heart on a descent into a deeper healing, my spirit to submerge in order to soar, to return to its grave of guilt and shame in order to resurrect into reawakening and renewal.
maybe, in the words of one of my literary and spiritual 'patron saints', Henri Nouwen, perhaps those voices are calling me to 'find the courage to enter into the desert of (my) loneliness, and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude.'
loneliness is the experience of feeling separated, isolated, disconnected from self and others.
solitude is the space where those feelings aren't avoided, but rather, embraced in acceptance, grace and Love.
loneliness looks to external means to bring relief to a predicament that is internal.
solitude seeks the resources within to empower an embodiment of the Eternal that is external.
as 'Uncle Henri' once wrote...
The movement from loneliness to solitude is the beginning of any spiritual life because it it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from fearful clinging to fearless play.
the other day, in some moments of lonely solitude/solitary loneliness, i remembered something about the experience of those who enter into monastic communities. the life of a monk is seen by many as a withdrawal, even an 'escape' from life in the 'real' world. but in the truest sense of 'reality', a monastic calling is actually the entryway into a more intimate and threatening encounter with the deepest parts of the self and the Spirit, as a means of ultimately engaging more fully with the 'real' world on multiple levels.
one the greatest temptations monks face in the many waking hours they spend alone is to distract themselves, by writing or reading or planning out their tasks for the day ahead, or obsessing over things from their past about which they feel longing or regret.
and the main advice that they are given when facing these kinds of temptations, the primary word of wisdom that they learn in order to stay fully engaged in their vocation, is to remain in their room, to stay in their 'cell' in stillness and silence.
so that the silence can speak into the depths of their despair, and shape their spirits into vessels of holiness and wholeness and hope.
so that their experience of longing in loneliness can be transformed into a space for solitude.
so that the 'cell' can do its work on their sense of self.
and as i sit here, all alone, gazing through the window at a place called S.P.A.C.E., no longer a venue for religious worship, but still a gathering space for creative, communal celebrations and expressions of life and Spirit, i'm left to ponder how this place of loneliness in which i'm currently called to live could possibly evolve into a new space for solitude.
how those harrowing hurts could be healed into hope.
how a spirit submerged in self-recrimination could awaken and arise, and once again soar.
how allowing this 'cell' to do its work on me can create something new within me.