solitude

photo 13“Solitude is the soul’s holiday, an opportunity to stop doing for others and to surprise and delight ourselves instead.”

There comes a moment.

You love your life and the precious people in it. And yet, suddenly the very intimacy you cherish feels like a burden you can no longer carry. You want to see yourself as a person who is competent and sturdy and kind. And yet, today you are able to be none of these things.

You can’t plan one more meal or push the cart through the frigid produce aisles one more time or carry one more bag of groceries in from the car. You can’t cook another balanced dinner or sit at the table and have one more meaningful conversation. You can’t anticipate or meet one more need, or set one more thing to rights.

You want to sleep alone in a narrow, clean bed and wake up in silence and let things go their own way.  You want to take a vacation from worrying and fretting and fixing. You want to have breakfast at ten and skip lunch and eat salad from the serving bowl for dinner — with your book propped in front of you. You want to take a walk at your own pace, slowly. You long for a conversation in which the only one you have to listen to is the small quiet voice inside, the voice that speaks without words.

You imagine what a relief it would be to spend a whole day without talking. Without cleaning or washing or weeding or folding anything. Without make-up, without good cheer, without a to-do list, without getting in the car, without reaching for your wallet or your phone or the dog leash or the sponge.

You wonder if anyone else hits this wall. The wall of too much. The hard unforgiving place of feeling crowded and tired and overwhelmed. Of knowing you simply cannot accomplish all that needs to be done. Or make good on all the promises you’ve made to others. Or live up to the expectations you’ve set for yourself.

You find yourself imagining solitude, craving it. The dark quiet cave of aloneness beckons.

And you think about where you might go, just for a little while, to privately fall apart and put yourself back together again, without causing anyone you love too much fuss or inconvenience.

You email a friend who has a cabin on a country road, the place you went once before to grieve the loss of a friend and to write the first, halting chapter of a book you weren’t sure you’d be able to finish. Yes, she responds moments later. Yes. Go.

You tell your husband, who knows better than anyone how frayed and fragile you are. Who worried when you burst into tears after breakfast for no reason, but whose hugs and rational words of advice just made you cry harder. Go, he says. I hope it’s what you need.

You undo some plans, cancel this and that, make a pot of soup to leave behind, water the houseplants, throw some things in a bag and drive. At the market you’ve never been to before, the items in your green plastic basket tell the story: cherries, an avocado, yogurt, kale, raspberries and blueberries and M&Ms. The food choices of a person who is not intending to feed anyone else.photo 4

You arrive at dusk in a downpour and lug your things up the twisty path. The cabin door is sticky but unlocked, like a magic place in a fairy tale. Everything you brought with you is soaked but it doesn’t matter. The rain has washed away some outer layer you were ready to shed anyway. Arriving drenched, with your hair plastered to your head and your feet squishing in your sandals, feels like a beginning. Already you are inhabiting your body in a different way — curious and raw, defenseless, hopeful.

Inside, the damp, musky scent of old wood, old seasons, summers past, gives rise to sharp childhood memories: a cabin rented long ago, the  familiar textures of leisurely afternoons spent reading and dozing under old quilts while waves lapped a nearby shore. Solitude has always been your home territory. A daddy long-legs skitters across the floor. The rain pounds the roof. You open windows, put clothes on a shelf, line your wet shoes up. As darkness falls you feel lighter. Peaceful. Better.

In the morning, without any sort of plan, you walk up the road, going nowhere. Focus on today, you remind yourself. All is well, you say, to no one. And it is. With every step you are clearing a space, coming closer to a self you almost forgot you knew. The good news is, that self hasn’t abandoned you. She has been here all along, waiting patiently for you to turn away from all your busy comings and goings, to recognize her, greet her, and welcome her home.

The sun is shining and you are sweating and your legs are moving. You listen to the sounds of a summer day. Kids playing soccer at the boys’ camp on the lake. The encouraging shouts of counselors and the wild ruckus of competition.  Further on, from a shed in a field: the sounds of an orchestra tuning up for rehearsal. A solo flute traveling up and down the scales. The breeze rustling leaves in the dense canopy of maples overhead. A lawnmower churning back and forth across a spanse of green. The drone of bees in a jumbled roadside garden, colorful as a piñata. Everything has its wonders. You are here to pay attention.

photo 7Alone, your life begins to feel like a choice again. You find yourself drawn into harmony with the sweet, easy flow of the day, unfolding according to its own rhythm. Slowly, something that was stuck deep inside begins to move. You ride the gentle currents of sadness, regret, joy, longing, acceptance. Surprised by tears, you lift your face to the sky and allow the sun to dry them.

There is the necessary, satisfying work of serving others in all the places where you are loved and needed. But there is also this: the soul’s work, which you ignore at your peril. And so, for today anyway, you commit yourself to it fully: The journey inward to find your own truth. The stillness of your mind behind the noise of your doing. The willingness to see the beauty inside yourself, and to honor that. You are a little rusty and awkward in your quest. The privilege of solitude is also a skill that requires practice.

photo 11At the far end of a field, a granite bench awaits under the shade of a tree. The words “Sit a while” are in engraved across the top. You do. And you take in the view, the gentle, slumbering hills, the drifting veil of clouds. This, too, is a kind of compassion — resting, listening, waiting in the silence of your heart to feel the next step. There is a new energy moving in you. A reverence. You can do this. You can dive down, naked, into the sacred quiet. You can learn to be at ease here. To be grateful for these hidden treasures. In this secret, spacious place you remember something beyond the moment, a strength on which to build.

In a little while you will walk the long road back. You will return home tomorrow the same but different, still holding the hand of your wilder self, having touched for just a moment your own infinity.

The grace of God means something like:
Here is your life.
You might never have been, but you are,
because the party wouldn’t have been complete without      you.
Here is the world.
Beautiful and terrible things will happen.
Don’t be afraid.
I am with you.

                    ~ Frederick Buechner

for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. Thank you for this early morning read over my morning coffee. It ministered to my soul. I have never left a comment, but your book Mitten Strings for God was a balm to my soul when I needed it many years ago. Thank you for your thoughtful and healing writing.
    Kindly,
    Suzanne

  2. Katrina, just reading this made me feel like taking a deep breath and letting go a bit. I’m glad for your respite. I hope you find it again and again when you need it. On a lighter note, this reminds of something i’m going to write about one day although perhaps not. I recall an evening sitting with my son and then partner in a Chinese restaurant after a long day of business school, teacher meetings, doctor appointments, the usuals. I looked at them as they talked about this and that and told them, “This is my very favorite thing, being with my people like this.” And my partner asked, “What’s your second favorite thing?” Without hesitation, I said, “To be all by myself.” They sat, stunned, while I took another bite of food, oblivious to how strange it sounded to them.

  3. This comes at the right moment for me. My mind is so full and jumbled (so is my home) the idea of a few days alone to straighten out my thoughts would be so welcome. This summer we’ve taken to grazing meals too often, which in itself isn’t bad but when the kitchen (you can replace it with almost any room) becomes a chore rather than a pleasure it is time to pause. Thank you.

  4. My husband and daughters are away this week. I just burst into tears reading this. Every word mirroring my own thoughts and feelings. I deny myself moments like this too often and for too long. Thank you so much.

  5. K, Not so long ago, a couple weeks maybe, I had some of the same feelings you beautifully describe herein. I wanted some time to myself, to do as I pleased when I pleased. I wanted the quite, soft sounds of nature, not cars, cell phones, dogs barking. Or even my husband’s snoring.
    Then it happened. I stepped wrong. My ankle popped and life changed. In some ways I’ve gotten what I asked for – time for me, no one else.
    Yet, I’m having a hard time accepting the gift. (Did I just call a broken ankle a gift?) I have time to write but the words sound like whiney. I have the time to sleep, but my bandage encased throbs through my dreams.
    Instead of a gradual slowing, I’ve come to an abrupt halt. I must let my body readjust.
    And I turn on my computer this morning, to your always wise words. I will try to follow in your face-filled steps and wait for my heart to feel the next step.

  6. Oh, Katrina…. I know too well the “wall of too much,” the sense of feeling crowded, overstimulated, depleted. Solitude is my home territory, too. I notice I require greater and greater portions of it in order to maintain my equilibrium.

    Too many of us deny ourselves the time and space necessary to think and reflect, to feel exactly as we feel, to uncurl from the stresses of an overextended life. It is of vital importance to “sit a while,” to rest in nature’s arms, to surround ourselves with stillness. We can, and will, wear ourselves to a frazzle if we show compassion only to others; we must also be attentive to our own soul’s whisperings.

    I’m so glad you had this time away to restore and replenish your (most beautiful) inner sanctum. Much love to you, my friend. xoxo

  7. How do you always write exactly what I have been thinking….feeling….and unable to form into words. Thank you again. Your words are so healing and validating for me. I am grateful to know many travel these roads.

  8. Blessings for your honesty. Be well.

  9. beautiful and so timely… I find myself wondering why I’ve been so exhausted lately, knowing that solitude is what I’m craving. Your words always find me at the right time

  10. Winifred says:

    How is it that every time one is yearning, searching and ready for something, it “comes”? Your essay is the second such “permission” I’ve needed and heard in the last 24 hours – I feel the beginning of “being in the flow” back to myself – thank you.

  11. simply beautiful, thoughtful and lovely. thank you

  12. Katrina,
    It is amazing how your words have resonated with me for years, since Mittenstrings when my now late teens/early twenties sons were very young. We just returned from a college visit marathon trip for our youngest son. My thoughts and emotions today are swirling. Your words are, once again, timely and a welcome relief. Thank you.

  13. Your honest, revealing essay feels like shea butter on raw hands. Yes. Yes, I empathize with all that you shared.

    I gather from others who have also left comments here, your sojourn mirrors a desperate, common need. Thank you for sharing your awareness of your need for solitude as well as your ask and follow through. I hope your words land gently on many tired souls who need to hear them.

  14. Ahh- vacation for the soul which is often so overworked, caring for others. It seems the hardest thing is giving oneself permission for this. So glad you got much needed alone time and that you have the talent to put to words what others of us can only feel or think.

  15. What a beautifully written homage to the need for solitude. It seems so many people today are afraid and uncomfortable to be alone with their thoughts. To me, it has always been a necessity. BTW – I’m a huge fan of Buechner’s work. One of my favorite quotes is “The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who we are becoming.”

  16. Katrina,
    Thank you so much for writing this. It’s everything I’ve been feeling lately. It’s summer and all three young kids are with me all the time and I find myself thinking that the month of August is going to be so challenging, crazy, and overwhelming and all I want is some space-some quiet- some alone time and to get away from it all and feeling guilty that I should be enjoying and cherishing this time with them. Thank you for sharing your beautiful writing!

  17. Hi Katrina, Funny the timing of this like when a monkey used a stone to beat something and all the monkeys in the world did the same thing. I recently reached my wall, couldn’t do another thing. I found this wonderful thing…..I asked for help. Help to feed the cat, do the laundry, change the lightbulb, shop, do dinner….It was graciously accepted. Why did I wait until I reached the wall? Its as if the ability to do it all is a sign of youth and now, it all feels heavy, like my bones some times. I put my emotions away and bear up all the time and my body lets me know. I am listening now. I wish you well, I know we would be friends.

  18. Angela Muller says:

    I imagine there are those who cannot relate to this. I know a few…always needing something to do, somewhere to be, and someone to listen. I am not that person! I enjoy the company of friends and family, but when I feel the need to be…just me…I require solitude…space…silence…my thoughts…alone!

  19. Cindy Barnard says:

    You have read my mind.

  20. Marilyn LePan says:

    Well I have to tell you be careful what you wish or yearn for..
    I have way too much alone time, my husband left me after 30 years of
    what I thought was a good marriage, my two sons are married and very
    busy with their families. My kids and grandkids are the centre of my world
    but I am not the centre of theirs, we do have a good relationship, I see them
    once a week, but that leaves 6 days of me time and it is very lonely, I miss the
    busy times when I was needed and loved, right now I have no purpose, I have
    volunteered for over 18 years I do try to fill my time, but weekends are for families
    for Mom’s and Dad’s to spend time with their children because they work all week
    I do curl up with a book, I do journal, I do take walks but I would give all that
    up to have a purpose filled life.
    Just be grateful that after you do take your time away to be alone, you have a
    husband waiting for you to return……

  21. Linda R. says:

    Alone time, I have been pondering the thought of alone time for the past two weeks.
    Funny, the timing of your beautifully written piece. My experience with “Alone Time” however, has been just the opposite. I am retired, and have very bad arthritis. Two weeks ago, I found out I have a bad bone spur on the knee joint. I need a knee replacement soon. This has rendered me somewhat immobile and in considerable pain when I attempt to bend my knee. My husband, of course, is still working. My children do not live at home.
    I am, for all intent and purpose, alone. Yes, there is the internet, the television, and the cellphone, but after being by myself for two weeks, I am climbing the walls. I also found out that my eyesight is failing… While I do not pity myself, I am frustrated that there will be a loss of independence at some point. This is what I fear most of all. Too much alone time and not being able to enjoy it, not going on long walks or driving, not being able to see the beauty in the world that surrounds us. That would be more like a prison. Having all this alone time and not being able to appreciate it.

  22. Katherine S says:

    Thank you sincerely Katrina. The timing of this was perfect as your notes always seem to be. My sister took her life this week and I am struggling. I am going to book a self retreat.

  23. Sigh…through tears I sit here breathless and longing for more…you articulate so beautifully where my own soul has been moving of late. Please, Katrina, write another book, write it for those of us hungry to put a face on our own emotional heart cries. On a side note: this ties in so well with a book club (that begins tomorrow) I am putting together where we are reading, Joan Anderson’s…A Year by the Sea. I am planning on moving through her other books as well and putting your, A Magical Journey at the close of our time together.

  24. it is uncanny that i read this today.

  25. Loved the last paragraph by buechner!
    I want to get that engraved on something and put it in my garden and read it every day.

  26. All I can say is LOVE. Loved this sharing–was riveted from the very first word until the very last poem (so lovely!). I love that you were listening to what your soul truly needed and I love that you took the time to share it with all of us in such a poignant way. It’s solitude that brings us back to ourselves and the self-love we {hopefully!} find there deepens our well of love for others. Hope you returned refreshed, as you are giving so much to so many.

  27. Joyce Gallivan says:

    As I sat with my coffee and before my morning walk, I read your peice and the comments, I just want to say thank you.

  28. Sonji Brown says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. You so eloquently put into words what my soul has been crying out for a while now. Reading this passage has made me realize that I am not the only woman who has these thoughts and feelings. It has also given me a gentle nudge to move toward what nourishes and strengthens me. Thank you so much for sharing this. Be blessed.

  29. Oh. You channeled my vibe this week, Katrina. Had to explain to someone I truly care for why I needed a weekend alone. To just be. To be required to do nothing. To refill my tanks with whatever was required–staring into space, wine on the deck, laundry done. I wish I had been able to escape to a cabin but no such luck. It was enough to be able to escape from most everyone except myself. Necessary for us creative types. Thank you for putting it so plainly.

  30. I love your writings and feel like we are traveling the same path in the same stage of life. I, too, just returned from my own “time out” and would highly recommend it to anyone. We all need to restore our soul and get in touch with our true selves, even if for a little while. It makes us better partners, mothers, sisters and members of the community. It’s the details in life that keep us busy and focused outward for so much of our lives. There comes a time to breathe, take a break and remind ourselves who we are and why we are here. So happy you were able to take the time away. I hope you found your solace.

  31. When my email pops up that you have written a new blog post, I feel like it is a gift that I can’t wait to open and savor. Truly, your words always touch my heart. Thank you, Katrina.

  32. I am on vacation and just opened your email to see this post. I went on vacation as a way to tune out, find more periods of solace – just the packing and travelling is a nightmare. I needed to get away from it all. I become overwhelmed. I knew that a vacation is a way to indulge in self-care. So thank you for helping me the connection. Maybe one day, when my kids are older (sound familiar) and the responsibilities are not so intense, I can take a true journey towards solitude. Thank you for sharing your beautiful gifts with us.
    Dorit Sasson

  33. Thank you Katrina. xx

  34. Gloria Howard says:

    Oh where is this cabin? I NEED to go there too. Anne Morrow Lindbergh would be proud of what you’ve written here, Katrina. Can’t wait to read the next book you’re inspired to write…. a gift from the cabin? I know I will love it, buy it and buy more to give to my friends. We all need this.

  35. Melissa W. says:

    Yes. Oh my God, yes. I read this tonight, after a particularly exhausting day of listening to my four and seven year old fight non-stop. It’s one of those days (weeks, months) where I can see the fleeting moments of yet another summer and their oh-so-short childhoods passing before my eyes and I strive to cherish them because of course I do and yet at the same time, I could just run away because the urge to just be alone for a while is so strong. To be me. This is speaking to me to strongly right now. It makes me cry. Not because of the overwhelm of this life, but because you’ve reminded me that it’s okay to feel this urge for solitude. It’s okay and we need it.

  36. Cathy Harrington says:

    I often have felt that feeling of needing just to be alone but never fulling understood why? As life passed I began to treat myself to this time and it has opened a new understanding of ME. I love spending quiet time with myself and not feeling pressured that I should be doing something! They use to rarely happen but as I have grown so hasn’t my ability to take care of myself, physically, spiritually and mentally! Thank you for allowing me into your alone time to realize that I am not alone:-)

  37. This may be my most favorite thing you have ever written. There are so many sentences that make my heart leap:

    “And you think about where you might go, just for a little while, to privately fall apart and put yourself back together again, without causing anyone you love too much fuss or inconvenience.”

    and: “You can dive down, naked, into the sacred quiet. You can learn to be at ease here.”

    I am so happy you are there, alone, full of your own company. And I am so grateful you have shared this with us.

  38. Karen Cooper says:

    Just magnificent Katrina.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    XX

  39. Diane Ranney says:

    Thank you, not simply for this essay, but for the courage behind it…I am inspiried.

  40. Marjorie Scheib says:

    A friend shared one of your posts which led me to your site and to this post. I have struggled to find words to explain to family and friends why I retreat into what I now call my Silence & Solitude Retreats but you have put it into words perfectly.
    My only regret these days is that I wish I would have listened to the prompting of the Spirit sooner and not felt so guilty for wanting to leave my family to retreat. I know now that retreating is what makes me a better soul when I return.
    Thank you for writing this.

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