is a word that stands by itself, carrying the austere, solitary beauty of its own meaning even as it is spoken to another. It is a word that can be felt both as an invitation to depth and as an imminent threat, as in ‘all alone’, with its returned echo of abandonment. ‘Alone’ is a word that rings with a strange finality, especially when contained in that haunting aggregate, ‘left all alone’, as if the state once experienced begins to define and engender its own inescapable world. The first step in spending time alone is to admit how afraid of it we are.
Being alone is a difficult discipline: a beautiful and difficult sense of being solitary is always the ground from which we step into a contemplative intimacy with the unknown, but the first portal of aloneness is often experienced as a gateway to alienation, grief and abandonment. To find our selves alone or to be left alone is a deep, fearful and abiding human potentiality of which we are often unconsciously, deeply afraid.
To be alone for any length of time is to shed an outer skin. The body is inhabited in a different way when we are alone than when we are with others. Alone, we live in our bodies as a question rather than a statement. The permeability of being alone asks us to re-imagine ourselves, to become impatient with ourselves, to tire of the same old story and then slowly hour by hour, to start to tell the story in a different way as other parallel ears, ones we were previously unaware of, begin to listen to us more carefully in the silence. For a solitary life to flourish, even if it is for only for a few precious hours, aloneness asks us to make a friend of silence, and just as importantly, to inhabit that silence in our own particular way, to find our very own way into our own particular and even virtuoso way of being alone.
To inhabit silence in our aloneness is to stop telling the story altogether. To begin with, aloneness always leads to rawness and vulnerability, to a fearful simplicity, to not recognizing and to not knowing, to the wish to find any company other than that not knowing, unknown self, looking back at us in the silent mirror. One of the elemental dynamics of self-compassion is to understand our deep reluctance to be left to ourselves.
Aloneness begins in puzzlement at our own reflection, transits through awkwardness and even ugliness at what we see, and culminates, one appointed hour or day, in a beautiful unlooked for surprise, at the new complexion beginning to form, the slow knitting together of an inner life, now exposed to air and light…
©2014 David Whyte
Excerpted from ‘ALONE’ From the upcoming book of essays CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.