Sunday, 4 November 2012

on solitude, singleness, contemplation and contentment

I have to admit that for a significant amount of time this year, I have been finding it difficult to accept singleness. Perhaps it is the isolation and loneliness inherent in my kind of vocation; perhaps it was that my younger sister was getting married. Perhaps it was a combination, or simply the human longing for relationship.
It seems I may have moved through this intense season of loneliness, to have entered a season of peace, and contentment, once more. Several things have helped guide me here.

Each week, I have a session with a chiropractor whose practice is network system analysis, which is less about a more forceful manipulation of the spine, and more about accessing the nervous system along key trigger points, in order to assist the body to find ease. He picks up on things in your system, without necessarily knowing what they are, but sensing where there is dis-ease, and asks the system to explore the dis-ease, to work through it, in order to find ease. And the process can take time. So that for  couple of weeks, as my system was working through this dis-ease, I experienced pain and discomfort, physically, emotionally ... It wasn't pleasant, and it wasn't easy, but when the ease began to settle, combining with the other changes I was making, the lightness and openness I felt was worth the effort.

I had lunch with a dear friend during this transition period, and as we shared our stories, I talked about frustrations with the rhythms of daily living I have long been seeking to establish for myself. Rhythms of prayer, time with the biblical story, walking and stretching, silence, creativity, and work.
As I engaged in formation for ordination, I gradually formed ideas about these rhythms, and I would try various practices, find things work, then get stuck or derailed by illness, busyness, or other distractions. Sometimes it seemed as though I resisted feeling well because I was so used to feeling ill as my norm - but in the last few years, I am delighted to say that wellness is becoming my norm. And so it frustrates me even more when the rhythms that sustain that wellness get interrupted by whatever distraction.
And this is what I was talking about with my friend, as I have done with my counsellor and GP in recent months. It has felt as though I had plateaued, with a general attentiveness in my disposition, but the ability to implement a rhythm and stick to it just eluding me. As we talked, I forget what it was exactly, but all the conversations I have had on this frustration seemed to come together, and I resolved again, to implement the practices of stretching, and reflecting on the story, and walking, because I want to. I want to.
And, at last, I am sticking to a daily rhythm of tai chi followed by a reading and reflection from and on the bible portions from the lectionary over breakfast before entering the day, and a walk in the early evening to finish the day. There is one last change I want to make - less television in the evenings. I would like to go to turn the tv off earlier and spend time in contemplation with a mandala before going to bed; I would like to write more, play my clarinet more. That will come.

This shift in rhythm seems to have brought about a sense of peace, centring me in the Sacred more securely. I like how I feel entering the day and finishing the day with these practices, and finally, this is enough to help me stick to them.

So, my body's systems have been helped through the dis-ease caused by loneliness, and my daily practices are helping me to find a peaceful centre. One more thing, I think, has helped me to move into a season of contentment after this season of painful longing.

I have been reading a book called I want to be alone (Barry Stone), which explores the various kinds of solitary lives people have been living throughout human history. It is true that humans are fundamentally relational, but it would appear that there have always been people who have, for one reason or another, withdrawn from society, either entirely alone, or into smaller communities. Reading about these people, particularly those who have lived reclusive or hermitic lives as people of faith, has helped me to find contentment with my solitary life, and perhaps a solitary nature.
I am encouraged to claim my solitude: though I have no intention of withdrawing from community all together, I know that a part of my place in community is to be slightly withdrawn, contemplative. As a writer and storyteller, I need to be alone a lot to compose and rehearse. As a minister, I need to be alone with God a lot, to study our story and our tradition, to prepare for the times I need to be present for the people of my community.
I know it would be possible to do this if I had a partner, and if a man comes along with whom I find I can share life, I will be delighted.


In the mean time, I am content, and not a resigned contentment, as I have experienced before, nor a self-protective contentment that had me hiding for many years. No, this contentment feels very different. There is a measure of confidence in the way I claim my solitude that I have not known before. There is a measure of peace about my singleness that I have not known before. And there is a measure of satisfaction with the rhythms of my daily living, no, a joy, for which I have been striving, and which I treasure.

And I offer gratitude to health practitioners, friends and mentors, and the recluses and hermits that have gone before. For, however solitary and withdrawn one may be, we are, actually, more fully human together.

I offer gratitude to the Holy One, Source of the peace I have found.


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