It’s been a couple of weeks since I shared my contemplations and there are good reasons for it. For one, I suffer from a serious health issue that I call Scarlett Ohara disease. Its symptoms show up as a constant state of, “After all, tomorrow is another day!” I also call this laziness and I recognize laziness and sloth & torpor (in Buddhism, one of the five hindrances) as lifelong challenges of mine. But there was also a day (and a day of recovery) that I had the most intense vertigo I have ever experienced. It was so bad that I spent several hours in bed, afraid to open my eyes. Of course I’m still playing Goldilocks to contact lenses and there was one pair that I wore for a week and was never able to read a menu or type on the laptop without the addition of reading glasses. And there was a good 48 hours in which I attended to Paz who suffered from a severe reaction to Advantage flea/heart worm medication. The poor guy couldn’t walk across the room without his legs falling out from under him. He also had seizures and hallucinations! Paz will never be subjected to that poison again so I have to work with his vet to find something that will help protect him while being as safe as possible and non-allergenic. The only perfectly healthy one lately is Buddha Baby. And I admit, he brings indiscriminate joy to my heart. In the midst of all of this, I’ve participated in more than my fair share of activities and gatherings. Which on the one hand is wonderful (to have so many wonderful, kind, and loving friends) and on the other…a distraction from my commitment to solitude and contemplation.
I am enrolled in an online course about Going Forth. In the time of the Buddha and for many reasons, householders (your average person) would give up their typical life to go forth as a monastic and sometimes, as a spiritual wanderer. I was thrilled when I stumbled upon the course considering that my plan for 2017 was to do exactly that. Evidently our experience of aging hasn’t necessarily changed over the last couple of thousand years and for many of us in retirement, spiritual exploration on our own without work, family, and daily life to interfere with the exploration is quite attractive.
In one of the lessons Andrew spoke of isolation and how many of us have a sense of being more alone as we age; as people we know and love move away, die, or relationships just change. With the intention of going forth, we can explore what is gained and lost with relationships with other people and in being alone.
Back in the day, the whole point of going forth was to extract oneself from social context and define oneself freely. That description clearly articulates my own desire to go forth. I have found (and as described in the course) “…In solitude you can define yourself as you wish. In relationship you can’t because you are actually defined by the relationship – you are someone’s friend, wife, boss, etc.” By stepping outside those relationships and stepping into solitude there can be a perceived loss of connection with others, but one may also find a very valuable connection with self by being aware of one’s inner life and stepping outside of conventional roles.
In solitude, loneliness can be assessed. Does it feel like an affliction or as a valuable benefit? The answer is a matter of perspective as loneliness in and of itself is not automatically terrible or wonderful. My own experience has shown that it can be both. I rarely find myself lonely although my old friend does show up once in awhile. I’ve learned to welcome the feeling when it comes and turn towards the loneliness rather than away from it. Through this practice, I’m no longer afraid of being lonely and I trust that even if at the time it feels like an affliction, it will pass. It is at those times when I observe if I can be lonely without eating chocolate cake, watching TV when I’m not even interested in the show, or turning to Facebook.
I watched as one by one, many of my Mom’s closest friends and relatives died. Mom was an extreme extrovert and lived a life surrounded by people. She told me once that she got terribly lonely at times; especially on Sundays when she was no longer able to go to church or cook breakfast at the church. As I get closer to 60, I’ve already outlived some friends and family. What is it like for those who live to be in their 90’s or older? Everything I’ve ever read about living a long healthy life included accepting loss and being content with solitude…
It’s going up to 71 degrees today and there is 2″ to 3″ of snow in Sunday’s forecast. I am anticipating the loss of flowers and tree buds.The camellia in the backyard might be close to bloomed out. My love of snow has a lot to do with my love of solitude. Another indication of solitude’s relationship to loss.