the right kind of loneliness

I’m on day 5 without the kids – something that only ever happens in the summer – and so far I’ve taken a yoga class, cleaned out my garage, completed two books, watched a full season of something on Netflix, hiked a nearby spot, cleaned out the kids’ closets, made a few trips to Goodwill, begun my book proposal, and accepted a freelance writing job. Today I have another yoga class and a lunch with friends on the books.

I guess as it turns out, I am not all that good at relaxing. I say I’m fine with being alone, but as always, the body keeps the score, and I’m up early every morning with more energy than I should have — all that end-of-the-school-year exhaustion hardly palpable this week as I suddenly have the fire to complete every task under the sun.

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I know I’m tired and craving stillness on the inside, but you have to carve away the layers to get to that spot, or I do anyway. I hope to get faster about that eventually, but for now, I can remember that this is how it works for me always. I squirm a lot and try to move to the right or the left instead of just sitting with it. I self-medicate with busyness. And then the buzz slows its pace little by little until the stillness finally arrives.

I can remember what this was like the first summer I was on my own, and it’s not nearly that bad anymore. But I’m surprised to feel that anxious fire still there a bit even now, two years later. You think you have mastered something and moved beyond it, but there it is again. I’m remembering what Pema Chodron wrote in When Things Fall Apart, “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. if we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. it just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter…”

I think part of this, if I’m being honest with myself, is that since I’m seeing someone, it’s been months since I’ve had an extended time of being alone like this. He’s on a big trip across the country with family this week though, so I have to sit with it awhile again. Timing is never accidental, and I think I needed this. (We all need it from time to time.) There is no barometer that can allow you to check in with yourself except stillness and solitude. It’s also Pema Chodron who reminds me, “Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It’s restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.”

This is the ultimate test of joy and contentment, I think. Can you sit with yourself without distraction for any period of time? Strip the roles away piece by piece – mother, wife, girlfriend, employee, friend, sister – whatever they may be. Strip it all away and stay awhile with the person underneath all of that. Sitting in the loneliness, the right kind of loneliness, for a minute, an hour, a day. It shines a light on all the places where you are holding something too tightly.

I can remember writing something in the early days when my life exploded, and I said I knew that there are women who grow stronger and wiser from life’s heartache but that I didn’t know how they got there. Now I know though. It’s that time alone to feel the pulse of what you need and want and what life is teaching you. That’s how you get there.

I’m recognizing the value of it all and trying to be grateful for it, even in the itchy silence of an empty house. Stillness and solitude always show me what I need to know.

in the soil under your feet

It’s finally Friday of our first week back. We did it!

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It feels so much easier this year. I know both of their schools and the parents and the communities present there. With kindergarten behind us, the hard transition is out of the way. Even though it takes some getting used to again after a few months off, the old drill seems comfortable and worn in.

Both kids are hard to get out of bed in the morning though, no matter how early I get them to sleep the night before. And August is that weird few weeks of late daylight and sweaty summer temperatures set against the harsh demands of the school schedule. It’s like the dress rehearsal for what’s coming next, the prologue to fall.

I’m having to constantly remind myself that it is okay to lean into what is comfortable. It’s okay to feel that things can slow down now. The last few years have been nothing but change, and then this summer with my grandmother was a huge shift in what I have known for the entirety of my life. It is not debatable that I need the rest and familiarity – as anyone would. But it makes me feel like I am always forgetting something, like I should be doing something more than keeping the pulse that strings our days together.  I’m not used to standing still and having no major transition in front of me.

This isn’t new anymore. It’s me. It’s the three of us. Life as we know it with a comfortable rhythm.

I read a thoughtful commentary this week from Parker Palmer expanding on a Marge Piercy poem, “The Seven of Pentacles.” She explains, “Connections are made slowly, sometimes they grow underground. / You cannot tell always by looking what is happening. / More than half a tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.” It seems that way in certain seasons, doesn’t it? You cannot always tell what is happening by looking, but you can feel those roots deepening sometimes. And sometimes you can’t – even though the growth is there. I know the work I do now, in the still seasons, is giving my kids a sense of certainty and a solid ground to stand on, but in our society of make, make, make and productivity measures and checking things off a list, it can be hard not to see yourself as some sort of insufficient factory when your output slows down.

I’m not sure how much sense this is making to others, though I am writing for myself as I always do – so that I don’t forget that there were moments when it felt steady and easy (easier, that is) and simple. I’m working hard to “Weave real connections, create real nodes, build real houses” as Piercy encourages in that poem.

She is so good to remind us that “This is how we are going to live for a long time: not always, / for every gardener knows that after the digging, after the planting / after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.”

 

Every time growth feels slow, I’m reminding myself again and again: half a tree is spread out in the soil under your feet.

 

 

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