Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Loneliness, Solitude, and the Life Of The Solitary Artist...

"Loneliness is the poverty of self;
solitude is the richness of self."

~ May Sarton ~

Spinning my way out of loneliness and into solitude...
These two yarns will be plied (spun together as one)
as soon as the twist sets in each. They were spun over
the last two days. This yarn will be called "Cocoon" for
the little cocoons all along the way on the left-hand
yarn, and represent my life as an artist. The plying
represents to me the balance of the life of the artist
with our life in the outside world...

In the last couple of days I have been giving much thought to Sarton's quote, one I've used in my journal-keeping classes for decades. I am not often lonely and enjoy my solitude, in fact, in a cottage filled with 5 parrots, 4 dogs, 2 fish, constant reading and writing, fiber work ongoing, woven throughout my days like the warp and the weft on my looms, my life feels all of a piece, I don't feel cut off as people imagine I must, being once the mother in a family of 5 and now living alone, if one can consider living with so many animals alone. And then there is the garden to tend, household chores and the regular routine of life. I have a favorite retort to those who are certain I must be lonely... "Well, I might, if I had the time." And it is true.

As an only child I learned to amuse myself quite well and my animals kept me company even then. Always a dog, a bird, a menagerie of other little beings, and my nose in a book. My life is not much different today. But I am human, and yes, at times, I do get lonely.

Recently, as I wrote in the last entry, I have had a peculiar string of events wherein I took 3 falls and ended up with a sprained wrist and ankle. The ankle is healing, but the wrist is still quite painful. After writing that last entry I took yet another fall and now have 2 purple knees. I mean this is ridiculous. My daughter came and helped me, my dear friend Jeff came and helped me, all area rugs and throw rugs were taken up and I was sternly lectured by a number of people, rather embarrassing at 53! And while it has been more than a bit of a trial, it has also been a wake up call, to be more mindful, simply to watch where I am going.

The upshot of all of this is that when one reaches middle age and lives alone this is just the kind of thing one fears, injuring oneself and not being able to get help. Now, while I have taken the occasional fall, I don't usually topple over every time you look around, but I believe this series of events has taught me many important lessons. It is a chosen life, at this point, and a very deep one. I go days without seeing anyone and work from early morning until sometimes very late at night, betwixt and between caring for my animal companions, doing my work, and tending my hearth. And yes, despite what I have said, I do get lonely. Not often, but it happens.

The thing is, I have learned to pull myself out of loneliness. This has been a challenging time because the injuries, the pain, the fear of falling yet again, left me feeling very vulnerable, and I became, for a short time, afraid, and felt that deep cutting edge of loneliness that we all, as human beings, feel from time to time. It is an existential loneliness and I believe we must feel it for contrast. As there is little I can do (Actually, I am pushing it typing now with one hand and a few fingers of the other, and the results are sometimes comical as the brace hits the "Option" key and I get all manner of symbols which look like some kind of alien language!) in my current condition, I have found, as, again, I said in the last entry, that I can spin. As I use hand-spindles and not a wheel, I only have to draft out the fibers with my left, braced, hand and the few fingers sticking out can manage that. And there is a calm that comes over one when spinning that is, I believe, impossible to explain to someone who does not spin, but those who know other contemplative arts can imagine the peaceful calm that comes over one. And so when loneliness cut into me, after a brief time of slipping into depression, I pulled out my spindles and fiber and started spinning. I love what Paul Tillich wrote in Courage To Be about the difference between loneliness and solitude...

"Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone. It has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone."

Coco, who only looked up when I took her picture.
She was gazing steadfastly out the front window
that is at the bottom of the stairs next to the front
door, waiting for the mailman. This is down the
hall and away from the rest of us. She tends to be
a solitary being, but is quite content...

I do learn a lot from my animals. Take Coco above. Usually she is in here with us, but at times she will wander off, sit on the steps looking out of the front window, or lie in the sun as if meditating, not asleep, eyes half open, completely at peace. Animals do not worry about the past, nor do they plan for the future or worry about it's outcome. I do believe dogs can be lonely because they are companion animals and when they have been domesticated and become dependent on their people, lacking the normal state of the pack, they can develop all manner of peculiar and often problematic behaviors from the wrenching loneliness. A content, well-cared for animal is at peace, and one is at peace simply being in their presence. Coco was not lonely looking out of the window. She was simply enjoying a private moment and thinking her pugly thoughts.

The advantage that we humans have over animals is that we can train our minds to take up a task to pull us up out of that well of loneliness by taking a walk, working in the garden, washing the dishes, reading a good book, or any number of things, but as with Pavlov's dogs, it is a learned behavior. It is not one I have always managed well, but it didn't take me long, yesterday, to make the leap from loneliness to spinning, and I am all the better for it.

Too, artists, even, as I said above, may live with others and prefer it that way, but as an artist you are always living outside the norm inside yourself. An artist has a different world view, a different way of experiencing the world and Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee best described this, in his book In The Company of Friends, as "remaining inwardly free..."

'Solitude in a Crowd'' -- In all our outward activity, remain inwardly free. Learn not to identify yourself with anything whatsoever.

Some may take this as a negative statement, feeling it to mean having a disregard for those around us, cutting ourselves off from them. I take it to mean feeling centered in our being so as the winds of life life try to blow us hither and yon, and people come and they go, or perhaps even at work in the outside world or on a street corner in a busy city, you know who you are, you are free and content within yourself, you carry your solitude with you wherever you are. You are not swayed by others who don't understand your way of being, nor are you defensive or uncomfortable. When you come to the place, as I have at midlife, living what seems a peculiar, even sad, existence to many (...thinking that one needs to be surrounded by people, going and doing, out in the world "having fun," I can understand that their needs are different than my own, and wish them well on their way, while I feel great gratitude for this quiet life of mine. I used to become uncomfortable and sometimes defensive when people questioned my life. Now I can smile and say, "I'm quite happy thank you, I appreciate your caring." And I mean it, because people really do care, and worry, about anyone who lives outside the norm, outside of what they can understand. Sometimes they even feel challenged by it, or even jealous. It is nothing to be jealous of or worried about. For me, this was a choice, and more, me being me, a necessity for my own well being. And yes I do have family and friends that I see on occasion, I babysit my precious 3 1/2 year old grandson twice a week, but mostly I am in my humble abode, doing the work of the artist/writer, with my animal companions nearby.

I also believe that one must be comfortable with solitude, full within themself, before they indeed do have something to give another person. So many relationships are fraught with problems or end because the two parties are looking for another to complete them. This never works. If I ever again live with another person, I will be bringing a whole person to the table, fully capable of maintaining my well-being on my own, and in that way having an abundance to share rather than creating a continual deficit for the other person, draining them dry. I love what Rilke wrote about two solitudes coming together...

Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.

In the end, I know I am a bit of an odd duck in the world's eyes, but it doesn't bother me. I live my life, I do my work, I find my way through the hard times and rejoice in the happy times and feel grateful for it all. I have always most related, as a description of myself, to the famous quote from Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol...

... Secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.

I have my secrets, and only the oyster knows them. And Moe, lying here beside me, and the rest of the crew here who share my life. And I am happy. And I can always spin...

Deepest Blessings and Warm Regards to One and All,



Artyfax said...

Hi, First of all thanks for visiting my blog. I always follow up visitors and sometimes I am really glad that I have done so. This is one of those times. I found a lot of things to chew over on here and on your web-site. I will be bookmarking the page and hope to be back regularly. Loved the bit about the snail mind, hit the spot with me - thanks for the image and associated meditation.


'Zann said...

Hi Maitri - I loved this entry on solitude/lonliness. I've struggled with enjoying solitude, knowing how much I need it for my own journey...yet have long had this odd superstitious feeling that to enjoy and crave solitude in the midst of family would insure me to be lonely one day. One of those, 'be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.' Don't know if that's very clear.

In any case, your words are very meaningful to me. Thank you!!
Namaste, Zann

Dakota said...

Thank you so much for sharing. We stop by every now and then, and always enjoy catching up.
I don't know that I'd ever seen or felt that solitude was better explained.

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