Tuesday, April 4, 2006 6:39:53 AM
: Today's Reflection is about the importance
: of time with the Self. Yes, with the capital 'S'.
First, I must admit. I had a completely different idea for this week's Reflection. Yet, as the evening approached and I finished everything else, I am suddenly feeling tired. Therefore, the original idea is going to wait till the next one, or perhaps simply till next week. In the meantime, I stumbled upon the following, which - although I didn't write myself - I wish I did. I don't know who the original author is; if you do, please let me know so that I can mention the appropriate credit.
We tend to guard what we hold valuable. And tend to leave unattended what we do not value. The degree to which we guard or leave something unattended often reflects its valuation. At least in our eyes. More than beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
What is thought to be of value is something that generally has a currency and consequently can be traded so that what we value can bring us something else we value. Much in social life is also a transaction based on value. "I'll love you if you'll love me back."
Gold, diamonds, computer chips, world peace, and the kid next door's bicycle are the kind of things we generally value. What is often overlooked and almost universally within our grasp is the value of solitude.
Solitude is not suffering through an evening with our own company but taking the time to make a good neighbor of our company. Many of us don't value our solitude. Many of us will do anything, even suffer bad company, to avoid our own company. To many of us solitude simply means we can't get a date. Not that we have made one with ourselves.
Coming to one's own company is something that many of us only arrive at kicking and screaming. If you asked people how they felt about an evening at home alone with themselves, a fair number of the honest ones would answer: "Boring." The dishonest answer in the main would be: "I would love an evening at home by myself but can't ever seem to find the time." Which translated means: "So boring I have no intention of finding the time."
Most of us move from the company of families, to dating, to relationships without ever passing through solitude. The experience of solitude is not taught in schools. What passes for solitude to most people is the sense of being left out, or not fitting in, or feeling alone in a crowd. Coming to the pleasure of one's own company is very different than personal or social estrangement.
Almost every great religious figure has had their time "in the desert." Solitude almost always precedes a personal spiritual epiphany. It's easier to get lost in a crowd than to find ourself.
Coming to the pleasure of one's own company isn't anti-social. In fact it is the opposite. Those who are not comfortable with their own company are never comfortable with others. Little makes us better company than being comfortable alone. Many of us looking for someone special in our life have never met the most special person in our lives. Ourselves. This doesn't mean we're more important than others. It does mean that we can't really be in a positive relationship with others until we've firmly established a relationship with our selves. There should be a rule that none of us can get engaged until after we've "gone steady" with ourselves.
Just for the record, coming to the pleasure of our own company isn't narcissism. The basis of narcissism is self-hate and low self-esteem. Needing to always tell ourselves how great we are is a neon sign flashing: "We don't think we're that great." In solitude we discover that other's can't treat us "right" until we're used to treating ourselves properly. No one else can say they love us and it mean something to us, until we can say it to ourselves. People try to take a shortcut on this all the time. And it doesn't work. No one else can give us what we don't think we deserve to give ourselves.
In solitude and self-reflection we discover that others are always trying to pass off their anger and looking for someone who will help to carry to it. But others can't give us grief unless we think we deserve to give it to ourselves. So the next time someone wants to hand you their anger, perhaps try saying this: "Excuse me, I think you've misplaced your anger. It's not mine. It must be yours. I'm not angry with you for handing it to me. But I can't take something that isn't mine. It wouldn't be honest."
What people often say they want, or they feel is missing, in a relationship is honesty. But most of the lurid and gossipy forms of dishonesty are generally causally preceded by an altogether different form of dishonesty. People who have no idea who they really are or people who haven't accepted themselves cannot be in lasting relationships with partners who they haven't accepted for who they are and who themselves have no idea who they are. This kind of dance has everybody stepping on everybody's toes. Sadly this isn't about bad people but people who simply haven't ever spent enough time in their own company. The world would be a better place if we spent less time calling others liars and spent more time taking an honest look at ourselves.
"A good marriage," wrote the poet Ranier Maria Rilke, "is that in which each appoints the other guardian of his solitude." Many of us come to relationships without our solitude intact. Growing solitude in a relationship is very different from growing to feel alone in a relationship. Relationships strangle the participants if our need for solitude is not allowed to breathe. This is not an argument for separate vacations but the simple respect of each other and each other's space in time and space.
A partner who wants you to grow into whoever you are becoming has a much better chance of being your partner when you get there. A partner who doesn't shy from not meeting your expectation and is more interested in meeting their own expectation is a partner you can expect to be honest. A partner who isn't afraid of being alone, or being left alone, is not in a relationship out of fear but out of choice. And is a whole different kind of partner.
The best way to be a lover is to begin by being a friend. Certainly when friendship leaves a relationship love soon leaves by the same door. There are life-long friends who are not lovers but few life-long lovers who are not friends.
Not just lovers but real friends also guard each each other's solitude. Friends, like lovers, aren't homogenized relationships. They are made up of people who are friends first to themselves. When we are a friend to our self we can move into real friendships. And not until.
Inevitably things happen in friendships that strain the relationship. To honor those differences is a reflection of our ability to embrace the different parts in ourselves that argue with ourselves. To guard who we are is to guard all of us, our whole mix of "me." Friendship first requires self-friendship and to be a guardian of another's solitude require us to first stand guard over our own. Friends and lovers who share solitude have the pleasure of both company and self. Nice company if you can get it.
"The primary distinction of the artist," wrote the author James Baldwin, "is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid: the state of being alone." If feeling alone could alone make us an artist, the world would be filled with Picassos. The essential difference is that artists are people who seek out aloneness. Artists are people who know that aloneness is the canvas of all real work. Any of us who have the courage to face our blank canvas have good work and works of art ahead of us.
While the value of most things is established by their limited nature there is something backward and missing in this valuation. Air is everywhere and yet what is the value of a gulp of air to someone who is dying from drowning? Water is everywhere and yet what is value to someone who is dying of thirst? Everyone has felt alone and yet what is the value to someone who is dying for their own company.
Take a moment to learn how rich you are. Value your own company. Come to the pleasure of your own company. Know the wealth of knowing you. What is it in you that makes you YOU?
A sunny week to you all, inside and out.