Solitude

Many years ago I heard a very interesting lecture given by Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski.  He is a Chassidic rabbi and psychiatrist who runs a clinic for substance abusers, and is a prolific author and columnist.

Rabbi Twerski related that he was overwhelmed with work and was in desperate need for a vacation.  His wife suggested they go away to a spa, where there was nothing to do but relax.  He signed up for a massage, a sauna, etc. – – the works.

His body underwent a vigorous pounding and was subjected to extreme temperature fluctuations of hot and cold.  Following this treatment the attendant left him alone for several minutes (I don’t recall if it was for 30 or 60 minutes) in a “quiet room” to rest, relax and cool down.  The first minutes passed uneventfully, but soon he became antsy.  After 15 minutes, he couldn’t stand it anymore!  His mind was racing and he could simply not relax and be immobile and without human contact.  By the time his 30 minutes was up, he not only had enough of the “quiet room,” he was ready to pack up and leave the spa altogether.

He thought about why this isolation was so difficult for him.  He realized it was because he wasn’t comfortable with himself, and he was not someone he wanted to be alone with!  It was only when he reached a place where he was entirely comfortable with his Self that he was able to endure and eventually enjoy this aloneness.

There is a distinction between a person who is at heart a loner but not lonely nor alone.  I remember as a small girl of 9, going to a highly structured sleep-away camp that followed a tightly scheduled day.  At 9 a.m.  there was a specific activity, at 10 another, ad infinitum.  For one hour every day, though, the campers were given free time.   Most chose an extra hour of their favorite activity, such as arts and crafts, swimming, basketball, etc.  I, however, used to disappear.  I’d walk to the top of a hill and just sit, enjoying my surroundings amidst nature, thinking about all sorts of things.

I should add that I loved camp, participated fully in camp activities and had plenty of friends.  Looking back, I realize that this must seem like a strange way for a nine-year-old girl to spend her time every day. But even at my young age, I was utterly comfortable with my Self. That is not to say that I do not suffer the usual insecurities and doubts that most people face.  But thankfully I never had to undergo the agony that Rabbi Twerksi experienced at the spa (though I wouldn’t mind suffering via a massage!).  I guess that’s why I don’t find the isolation objectionable here in Maine.  And while I do enjoy being here with my spouse, there have been many times I’ve been here alone.

If there are times that I do feel lonely, it’s when I’m in my home town.  And I’m certainly not alone in that loneliness!  People are just too busy to cultivate deep friendships.  Between work, carpools, doing homework with one’s kids, etc., where does one find the time or energy to get to know newish acquaintances beyond a superficial level?  I think ultimately it will be worse for our children and grandchildren, for whom the distractions are even greater.  Everything is so rushed; even their speech (omg, ttyl, gtg) is abbreviated.  Electronic communication has replaced interpersonal contact.

That’s one of the reasons I cherish the slower pace of life here in Maine.  I can be that 9-year-old girl on the hilltop, alone but never lonely, comfortable with my Self.

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