Sunday, November 16, 2008

Balancing solitude and community at the Brass Monkey

I'm contemplating carving out some solitude and sacred space in the next month of holiday madness. Whenever I choose to spend a chunk of time alone, especially on a day that is typically spent in community and celebrations, I often get concerned looks from friends. They ask, with a slightly alarmed "suicide watch" look in their eyes, if everything is alright. I receive many invitations so I won't have to be alone, which I am thankful for. I don't take it for granted that I choose to be alone, while others may truly be lonely.

But there is a difference between being alone and lonely. There is a need for solitude that we're missing, especially in this season as Advent and holiday parties loom.

I had dinner Friday night with my friends Paul and Jen. Trying to find a place close to a concert at the Wiltern, we met for burgers at the Brass Monkey. Shouting above karaoke renditions of "Sweet Caroline" and "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," we talked about solitude, and how important it is for understanding who we are in community. Paul, a friend and fellow INFP, gave me this quote from Bonhoeffer: "The mark of solitude is silence, as speech is the mark of community. Silence and speech have the same inner correspondence and difference as do solitude and community. One does not exist without the other."

I had just read an excerpt of "Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in Extremes" by Robert Kull in Whole Life Times. His observations resonate with what I've been reading and mulling from Eckhart Tolle about living in the present, letting go of ego and being true to who I am, despite outside expectations. (Italics mine)

Kull writes, "To be fully human we need relationships with other people, with the nonhuman world, and with our own inner depths. In solitude we have the opportunity to explore all these domains of relationship. We are also spiritual beings and may feel called into solitude to seek communion with a numinous presence we can directly experience, but not clearly define. ...

"I’ve learned that the core of my loneliness is not separation from other people, but feeling disconnected from myself. Solitude provides a respite from the demands of social life and creates a space for personal healing. Paradoxically, spending time alone can soften our sense of alienation from others. ...

"We can never really know what contribution we’re making; we can only be true to our deepest calling and trust we’re doing what we’re meant to do. I’ve found my desire to contribute to the lives of others deepens in solitude.

"We each have a social identity, a persona held in place by our interactions with other people. In solitude this persona begins to lose solidity and dissolve. The process is sometimes terrifying and there are few easy escapes. Solitude challenges us to face our inner darkness and to discover we’re not identical to the conception we often have of ourselves. ...

"Yet the world will always be exactly as it is in each moment — no matter how much time and energy we expend denying this simple fact. If our plans for the future are not grounded in joy in this moment, our lives go unlived. ...

"... we need inner transformation. Solitude evokes the spacious wonder of living in a sacred world."

(Photo by Gini Snavely)


The Unlikely Pastor's Wife said...

Great post lady.

But I have to say that it makes me happy when you do come out of solitude that I get community with you :-)

We must Brass Monkey it again another time.

Diane Davis said...

i resonate so much with the part you italicized. i've blogged about this idea of being a companion to self in solitude much different than lonliness and the difference is whether or not i have a sense of internal connection with self. i find it much harder here than i did in kenya. was it easier for you in kosovo than in LA?

i wish you lived here and we could go out for dinner and drinks and just talk for hours. i love your mind and your spirit.

Rebecca Snavely said...

I wish we lived in the same city too. I'd love to have more time to talk than just via blogging. We'll have to plan a visit / dinner soon.

I actually found life in Kosovo communal culture more difficult because of my tendency towards solitude. While grateful for the challenge to my comfort zone, I found myself craving a day where I didn't have to worry about an unexpected visitor, and there was never that day. But again, it taught me a lot about a collective culture that is event-oriented, as opposed to our individualistic, time-oriented lifestyle. I blogged about it while there:

Okay, when can we do dinner? I need a trip north -- there's a train, right?