Thursday, March 17, 2022

Love Letters to My Life: #45 The Gifts of Solitude and Uncertainty

Turkey Feather - after the fight

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day: the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my joy-filled life.)    

“To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.”

― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life 

In 2009, two years after Richard died, I finally wound up alone. I had delayed the approaching unknown for two years by living with family, but now the walls reverberated with the silence of an empty life. A friend reminded me that I needed to learn to live alone without feeling lonely. It wasn’t a new thought, but suddenly I understood that it wasn’t going to be easy.

    In the thirteen years since then, I’ve moved ten times. While each move made sense at the time, I now wonder if the fear of loneliness was a factor in that constant unsettling and resettling, as if the loneliness would disappear somewhere else.

    Many things shifted during all that movement, and perhaps the fear of loneliness finally quieted. In 2019 after I had been in Mexico for two years exploring that beautiful land, I had an overwhelming feeling that I needed to come “home,” so I moved to Reno, which was a bit odd since I had never lived there. However, what little family I had was there, just a few months later COVID hit. Suddenly, I was locked down. Meeting new people was almost impossible and, other than seeing family occasionally, I was truly alone.

It was different this time, I began to savor it.  

    I began work on an art project centered around the pandemic and also started escaping into nature more. During that strange, uncertain time,  solitude started to feel like a friend. It still felt awkward because the word solitude had been attached to an image of a cabin deep in the woods. How could this be solitude if I still saw people on my walks, talked to people (at a distance) and watched the world adjusting on social media? 

However, the feelings loneliness, or that I was missing something had faded. I felt quiet and amazingly peaceful. My life during the pandemic required minimal adjustment since I didn’t have a job or children. All I had was time and it was all mine to do with as I wished. That took on a rhythm as I made a lot of art, wrote my impressions of the world as I saw it through social media, contemplated life and what was truly important to me. What emerged was a strong need to be closer to nature. However, that required another move.

It’s been about a year and a half now that I’ve lived in two stationary RVs: one summer place on a beautiful lake in Northern California, and the rest of the year in an oak forest just outside the mountain town of Julian in San Diego County. 

I’ve loved both places, however another move now presents itself. In 1980, Richard and I moved to Santa Barbara and I fell head over heels in love with its beauty, weather, beaches ... just everything about it. When a shift in job situations hit in 2002, we were forced to move. I grieved as I thought it was forever, knowing we would never be able to re-enter the real estate market. I closed the Santa Barbara door, thinking it was forever.

Now, a possibility has appeared and I’m torn between excitement at being able to move back and knowing that I will probably never again have this almost unbroken solitude that I have come to cherish. In the late 60s when the anti-war movement was turning violent, Isla Vista, the home of the University of California, Santa Barbara, became the site of riots and the burning of the Bank of America.

One side effect of that time was that student population plummeted and a dorm that had just been completed wasn’t needed. It was sold to a group of investors who turned it into a non-profit senior apartment complex … and, probably, my new home. I’m on the waiting list and it looks like a couple of possibilities are becoming available.

It has been interesting to watch my mood swings, from deep excitement to an underlying unease. Fortunately, I’ve had three months to unpack the conflicting feelings and recognize that this is a major change, and most likely a permanent one. Being part of a close community is not something I’ve done for a long time and, therefore, it’s clouded by uncertainty.

Turning to my quote database, the first that came up was from the Buddhist Monk Yoshida Kenko who reminds me.

"Life's most precious gift is uncertainty."

That makes me smile. We’ll see where I am this time next month.

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