I like being by myself. Perhaps it comes from growing up in a large noisy family with six kids, several cats and dogs, and a room full of guinea pigs. The concept of privacy was exactly that, a concept, and I became adept at tuning out the chaos. I learned it from my father who was a zen master at being present, but not. He would sit in the livingroom on Saturday mornings, totally immersed in his cup of perfect coffee and newspaper, while screaming children ran laps around the furniture to the frenzied pitch of the William Tell Overture. To be fair, my father would have put the record on for us, ergo contributing to the chaos which is something I’ll have to ask him about before he’s too old to remember.
My appreciation of aloneness has changed over the years. Girlfriends would argue that I’ve always ‘been in relationship’ so have never truly been ‘alone’. But as my father showed me, aloneness is less a physical state and more a metaphysical one. In his own way of being, he taught me to question the nature of reality in a philosophical way; the difference between the way things appear to us and the way they really are.
I have found that being in relationship, any type of relationship, is a petrie dish of reality and perception. We can very clearly see the organism but what, really, is happening inside it? Being alone enables me to look at myself in a way I cannot, when surrounded by distraction. Being alone does not make me feel lonely, but rather, connects me to myself and by osmosis, to the world I live in.
The metaphysical poet John Donne wrote the infamous phrase ‘No man is an island’, but that was simply the first line in his poem. Donne goes on to say…
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
The whole poem explains that although we may hear the (church) bell announcing a death, the bell is not only for the dead person but to remind us that we are part of all mankind. As I sit in the solitude of my garden, surrounded by the life force of my Mexican barrio, a force that seems to ebb and flow with the heat of the day and the cool of the night, I’m reminded so beautifully that this mankind is also a part of me.