If I am on a long drive, I can always stop for fuel or coffee and talk with any person I want to speak to. If I am home alone, I can always go out somewhere and find people with whom I can talk. I know many people who are home alone will have the television on all the time. That is not true for me.
Solitude can scare folks. Many go to great lengths not to be “stuck alone.” I understand that, but it is not how I am. Perhaps it is because I am by nature more introverted. Or perhaps it is because I grew up on a farm when I spent countless hours by myself. Those were the days before tractors had radios and even fancier equipment. There certainly was not internet, cell phones, etc. Those days I was in a field by myself and that was my fate. I did not mind that at all.
I like alone time. It gives me time to think about things. I need time to ponder life. I am sure there are many others just like I am. I am very aware that life slips by pretty quickly. Days turn into months and years. There are all sorts of things that come our way demanding attention, effort, and work. Jobs, kids and all that eat away at our personal development. I value all those things that have occupied zillion of hours of my life. My jobs, my kids, my friends, etc. have been wonderful things to occupy my time and energy. I would not change a thing.
And yet! And yet, none of these guarantee that I have lived life well and meaningfully. All of these are important and I would trade nothing. But they are not inherently spiritual. And that is the bottom line determiner of meaning and purpose. Of course, having a family, a career, friends, and so forth give meaning and purpose to our lives. I would never discount those. But I am not sure any of these qualify as the ultimate determiner of meaning and purpose. If that were true, then a monk or person with no career could not have an ultimately meaningful life.
Alone time is a special time for me. It is that time when I am devoid of immediate relationships. It is a time when my career is not the center of my attention. There are no friends nearby to take my mind away from my deeper self (assuming I have any sense of a deeper self). There is just me. In these times it is important that I do not have the tv blaring. If I am in a car, it is important that the radio or other device is not playing. Solitude often is accompanied by silence. That is key for me.
I know some folks would be doubly intimidated by solitude and silence. But I welcome both. There is a vulnerability that enters our solitude and silence. There is no distraction. Nothing holds us to the superficial and shallow. We are sitting ducks for life’s deeper questions. We are prey to doubts and potential despair. Into the pockets of solitude creep the questions about things like death.
I welcome these times. I see my alone time as time to practice. I need time to practice entertaining and embracing deep questions in life. I want to think about my relationships and my commitments. I want some time to consider the past and how it has shaped me. I want to look backward enough to figure out what to continue.
But most of all, I need some alone time to think about the present and to ponder the future. The present is directly tied to my future. Tomorrow is the first day of my future. And what I do today directly affects tomorrow. I know that if I do not have time alone, I likely am to spend too much time living in the past or waiting for the future. I am sure that spiritual meaning and purpose is found neither in the past nor the future. I am convinced meaning and purpose exist today…or they do not exist.
If I have no time alone to ponder this, I do not think I can even know if meaning and purpose exist in my life. I can assume they do. I can pretend they do. Without some time alone, I will not know for sure. So what is the spiritual teaching in all this?
The spiritual teaching in all this is to make sure I have a little alone time each day. Alone time is easy on a long trip by yourself. But in the busyness of a normal day, alone time is trickier. I know the temptation to assume that busyness is the same thing as meaning and purpose. Not true!
I want some daily alone time. I want to use some of that time (it can be as little as ten minutes) to pray a bit. Perhaps some meditation is useful. It may be simply a time to sit quietly and ponder. Alone time can be uncluttered. Make yourself available. I do believe there is a deep Spirit in the universe who wants to come into our present and be Present. If I am not alone, I am not sure I will catch it!