Two Decembers ago, when my husband and I decided to part ways, I found myself alone for the first time in 24 years. It was a mutual agreement—one reached in part out of sheer resignation—but with a fallout that was more painful than its process.
Seemingly suddenly, life as I’d long known it had vanished—the house we’d shared with the walls we’d painted and the photographs we’d taken; his presence beside me on the left side of the bed; the holiday dinners and weekend brunches and his name on letters in the mailbox and the knowledge that, no matter what, he’d be home soon enough.
“Stark silence” has always struck me as a cliché but that’s precisely what I felt when I moved into an apartment of my own on another continent, my cat Nala and my spring dresses the last vestiges of that life I’d cultivated. The loneliness and melancholy I experienced was comparable only to the loss of our infant son two decades earlier, but this was a different kind of loss entirely.
While not religious—I’m a lapsed Catholic, and my husband said “God” only when cursing—I’ve always felt there’s something more to life than meets the eye. It’s the force that propelled me through my mother’s drug addiction, homelessness, poverty, and dangerous situations with dangerous men; the succor and power that drove me to keep on keeping on after my son’s death.
Being alone in that stark silence—all my grief and anxieties amplified, the volume in my ears beyond loud—made me search for that comfort and knowledge in a deliberate way that felt both desperate and necessary. If I was going to endure this heartache, dammit, I wanted to learn something vital—and be consoled—along the way.
World-renowned yogi Richard Freeman—who has studied practices ranging from Sufism to Vipassana—suggests that we experience momentous awakenings in myriad ways. For some, it is purposefully called forth through jnana yoga in “an instant enlightenment as a leap of understanding into the meaning of life.”
In this form, “you have a flash of insight into the meaning of reality, and from that moment on the mind has begun to wake up in such a way that life is merely a continuous unfolding insight.” For others, it is a gradual awakening, “applying over time a more rigorous path, a complete study of everything, as a means of recognizing underlying patterns of perception and mind so that the true nature of the self—the true nature of the universe—is revealed.”
Consider my own shift somewhere in the middle. In other words, in that new and unfamiliar solitude and the stark silence that arrived with it, I experienced a blaze of awareness that’s demanding me to comprehend its nuances little by little.
One of those nuances may not be the meaning of life, but it is a grasp on the way of life. Human beings, I’ve determined—and I’m certainly not the first one to appreciate this—are spiritually and telepathically connected when our hearts are open to receive those answers I felt so compelled to seek. If I think of someone—both casually and with intent—they’ll call or send a message, or I’ll bump into them in some out-of-the-way-place.
If I need inspiration on how to handle something—an issue with work, a problem with a friend—the answer will become clear to me through praying (and, ha, often while washing dishes). If I find myself in a daunting situation, the course of an otherwise-potentially-catastrophic outcome will swing and a solution (or an exit) will present itself to me. This has been true for most of my life, only I was never certain how it came to be.
Paulo Coelho says that “for those who are not frightened by the solitude that reveals all mysteries, everything will have a different taste.” From my experience—both personal and the insights I’ve gleaned from reading a number of luminaries—I’ve witnessed the following:
1. We Are Never Truly Alone.
We have not only each other’s company through the soul connections we make throughout our life—including the one I continue to share with my now ex-husband—but we also have the whole universe (and it is a kind, kind thing) as our unwavering friend.
2. When to Reach Out to Others
While being alone has innumerable virtues, it’s essential to realize when it’s time to reach out to others. We are tribal creatures, after all, and that critical solitude must be balanced by an equally critical satisfaction of our evolutionary need to be social too.
3. Befriend Your Solitude
Solitude may bring our greatest fears and sorrows to bear, but it is only through plumbing them that we will find genuine ease and true empathy—for ourselves and others.
4. Practice Gratitude
Spouses, friends, colleagues, siblings, parents—all of the people we love in life will at some point no longer be physical present beside us. What will remain, however, are the lessons they’ve taught us. Every relationship we have—negative, positive, even meh—has a meaningful instruction behind it. Aware of this, we are, when the time comes, able to let go with gratitude and compassion.
5. Acknowledge Your Connection to Something Greater
Last, but not least, our connection to something greater and invisible (to the naked eye): Life itself that shows up as energy that makes grass grow and oceans hum, that spurs us to love and create, that is always present because everything around us IS part of the same creation process from which we came.
I still live alone, my only company my cat. My closest friends, my dearest relatives—all are an ocean and many time zones away. But what is near is this constant companion—this me who is here exactly where she should be, and the universe that continues to nurture her.
“The Divine Energy is listening to us when we speak to other people, but also when we are still and silent and able to accept solitude as a blessing. And in that moment, Its light illumines everything around us and helps us to see that we are necessary, and that our presence on Earth makes a huge difference to Its work.”