States of Alone-ness

covid-19 isolation solitude

Two months ago my heart longed for a big pause button - one where I could slow down the fast-moving train of life. I may have even daydreamed about it more than a few times. Then, here we are and this pandemic has literally paused almost everything. Huge conferences and trade shows are cancelled, schools are online, there are no pro sports and even Disney World is closed. This forced social isolation and “stay at home,” order is not exactly how I saw it in my dreams.

When the isolation began, I thought I would finally have time to do some of those things busy life didn’t allow. Slow down and bake some bread or work on that leather-working hobby I used to do. Maybe I could work out more and spend some time alone in solitude. Just like many New Year’s resolutions, we are now 5 weeks in, and I have done very little towards those ideas.

I have actually worked out less, done nothing with my hobby, and I have journaled less in the last month than any of the previous months.  It got me thinking, why does it seem like I am more tired and feel like I have less time? I thought times of aloneness were supposed to be some amazing spiritual high where life becomes clear.

The Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote, “We cannot see things in perspective until we cease to hug them to our bosom.” That sounds so great. I want to see things in perspective. The definition of isolation is to be alone or apart from others. This sounds just like solitude which is defined as the state or situation of being alone. They sound on the surface to be almost identical.

The difference I believe is choice. Isolation is often forced upon us, but solitude is a choice to be with myself and purposefully be alone. This aloneness is not lonely, rather it is healing and provides perspective. I am not naturally introverted and so being alone is not an easy choice. I more naturally gravitate to being with others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Let him who cannot be alone, beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community.” Running away from ourselves is not only a form of self-harm, but it is also harmful to those around us. Being truly alone with myself is not easy, I have a wife, 4 kids and a dog. While writing these few paragraphs I was interrupted 5 times even though I have noise cancelling headphones on and a closed office door.

So, what do we do when we are forced into isolation? What if we re-framed some of this forced isolation into a gift? During this quarantine so many choices have been taken from us. What if this week we reclaimed our choice to enter into some solitude instead of being the victim of our isolation?

 

Greg Daley
Restoration Project Co-Founder

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