Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Living Alone

For the first time in my life, I am living alone. Thirty-eight years ago, when I moved to Toronto to go to college, I shared a home with five other students. I lived alone for a brief time after finishing college, but quickly became involved with a man and moved in with him after only nine months of solo living. No regrets- I was, after all, twenty-three. Young love and hormones were influencing my choices. Eventually, we made two beautiful babies -my sons- together.

There have been times when I’ve spent a lot of time alone, particularly since I often worked out of my home, but there were always others (my sons who were at their father’s for a week or my husband who was at work all day and at evening events) who would be returning. At times I spent time alone in the wilderness- often weeks- but I knew I would be going home to others when my solo time was complete.

It’s different to live alone knowing no one is coming back to a shared abode later in the day or week or month. Once in a while- usually in the evening- I feel a little. . . antsy, experiencing a twinge of something that is not completely comfortable. When I sit with it and ask, “What is this feeling?” I occasionally think, “Oh, this is loneliness.” Although rare, when it does arise, I just notice it and am careful not to start telling myself a story about it. Like: “I will always be alone,” or “If I was loveable I wouldn’t be alone,” or "Loneliness is unbearable" or any of the other infinite number of stories the mind can conjur. In fact loneliness, like other feelings, comes and goes and is quite bearable if we can refrain from adding painful (and imaginary) stories to temporary discomfort. Sitting still I realize that what I call loneliness is most often a vague desire to have someone around to distract me from some deeper discomfort. Like the knowledge that I am resisting working on the new book or some anxiety or ambivalence I would rather ignore.

The truth is that most of the time, when I pay attention I become aware that I am truly enjoying being alone. Some of this enjoyment is pretty mundane: not having to pick up or clean up after anyone else; being able to eat when I want to or follow the thread of whatever I am doing (reading, writing, sleeping) as long as the impulse is there simply because there is no one else’s schedule to consider. But some of it is appreciation for the privilege of having the means and the time to simply be fully with myself.

Last week, I walked home at twilight after visiting a friend. I stopped at a market and bought yogurt and blueberries and a bunch of pale yellow roses for my apartment. And as I walked past the spectacular gardens of the homes in my neighbourhood I felt a deep sense of contentment. I walked slowly, savouring the scent of flowers on the warm night air, anticipating bringing the beauty of fresh roses into the two small rooms that are my home. I looked forward to reading in bed and listening to the sounds of the city slowly subside.

I am blessed to have friends and my two sons in the city where I live. So, when I want company there are those with whom I can connect. And the city itself is offered to me. When I have spent enough time alone at the computer, I can easily walk to a bookstore or the market or the community centre and be around others living their lives, feeling how my little tributary is part of a much bigger river, how we are all interconnected as we live our own lives.

And then, I can go home, alone. The gift of living alone, of having a space that is simply my home, is finding that I do not have to choose between being with myself or being with others. Of course, I never had to choose between these two- but when I live with others I often unconsciously turn too much of my face toward the other and away from my own life. Some of this happened with the inevitable requirements of raising children. But some of my inability to be with another and not abandon myself came from an unconscious strategy developed early in life- trying to earn my place to be by taking care of others’ needs. While I now know this to be unnecessary for belonging it is in living alone that I learn to truly enjoy being fully with myself. And I am grateful for the blessings and the challenges this solitude offers.


  1. I have found a rhythm in my solitude, may you find yours. An awareness of the difference between isolation and solitude. Often like the waves of the ocean I get knocked over however I stay grounded in Mother Earth and all is well.
    And so it is.
    Happy you are back !!

  2. it is in living alone that I learn to truly enjoy being fully with myself.

    I am curious, because of what has been coming through in some of my writings, are you also truly enjoying fully being yourself, not just with yourself, but being yourself?

    what I call loneliness is most often a vague desire to have someone around to distract me from some deeper discomfort.

    This struck a chord in what I also recognized as what I call busyness is a desire to distract myself from some deeper discomfort.

  3. Lorraine, not sure if it would be possible to enjoy being alone with myself if I didn't enjoy being myself. So, to answer your question- I enjoy being me! :-) Oriah

  4. I read a quote recently that made me feel good, helped me recognize my significance, at a time when I was feeling lonely:

    "I have gathered a posie of other men's flowers, and nothing but the thread that binds them is my own." -- Michel de Montaigne

    I've lived alone longer than I've desired. I've wanted kids, the hubby, the loving distractions. Then I came to realize the thread that would or could bind that all together, that could gather a beautiful bouquet, well, that thread was me and it had to be stronger than steel in order to hold the bouqet and appreciate its view and scent and arrangement in my life. And so, I'm grateful for the alone time.

    And I'm grateful for the internet -- the thread that binds us all to your blog every Wednesday! So glad to have you back!


    Nattie from Ptown

  5. "when I live with others I often unconsciously turn too much of my face toward the other and away from my own life". this is so true for myself, and thanks for writing with such clarity and warmth. I wish you all good things and want to say that you are handling this painful time with an enormous amount of grace. namaste

  6. Tons of love and appreciation comin' atcha from Houston, TX again. Really appreciate your honesty and courage and willingness to share because reading this stuff makes me feel not lonely (and I can manage to feel lonely with a lot of people around). Hoping you'll keep taking good care of yourself and livin' big with blueberries and flowers and whatever else strikes a chord. :)

  7. It is about rhythm isn't it? I live alone and have lived alone for more than 15 years. I enjoy my solitude. However, when I am out with people, or stay with a friend for the weekend, it takes a period to adjust to the rhythm of being by myself again.

  8. Oriah, I'm glad you are finding your peace with being alone. It is not easy to do, and it is not looked upon by others as normal. So I applaud you if it is your happiest state. I am also learning to be alone (I wrote about it recently in my own blog, )
    The thing I miss the most about my lover is the physical intimacy we had, there seems to be no replacement for that. And with my daughter leaving for school, it makes me feel that there is no one here who would know (or care?) if I ceased to exist. I've heard that a partner is a witness to one's life, and that seems to be what I miss. If no one is here to share my life, do I really matter? I still struggle with the lonely-monster, so it is good to read your words and those of your followers. Perhaps there is hope (or mabye I'll be a better partner to somebody someday for having gone through this time alone!) - Cathy

  9. ao_michael@yahoo.comSeptember 10, 2010 at 9:45 AM

    You make my heart smile

  10. Thank you for your post, and letting us in on your thoughts. As I have read elsewhere, there is an important distinction of alone versus lonely. One can still be lonely in a crowd. One can always be alone and never lonely. I spent many years in remote locations across the globe as a wildlife biologist and have come to love my alone time. My divorce gave me another perspective, some similar to those you are currently experiencing. It has been five years for me, and I continue to manage my way through these times, and as with you becoming more proficient with making choices to be alone but not lonely.

  11. "For the first time in my life, I am living alone." Yes, that has been my thought over the past 2 1/2 years since my separation and subsequent divorce. Through childhood, college, grad school, and many years of marriage my home was always with someone else, and much of my focus was on them and what they thought of me. Now there is space for the inner daemons to show their faces, as one did during a recent labyrinth walk. I walked with awareness only that I was leaving someone else behind, but later realised that there had been a liberation from an inner aspect. Thank you for your words - it's so good to have you back.

  12. thought of you...

    "So, if women must, they will paint blue sky on jail walls. If the skeins are burnt, they will spin more. If the harvest is destroyed, they will sow more immediately. Women will draw doors where there are none, and open them and pass through into new ways and new lives. Because the wild nature persists and prevails, women persist and prevail." (Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves, pg. 203)

  13. Welcome home to YOU, Oriah. I didn't think I'd ever be able to say that I prefer living alone to being in a couple, but I truly do. Even though I've been in another committed relationship for several years, it just hasn't felt right to permanently share a space. I don't know if it ever will - but the joy comes from knowing that this is so because I'm loving living with me.

  14. Thank you for sharing. Your writing truly touched my heart. I know these words and these feelings. I am learning to appreciate my own emptying nest with joy instead of tears.

  15. Of course we don't always feel alone when we are. But when a sense of loneliness envelopes me I accept it for what it is. Then, I remember that I AM a social being who loves both his aloneness and interaction with others. Perhaps when I feel alone it is simply time to reach out and connect.