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Alone or Lonely?

A weekend to myself takes a surprising twist

My husband went fishing up in New York state over the weekend. He loves this annual trip, and his excitement makes me happy. I will confess that just the thought of having the house to myself for two whole days also makes me happy. Or at least it used to.

This time was different. Or maybe it was me that was different. Friday flew by as these highly anticipated solitary days usually do. I bounced from project to project, happily leap frogging around my to do list. However, instead of luxuriating in having full control of the remote that night, I felt a little at loose ends. “This is odd,” I thought. “Why am I not happy about this?”

Saturday dawned a beautiful day. I chose a podcast, laced up my sneakers, rallied the dogs, and headed out for an extra-long walk – usually one of my favorite parts of Saturday mornings. Nothing at all was wrong. In fact, the dogs were behaving and the weather was pretty perfect. So what was wrong? “It’s me!” I thought. “Why am I not enjoying this?”

By the time we got home, I had figured it out. I was kind of astonished to realize that – rather than relishing my solitude as I have always done in the past – I was lonely!

It’s not just my life that has changed

In her “blessing for when you’re different now” (posted on Instagram on 9/12/2022), Kate Bowler writes,

Everything is different now,
your body,
your age,
your relationships,
your job,
your faith.
The things that once
brought you joy.
The way you existed in the world.
The people you love
and trust
and rely on.
Things have changed
and it would be silly to imagine
you haven’t changed with them.

You are not who you once were.
Bless that old self,
they did such a good job
with what they knew.

They made you who you were,
all the mistakes
and heartbreak
and naivete
and courage.

And blessed are
who you are now,
you who aren’t pretending
things are the same,
you who continue to grow
and stretch
and show up to your life
as it really is:

maybe a little afraid.
So blessed are we,
the changed.

Change can sneak up on us when we’re not paying attention

Change can be sneaky. Especially the meaningful kind. I’m not talking about a change of mood or weather, but real change. Change like I’m not standing on the bus stop with three little kids and a big black dog this morning but am sitting at my desk writing this essay. The only breakfast I had to make was my own. Perhaps what would be most stunning to “who I was before,” is that fact that I’ve also had time to meditate.

Once upon a time, I would not have been able to imagine this spaciousness or this quiet. “Who I was before” would not believe the choices I get to make today. “Do I want to walk with my husband or a friend, or take two walks so I can do both?” “Where in my day does my practice fit?” and “Can I take a break from grading papers to read my book while I eat lunch?”

In short, life is much quieter than it once was. I am getting regular (daily!) infusions of time to myself – something that was once as elusive as water in a desert. Bowler is right – things have indeed changed. It wasn’t until this weekend, when I showed up for something I’ve shown up for many, many times before as “who I once was,” that I realized how much I have changed too.

Mindfulness practices such as yoga teach us to pay attention

As Bowler hints, not recognizing this change in myself feels a little silly. But I’m going to give myself a break. After all, I am used to tracking the ways I’m growing with my daily yoga practice. Showing up day after day to the same practice allows me to notice changes in my confidence; my fears; my strengths and weaknesses; my energy levels; and my preferences and aversions. In other words, it’s a pretty good barometer of change.

But I show up on my mat by myself. No aspect of my practice could have revealed to me that I no longer exist in a drought of solitude. In addition to the little daily dose of alone time of my practice, I get so much more. In my “life as it really is” now, I have time to teach and to study. To write and to read. To putter around the house and the yard. I no longer need (at an essential, foundational level) the time to myself that my husband’s fishing trips provided. I am changed. I am different now like “everything is different now.”

Awareness allows us to show up to life as we actually are rather than as we once were

Seeing this about myself, I will show up to my life differently. I will continue to stay home when my husband goes on the fishing trips he loves, but I will seek connection and company while he’s gone. I will probably still choose to spend some time alone, but I will also make lunch plans. I will share my walks with friends. By embracing life as it really is as I really am now, I will be alone, but I will not be lonely. “So blessed am I, the changed.”

Daily practice is a great way to stay in touch with yourself – how you’re changing and growing. I am teaching a class called Growing in Grace: A Practice for the next several months that is designed to help you establish daily practices that will nurture you – body, mind, and spirit. Reach out for more information.