AN EXTROVERT ALONE: MUSINGS ON SOLITUDE BY ALEXIS BURTON
I moved to Montana with the understanding that I was going to live in a small town I had never heard of, in a house that stands out among the crowd. I did not come here with the understanding that to live alone meant I was alone. No big deal, I decided, I get along with myself just fine. But when I arrived, the worries startled me. A whole year alone? No roommates, no friends, no one to greet when I come home except my plants. What would I do when the aloneness got real?
The Mothership, a.k.a my house
What I didn’t plan for was the aloneness of having made an abrupt decision to change my life and rip myself away from the comfortable space I created in my college town. Or having to grieve the death of a loved one alone without having the finances to make it back for her funeral. Or what it would be like to come home to an empty house, alone, day after day, for months on end. Or to get sick and have the flu alone. Or that if I wanted to socialize, I’d have to plan for time differences to Skype the ones I left behind or else make a plan in advance to visit other AmeriCorps members. Or that when I did finally make it back to the Pacific Northwest for holidays, the little world I was part of continued largely unchanged without me.
Somewhere around the turn of fall into winter I decided to welcome the darkness that I found myself spiraling into, and made huge intentions to be like a tree this season. They look dead above ground, but beneath the soil they are digging their roots down further into the land, finding hard-to-reach nutrients and becoming perpetually prepared to support themselves during the springtime explosion back into life. I spent some hours pondering on this notion, on how to dig deep to support my outward growth when the sun returned.
It’s been mentioned before that self-care is imperative, and particularly so when you’ve uprooted your life (pardon the pun) to try something so far out of your comfort zone you don’t even know how to prepare. I had all sorts of self-care practices already in place, but I wasn’t ready for the darkness of the sky to chase me indoors and keep me there all winter long. I wasn’t ready for a bone-chilling cold to suck all my energy away, to be worried about frostbite or the reality that all the trees around my rental property would drop their leaves and that with them, my last perceived connection to privacy in my home would fade away. How do you prepare your mind for such a shift? I felt stuck in my heart that I couldn’t dance with my reflection in the window at night, couldn’t run barefoot in soft summer grass, couldn’t even mark the change of season by measuring the persistence of my favorite weather occurrence (rain), and I couldn’t watch the sun rise or set or even really see it for very long.
The Willow that inspires my musings.
I greet her every day, “Hello, Mama”
So how do you turn in and grow deep like the roots of a tree? How do you welcome the darkness and its regularly accompanying broody-moodiness? I learned that all it takes is an intentional perspective shift. I wanted to be productive, even after being shoved inside by Montana winter’s apparent nonchalance towards my well-being. I sat and meditated, and came up with this: All you need is an open heart. I shifted the way my mind saw the daylight, I returned to my favorite self-care practice, beginning my mornings with gratitude and thanking my body for waking to each new day. I decided to quit watching Netflix and start getting creative. I used my weekends to make gorgeous breakfasts for one, take long walks, and dig my car out of the snow with a happy heart, instead of a begrudging one. When I saw less than an hour of daylight each week day, I became my own sun. I took active steps to shift my headspace into one that was conducive to actually being content with myself. All of a sudden, it was a breakthrough. I craved being alone. I craved opening up my front door and welcoming myself home, I began to see the intricate beauties of winter instead of getting stuck on how much it sucks to be cold. I began embracing the cold, and got excited for how much of this temperature change I could handle.
As my spirits were lifting, a Rupi Kaur quote came across my pathway, “Loneliness is a sign that you are in desperate need of yourself.” I screamed with glee, “YES THAT’S WHAT I LEARNED!” and the craving to solitude was all the more strong. When I go anywhere now for extended periods of time, I build in space for solitude. I look for a place to retreat, rejuvenate, rest, recluse. And with that new understanding of clarity, my heart is wider open than I have ever experienced before, and the lessons I unlock within myself are bright and bold.
What I didn’t plan for sparked some of the greatest points of self-development and self-reliance that I never asked for but received willingly. Recently I happened upon another quote that sums up these learnings into words I hadn’t found yet for myself. “Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.” (Paul Tillich)
Stuck my phone in a tree stump to take this selfie at
Kootenai Falls on a solo weekend adventure.
I’m grateful that I dug into myself and sent my roots to solidify my centeredness. I’m grateful that I live alone and far away from everyone I love and everyone I’ve met and networked with through AmeriCorps. Sure, it would be fabulous to live in the city or at least closer to “civilization”, but serving this town and community has been a gift. Heck, living alone has been a gift. So here I am, a declared extrovert learning to lean in to solitude, heart open and connecting deeply.
Life sure does happen when we step outside our comfort zones, doesn’t it?