“And you, when will you begin that long journey into yourself?” — Rumi
Loneliness scares most of us quite a bit; in fact, it may be our greatest fear, but I believe there’s a lot of power in knowing that you can live alone successfully.
Living alone for a few years, especially during or after a major life transition, allows us the time to process change. We finally have some time to breathe and search within for what’s missing or what definitely needs to change. As luck would have it, midlife often offers this time to rest up from relating to others constantly. Divorce, a loved one’s death, unemployment, an empty nest, or some combination of these common midlife circumstances can offer a natural breather to sit back and take a hard look at ourselves and where we are.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve been constantly distracted by the needs of others. As natural caretakers, we just can’t stop tending to the needs of those around us, even when we aren’t being asked for help. That is why it’s so important now to find a way to spend some time completely alone.
Your tendency may be to immediately find new distractions, new people to care for. Fight that impulse. After a lifetime of chaos and caring for others, this is a very important time for you to be alone, as scary as it may feel at times. How else will you have the time and fortitude to face yourself squarely and ask some tough questions about your previous choices and your future?
Introspection demands solitude and time. This may be why many of us never truly get to know ourselves until midlife, if ever. It takes a lifetime to know ourselves well. The only way to your true self is through contemplation. No shortcuts are available. You may find that a good therapist is a great guide at this time, but the heavy lifting must be done by you. This is the beginning of self-responsibility. Up to now, life has just happened, and in the chaos of it all you’ve done the best you could. Now, if you choose, you can take full responsibility for your life, for your own process, for all future choices, and for your own solitude.
Why is solitude so important? We cannot learn and grow without personally processing what we alone have experienced within the context of our own lives. No one else understands our own internal experiences of loss and alienation quite like we do, and no one else processes these experiences into wisdom like we can.
Without personal processing at a deep level, we will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. We all go through periods of crisis—major changes, intense difficulties—as we age. It’s best if we can intersperse these episodes with periods of solitude and deep learning, to integrate and consolidate what we have experienced in preparation for a new learning cycle.
If we learn with each cycle, we become wiser and more able to cope with the next difficulty. If we never stop and spend some time alone, integrating lessons learned, we cannot accumulate wisdom or the ability to live a more comfortable life with more supple and adaptive coping skills.
Excerpted from Midlife Magic: Becoming The Person You Are Inside.