Solitude is one of the gifts women deny themselves – sometimes for an entire lifetime. Yet it is one of our most precious and necessary birthrights. One, like so many others, that has been stolen by the predominant culture in an attempt to curtail and ameliorate the inherent power of women. By stripping away our identities as strong, proud, independent beings, women have been taught to loath their own bodies – too fat, too skinny, too smelly, too hairy, too old but, sadly never never too young …
Included in the litany of despised body parts is that center of power, the vagina. Not only does it give birth, it is a constant source of that most magical, sacred, powerful and potent substance – blood. A substance men must wound or kill to obtain, whereas women generate an endless ready supply. If men wish to control the magical creatures called women, they needed to denigrate and destroy and separate female blood, and strip it of power and holiness.
And so menstruation came to be labeled “dirty,” “impure,” “profane.” The holy places where once women went to turn inward, to dream, to celebrate their mysteries and return to the clan with gifts of revelation and wisdom where deemed places of disgrace – impure and filthy locales surrounded with taboos and cleansing rituals. However, unbeknownst to men, for women, they retained their identity as places of precious solitude, respite, and sanctuary. As women’s lives became property and their freedom of movement ever more restricted, women outwardly acquiesced to their new identities and often made use of the taboos to retain precious time away from an inimical culture. However, such double dealing is dangerous. For many of us, outward acceptance very quickly became an inner acquiescence to self-loathing.
When women came to be considered the property of a particular man the emphasis shifted from matrilineal to patrilineal lines of inheritance. it behooved the culture to curtail the independence of solitary women by fabricating all kinds of myths and allegations about the danger solitude posed to lone women. Time spent alone, especially outside, appeared suspicious and threatening because of the implication that a woman alone must be up to no good.
The idea of solitude began to take on a very dubious meaning in the minds of women, associated with shame and isolation. Solitude and isolation are not the same – solitude is the “state of being alone without being lonely” while isolation implies an involuntary state imposed from outside on an individual. Choosing to be alone is altogether different from being forced to be alone.
Writing this I am reminded of the Maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess. The Maiden is virgin in the sense of being sufficient unto herself. She does not define herself through others. Instead, she desires to understand her own uniqueness in relation to the cosmos. She looks to unleash its inherent energy just as we, in coming to know ourselves, unleash our own inherent energy and power. The Maiden needs plenty of room to explore and master her own power and so do we. The first gift solitude offers is spaciousness.
Within that arena we find temporary freedom from social constraints, both in action and in thought. Women are often required to be “on” for large stretches of time, meeting a variety of social demands that necessitate both an intellectual, political and emotional response. Whether it be child, spouse, friend, peer, employer or employee staying present and reacting appropriately takes an amazing amount of energy. Solitude offers the respite and refuge to be one’s self, free from observation and obligation. Safe within solitude’s sanctuary we can relax and renew depleted energies.
Creativity is vital to well-being. Very little else makes the juices flow or the endorphins release like engaging in the act of making. Cake, quilt, poem, engine, code, baby– it makes no difference what the medium is. The human ability to create, to make something out of nothing, to assemble a random collection of ingredients, thought, nuts and bolts and make them into something useful or beautiful is perhaps our greatest joy. It yields an enormous amount of pleasure and gratification. Almost always , the act of creation demands solitary time in which to think, gestate, plan and execute.
Strangely enough, intimacy thrives on periods of solitude in which one has the space and distance to examine one’s relationship to one’s beloved dispassionately. This includes looking at the patterns innate to both lives, accepting responsibility for one’s own motivations and actions and remembering the dearest attributes of the other. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is an aphorism built on generations of longing for absent loved ones. Built in periods of solitude allow that fondness room to expand and grow.
Finally, there is a spiritual component to solitude. It offers the opportunity to meditate, to commune with nature and listen to the voices inherent in earth, air, fire and water. All around us are messages, hints and allegations that demand solitude in order to be heard over the distraction our minds so eagerly provide. Just as solitude provides an opportunity to reach a greater understanding of both ourselves and the beloved other, so too it allows time to contemplate the complexity and paradox of human nature.
Wisdom grows and becomes enhanced as regular bouts of solitude offer us insight and understanding into the human condition- both the particular and the general. To the uninitiated, solitude may at first appear frightening or intimidating, but, removed from the demand to constantly respond, compassion, humor and resilience spontaneously arise to fill the empty space. In the end, given enough solitude, we may finally learn to know ourselves; to be rather than become.