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Mindful : December 2018
into grasping and clinging. Becoming fixated on what we think is missing in our lives can itself become an obstacle to getting our needs for belonging and intimacy met. Solitude, on the other hand, is time we choose to spend alone in a special way. It’s not just taking time for yourself. It’s not merely R&R, as important as that is in the midst of the over-pres- sured lives many of us lead these days. Rather than taking time for ourselves, genuine solitude is about taking time with ourselves: time devoted to cultivating a deeper, more intimate, and more authentic relationship with ourselves. We become who we are in relationships. The very sense of being a self—a “me” who is differ- ent from “you” and “them”—develops through an infant’s attachment relationship to their mother, whose voice and smiles and reactions teach it that it possesses agency, the ability to cause things to happen outside of itself. As social animals, we live in a mesh of relation- ships. Much of what’s most important and mean- ingful for us is mediated by our relationships with others. At the same time, these vital relationships also constrain us. Naturally, there are times when these constraints are socially beneficial, such as when a friend or lover is able to interrupt a damaging habit we’ve fallen into. At other times, though, the tangle of relationships can constrain us in a way that suppresses essential aspects of our nature and limits our potential for growth and change and self-realization. We can get trapped inside a version of who we are expected to be that is out of touch with who we are. As we grow from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, eventually our most fundamental relationship becomes the inner relationship with ourselves. This relationship is not always easy or comfortable, but it is through consciously recog- nizing and taking responsibility for our feelings and needs and desires, rather than seeking solutions from others or blaming them for our problems, that we develop inner strength. That inner relationship can be fostered in solitude, which can provide us a kind of strength that can counteract the frequent demands to be shaped by others’ agendas to the exclusion of our own deepest aspirations. In solitude, the relatedness of our lives doesn’t go away, but its demands become less immedi- ate, giving us the opportunity to check in with feelings and values at a deeper level, to expe- rience a positive quality of aloneness (includ- ing perhaps some pangs of loneliness). In this deeper engagement with ourselves, our sense of identity and self-worth becomes less dependent on input and affirmation from others. As we learn to be less psychologically and emotionally dependent—and our sense of who we are matures—we find greater freedom in how we experience and interact with others. As our own need lessens we are more able to see others as they are, whether for better or for worse, and more able to genuinely give of ourselves to sup- port and benefit other people—certainly those who are closest and most important to us, but also those with whom our relationships may be less deep or lasting. While aloneness does sometimes involve feelings of loneliness, in a positive sense it rep- resents our ability to stand on our own two feet, to function autonomously, to not be constrained by unhealthy dependence on others. It is a state of being “self-possessed.” Excessive time alone, of course, is unhealthy for most people. It can lead to psychological breakdown (as the movement to eliminate solitary confinement in our prison systems attests). But insufficient time alone, like an unbalanced diet, deprives us of essential nutrients for living a whole and rewarding life. Practicing mindfulness can greatly enhance the benefits of solitude. Since it is about paying attention to whatever is occurring in the present moment, mindfulness practice allows the background clutter of thoughts and fantasies to subside and the clear, calm, and spacious innate nature of the mind to appear. At the same time, mindfulness is about cultivating a life-enhancing inner relationship between whatever arises in our experience and our simultaneous awareness of → Mindfulness allows the clear, calm, and spacious innate nature of the mind to appear. December 2018 mindful 49 insight