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Mindful : December 2018
self-critical, less burdened, and more self-com- passionate. Best of all, the life-enhancing inner relationship we cultivate during times of soli- tude also empowers our relationships with oth- ers. We are able to listen more deeply, process more empathically, and respond from a genuine caring for the other. We become less needy and more confident, more appreciative, and more grateful for those we share our lives with. And solitude itself can be a powerful shared experience. Participating in group meditation sessions—time alone together—often evokes this. So does attending a concert where we touch into deep personal feeling while surrounded by other people: Rather than interfering, the atmo- sphere of attentive silence shared with the other listeners present supports and deepens our own experience of a rich, meaningful solitude. Practicing solitude brings about growth and change. Change can be destabilizing, so resis- tance to change is natural. But “becoming who we are” is a journey without end. Our lives are most wholesome and authentic when we over- come resistance and embrace the change the world asks of us, enabling us to make a contri- bution that is true to ourselves. In that journey solitude is a vital ally. And we become less lonely. Far from hid- ing out in isolation and self-involvement, our embracing of solitude makes us more engaged, more able to contribute to building a society that is sane, peaceful, and just. As Thoreau wrote in his journal, essentially notes to himself that others would later read, “ You think that I am impoverishing myself withdrawing from men, but in my solitude I have woven for myself a silken web or chrysalis, and, nymph-like, shall ere long burst forth a more perfect creature, fitted for a higher society.” ● its arising. This special quality of awareness is sometimes referred to as “witness consciousness.” As the mind settles and becomes more clear and focused, awareness grows both deeper and broader. We start to notice what is going on below the level of our everyday discursive con- sciousness (discursive literally means “running on and on”). We get more in touch with our body and how it has its own, nonconceptual way of knowing. This bodily or somatic knowing is intuitive, holistic, and open-ended. And because, unlike our thinking minds, the body never lies, it gives us trustworthy feedback for navigating life’s ups and downs as well as accurate insights into right next steps. Mindfulness also sharpens our sense percep- tions, keeping us appreciatively engaged with our surroundings. Literally as well as figura- tively, we see more clearly and are able to act in the world more skillfully and effectively. William Wordsworth evokes “that inward eye/Which is the bliss of solitude.” The inward eye sees the contents of our inner life, much of which occurs out of view of our outward-ori- ented senses, below the radar, as it were. In solitude, we have the opportunity to bring our hidden parts into the light of awareness. Actually, it’s not we—our familiar goal-ori- ented selves—who bring what is hidden to light. Rather, we learn to create a safe, caring space that allows these parts to start to show themselves to us. Like shy animals coming out from behind the bushes, they appear and even permit us to enter into a mutually beneficial relationship. Many of these shy animals have their origins in childhood experiences. The child part of our self doesn’t disappear as we g row older—it’s still there, often in hiding, and it should be cherished. Its feelings, its fears and wants, deserve our attention: the attention of a mature person able to discern and respond with understanding and compassion. Old emotional wounds that are no longer experienced directly are like scars that can inhibit growth and enjoyment of life—until they’re able to show themselves and feel recog- nized and accepted by our grown-up selves. This inner journey of self-disclosure can be painful and scary at times, hard work to under- take and stick with. But the rewards are great, as inner resources and aspirations we never knew were there present themselves. In solitude we encounter our vulnerabili- ties, fears, and self-doubt. As we make friends with these “negative” feelings, we become less In solitude, our hidden parts are like shy animals coming out from behind the bushes into the light of awareness. December 2018 mindful 51 insight