Surrendering to Loneliness
I traveled from New York to Provincetown this weekend. It’s a journey that involves driving to my mom’s house in Massachusetts, stashing my car there, getting a ride to the ferry with my bicycle and then biking through town to the little Inn where I’m staying.
So many logistics, but always so very worth it.
The pilgrimage has become a summer ritual between me and one of my oldest friends who lives on the west coast. We vow to meet up every summer here but the past 2 years have been sabotaged by Covid. I don’t think I’ve ever taken the specialness of this place for granted but after the long gap since my last visit, it feels especially sacred this time.
Racing Point Beach in Provincetown is the spot where Cape Cod ends and there’s only ocean in every direction. Standing along the shoreline feels like standing at the edge of the world. I stopped in town for a sandwich and a bottle of water and rode out there yesterday. I found an expanse of beach where no one else was sitting and planted myself. I’d brought a book, my phone and headphones but never took any of them out of my bag. I decided to just listen to the waves and the wind instead.
Input/output has become so constant and unrelenting for most of us that we forget what neutral can be like. We forget the gift of the pause. What it means to dwell in the space between accumulating new information and integrating it. Just being in a state of aliveness that is utterly complete unto itself. It doesn’t need anything. It doesn’t seek to make something out of its experience. It just is.
That was me yesterday.
I ate my sandwich and swam in the ocean. I ducked under the surface and popped up again. The water was salty and frigid. It shocked my whole system. I don’t know if I’ve ever swum in the ocean completely alone before. With no one watching from a beach towel and no lifeguards or other beach goers nearby. The feeling was akin to floating in space with no aircraft for a moment.
It’s one thing to stare out at the sky or the sea and consider how impossibly small you are in contrast. It’s another to enter straight into the vastness alone and feel its capacity to effortlessly, literally, engulf you in a nanosecond. The way I accidentally swallowed a gnat the other day. Like: Gulp, no big deal. That’s the end of that.
It doesn’t depress me to think about these things. It invigorates me.
Being a tiny pebble inside the palm of the universe’s hand reduces the intensity of all that tends to weigh heavy on my heart and mind. All of us need perspective checks from time to time. Otherwise we can easily get lost inside our Egos, inside our own lives.
Back in town I locked my bike and stopped for an iced tea. Everyone around me was in groups or couple formation. I got to be the eavesdropper :) It’s a fun role.
There was a time in my life it felt too painful to be on my own in happy places, with happy people all around. It exacerbated my loneliness post divorce. During the really bad years of my marriage I felt smothered beyond redemption and I used to constantly say to myself: God what I would give to be lonely.
But of course we have to be careful what we wish for. Because we’re often casting wishes from the deficit. We’re grocery shopping on an empty stomach. Nothing in extreme turns out well.
It’s taken a long time to become a person who can ask for what she needs without making it a big deal or triggering a huge fight. I’m in a partnership now where it’s ok to say: I want to take a solo vacation. And to offer to return the gesture, without any resentment flowing in either direction.
I don’t feel heart squeezed by loneliness anymore when I’m alone in a space filled with people enjoying togetherness time. I sealed the hole in my bucket. I have cultivated an authentically loving, appreciative relationship with myself at this stage of my life. It’s the reason I’ve been able to cultivate an authentically loving, appreciative relationship with someone else. There is honesty and tenderness and care and there is room for disappointment and disagreement and the tension of what it’s like to hold complex feelings without the relief of a quick, simple resolve. It’s straightforward and messy, all at the same time.
But maybe that’s what all true loves are made of?
When you take a genuine interest in your own humanity and your own capacity for healing, you stop throwing yourself, ultra-vulnerably, at the mercy of people who haven’t yet earned the right to be part of your journey. You begin to vet. To raise your standards. To feel so satisfied by your own company that another person has to be truly compelling before you will consider sharing your fabulousness with them.
That sounds pretty sassy. And maybe it is. But there’s legitimacy to it too.
Self love is the work of a lifetime. Especially if we’ve grown from toxic soil and we never learned, way back when, how precious and worthy we are. And self love is ongoing work. It’s a commitment to our own well being that we sometimes have great energy and enthusiasm for, while other times we might feel saturated and less than up for the task.
The Soul never gives up on the process though.
Everything around us is in constant flux. Tides ceaselessly coming in and heading back out. Stones settling and rolling out to sea again, settling and rolling. But if you find an empty spot on the beach, and if you resist the urge to plug into something beyond the present moment, you can drop down and touch, directly, that steadfast, ever-present part of your essence.
That’s your Soul.
Untarnished by the wicked ways of the world. Always with you. Even when you perceive yourself as thrown about and alone.
It's like the advice from a Hafiz poem to withstand the temptation to "surrender your loneliness" too quickly. To let it "cut more deep" instead. To make "the need for God absolutely clear."
Sending a warm summer breeze from the edge of the world your way this evening friends,