Notes on a Buddhist path

All by my Self

July 1, 2012 By | 1 Comment

Loneliness is needy — it wants. Solitude is fulfillment — it has.” ~ Sister Wendy Beckett

A few nights ago a friend and I enjoyed the teasing bent of one of this summer’s rare warm evenings. It’s been cold wet year. We sat outside with our brews and pub fare listening to jazz riffs improvise with the notes of a waterside breeze and talked about relationships, work, soulful matters and solitude. I remembered the quote above from Sister Wendy Beckett, a Catholic Nun and self taught art expert, in her interview with Bill Moyers in the late 90’s. What touched me in seeing that PBS special so many years ago was the beatific glow of her smiling face when she spoke of solitude.

Someone told me the difference between an extravert and an introvert is  the extravert finds sustenance in others while the introvert is renewed in their aloneness. I fall head over bum into the latter category. I could easily cloister myself away for days on end and bath in the oceanic expanse of unmitigated solitude. I revel in my solitary life. If I were to fall into another relationship of romance and complimentary sleeping patterns, I doubt I would want to relinquish my state of cushioned exile. I’m ravished by the comfort of my daily routines, of my Sunday tryst with writing. My current housemates are two elderly cats who only seem to notice me when they’re hungry. If another biped were to take up residency I don’t know how any of us would cope with the interloper.

Perhaps my visceral propensity towards solitude is why I hunger for long meditation retreats. At times I see myself as a monastic, floating on the tender surface of silence and non-doing. Yet I would miss heading out amongst the masses for a movie and a latte or meeting a friend for a walk along the ocean. What would I do without the sensual pleasure of fresh, wet produce and slow loving food at the weekly farmer’s market? And then there’s Leonard Cohen and tango lessons.

I relish being in the world and I cling to my time away from it with intense ferocity. Am I ever lonely? Absolutely, yet I’ve also endured some of the deepest chasms of  loneliness when I’ve been in relationship. In some ways my hardest work with my inner being is in those tangled wrestles with another self, but it always comes back to my perception of the other and this entity I believe is residing in my flimsy body. Even the concept of a self comes under scrutiny. Current neuroscience theory and 2,600 year old Buddhist teachings posit the tenets of a non-self (see my recent article for Life As A Human.) If there is no observer or observed what is it that senses, as Sister Wendy defines it, the need or the fulfillment?

Perhaps it’s in our awareness of desire or satisfaction arising that we witness the arc of our longing for life.  Seeing my solitude as just as transient as tea with a dear friend or the dreamy chortle of my sleeping cat brings it alive and rarefies its existence. Solitude with our presence in this moment is all that will ultimately fill us and in the exquisite point of saturation the most perfect state opens up. The boundless bliss of sheer emptiness.

Alone with Everybody

by Charles Bukowski

the flesh covers the bone
and they put a mind
in there and
sometimes a soul,
and the women break
vases against the walls
and the men drink too
and nobody finds the
but keep
crawling in and out
of beds.
flesh covers
the bone and the
flesh searches
for more than

there’s no chance
at all:
we are all trapped
by a singular

nobody ever finds
the one.

the city dumps fill
the junkyards fill
the madhouses fill
the hospitals fill
the graveyards fill

nothing else

“Alone With Everybody” by Charles Bukowski.

Image credit: Lonely in Paradise, by lanuiop. Some rights reserved, Flickr Creative Commons.


  1. oh thank you for true insight: yes we can have “our deepest chasms of loneliness” while in relationship! Solitude can be found, hallelujah.

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