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solitary

SOLITUDE

As the world spins faster with emails, tweets and Instagram, most humans need several ways to cope with the resulting pressures. We need to maintain some semblance of balance and some sense that we have it together.  Otherwise we feel overloaded, overreact to minor annoyances, and feel like we can never get everything done. As far as I’m concerned, one of the best ways to relax is to seek and enjoy solitude.

From the start, I will make a big distinction between solitude and loneliness. Loneliness is a negative state, marked by a sense of isolation. I feel that something is missing. I have been with with people and still felt lonely—for me the most bitter form of loneliness. Loneliness is harsh and is a punishment of sorts. It is clearly a deficiency state marked by a sense of estrangement and an awareness of excess aloneness.

Solitude is being alone without being lonely. It is a positive and constructive state of engagement with oneself. It was an epiphany for me when I found that I was very good and sufficient company. Solitude is a time for reflection, a way to touch your inner yearning. Deep reading requires solitude as does experiencing the wonder of nature. Thinking and creativity evolve from periods of solitude as an awareness that everything has been created in oneness.  The blade of grass, the tree that stands, the bird that flies, and the living, breathing human being all share a oneness with the divine.

Solitude permits peacefulness and a state of inner richness. It is a means of enjoying the quiet and drawing sustenance from it. This is something to be cultivated like a spring garden. Solitude leads me to contemplative prayer where I commune with the divine. It is refreshing; an opportunity to renew myself.

Solitude is something you choose. Loneliness is imposed on you by others

The SOLITARY SANDPIPER

Almost all sandpipers migrate in flocks and nest on the ground, but the Solitary Sandpiper breaks both rules. In migration, as its name implies, it is usually encountered alone, along the bank of some shady creek. If approached, it bobs nervously, then flies away with sharp whistled cries, leave me alone! In summer in the northern spruce bogs, rather than nesting on the wet ground, the Solitary Sandpiper lays its eggs in old songbird nests placed high in trees.

This lovely bird forages in shallow water, moving about actively, picking items from the surface. It also loves to probe mud looking for something delectable. While walking in water, this creature may pause and quiver one foot, presumably to stir up small critters from the bottom. The Solitary Sandpiper feeds on many insects in the water and along the shore, including beetles, dragonfly nymphs, grasshoppers, crustaceans, spiders, worms, mollusks, and occasionally small frogs. They are happy birds.

A long-distance migrant, these birds winter mostly in South America, especially around swamps and riverbanks in the Amazon Basin. They apparently migrate mostly alone and at night. In the spring they reverse the pattern and prepare for mating season, a popular event among Solitary Sandpipers.

The SOLITARY HUMAN

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To be a happy and healthy person, most of us know that we need to sleep well, eat right, and exercise. But how important “human connectedness” is to our overall mental, emotional, and physical well-being is another matter. For a lot of folks there is a tendency to obsess over the past and worry about the future (instead of simply being present), and too much time alone may have mental and physical health consequences. Human connection anchorsour awareness firmly in the present (instead of worrying and obsessing when alone). But we seem to be following the path of the Solitary Sandpiper.

While the very best cure for loneliness is a strong “in-person” social network (i.e. not Facebook) and a loving family, this isn’t possible for everybody. Unless we go back to tribal living like our ancient ancestors, a more realistic solution is ideal. For me, meditation has allowed me to lose my sense of self and creates a feeling of oneness with my surroundings.  By making me feel connected to everyone and everything, meditation cancels the detrimental mental, emotional, and physical effects of my solitude. While friends come and go, meditation is there for me.

The strangest thing is that more and more people in our society and in all countries around the world are choosing to adopt a strange, never-before-witnessed lifestyle, on a very large scale … that of the lone creature. Who is this masked man?

  • In the 1950’s, 22% of American adults were single, and 4 million lived alone. In 2017, there were an estimated 35.25 million single-person households in the U.S. The number of single-person households has increased gradually since 1960. There were more than 82 million family households in 2017. In 2017, 45.2% of adults in the USA were single. Senior citizens accounted for 18% of all single folks,
  • In Stockholm (2017,) 60% of all households had just 1 occupant.
  • In the US (2017), solo dwellers constituted 31% of all households.
  • Most solo dwellers in the US are primarily women (about 19 million), compared to the 16 million solo men.  Most are middle-aged (35 – 64 years).
  • In the 1950’s 500,000 young adults (18-34 years) lived alone.  In 2017 5,000,000 lived alone. Some 55% of 18-24-year-olds live in their parents’ home and 16% of those 25-34 live with their parents.
  • The 4 countries with the highest rate of people living alone are Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark.  40-45% of all households in these countries have just 1 person.
  • In 1996 an estimated 153 million people lived alone throughout the world.  In 2017, of the world’s two billion households, approximately 15 percent – or 300 million – are one-person households. What an astonishing social and cultural shift!  Whereas once solitary confinement was given to criminals as a punishment, now more and more people are actually finding it desirable. A question we need to ask now is why?  What on earth for?

Call it self-centeredness, or cloud-watching, but these days we have become interested in ourselves more than others. Our lives revolve around “my career”, “my happiness”, “my image”, “my Facebook status”, “my success”.  Our lives revolve around ourselves.  We no longer care about selfless living to serve God, country or people.

Is this a necessarily bad phenomenon?  Admittedly, it does does have the potential to create many problems both within and without ourselves if we don’t take time to sincerely invest some in a spiritual life and the happiness of others. But there is a positive side to this social shift from group to individual– it gives us space to breathe, to look into ourselves, to do that which makes us happy and whole. We can discover more about ourselves – our strengths, weaknesses, desires, motivations, behavioral patterns – with little to no distractions.  Essentially, living alone gives us more time to focus on ourselves, assisting us in developing our abilities that can ultimately better our lives, and the lives of others.  My exploration of things spiritual began when I began living alone, which would not have occurred otherwise.

Living alone gives you the ultimate freedom to wind down and relax, helping you to recover from your busy and intense work days or volunteer activities as the case may be. Living alone gives us the time and freedom to explore and work on our passions.  Most of the greatest writers, artists and musicians connected with their creative selves in solitude as it provides the best environment to think, to dream and to create. On the other hand, living in a house occupied with multiple people makes it very difficult to completely relax in peace and silence.

You can do what you want, when you want, where you want when you go solo.  You don’t have the drain and pressure of having constant, tedious duties to fulfill, and you never have to walk on eggshells around other people.  This can be both a good and bad thing: while living with others can actually teach you beneficial life-skills, giving you first-hand experience in “how to get along” with other people and how to compromise peacefully, it can also repress and hinder you from living a harmonious and enjoyable life.

We live in a highly connected society that demands us to be present and engaged in the exterior world of gossip and news almost 24/7. There is a relationship between the demand for constant connection, whether online or on the job, or in your world, and the enormous increase in the amount of time we spend on our own. Living alone gives me the gift of time, time that allows me to focus on what means the most to me, rather than superficially dividing and throwing around my attention here and there.

Solo dwelling creates a harmonious balance in my life that allows me to enjoy and value the presence of other people more.  It’s human nature to take our friends, family and loved ones for granted.  Living alone, devoid of the presence of others, helps me to appreciate these people more when they arearound.

When living alone, we have no one to cook for us, clean for us, wash our smelly undies or grubby socks.  It’s completely up to us to take care of ourselves – because if we don’t, no one else is going to.  When we realize that we canbe self-sufficient, and we cantake care of ourselves, we develop a lot more respect for ourselves.  This in turn enhances our sense of self-worth and self-esteem.  I cleaned my first toilet at age 62 and felt good about it.

Single life continues to be beset by notions that singles are less secure and more self-centered than married people. The belief is they tend to die sooner, alone and sad. Yet observations of people who live alone typically find that most are doing just fine; they don’t feel isolated, nor are they sad and lonely. Reports of the early death of single people have also been greatly exaggerated , as have ideas that marriage transforms miserable, sickly single people into happy and healthy spouses.

In some significant ways, it’s the single people who are doing particularly well.

Imperfection

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There is comfort when we deal in absolutes and certainties. We seekers often think we must be certain about things. But our reality suggests that we are not certain at all and this becomes the beginning of the loss of faith!  It has happened to me.   To assist us the Church feels its job is to make absolute truth claims and feels very fragile when it cannot. So, faith and our religious organizations are crumbling beneath this impossible and false goal, it seems to me. What if the church is imperfect—there is nothing wrong with “not knowing” as Richard Rohr says—there is beauty and faith in imperfection.

I understand the need for clarity, some basic order, and identity but absolutes don’t work in God’s creation as I see it. The Church then needs to abandon this need to be perfect—but from the inside by using internal resources (leaders and parishioners) to self-correct. A beginner’s mind filled with humble, patient, wordless unknowing, combined with sincere curiosity, is how I have learned to restart my life. Only then was I truly teachable. Otherwise, we only hear whatever confirms our present understanding.  I have had to become teachable in my own life to begin my quest to be the much better version of myself. A human being that I can love.  From the bottom of a deep hole, I had to stop digging, become a beginner in life, and learn how to live at the age of 62.  The Church is not too old to adopt a beginner’s mind. In fact, many spiritual thinkers are giving new meaning to the Christ and I am hopeful that unlocking the door will allow this message to enter.

Without much humility, religion has cried “wolf” too many times in history and later been proven wrong.  These mistakes could have been avoided if the requirement for perfection had been abandoned. Twisting one line of Scripture to prove a point was an unjust usage of the word. The biblical text was not allowed to change us as much as many Christians would have preferred but was used to exclude and judge other people. A new way of thinking is required. I want to be part of the whole.

I choose to believe what Richard Rohr says: “God’s presence was poured into a single human being, so that humanity and divinity could be seen, then and now, to be operating as one in him—and therefore in us! But instead of saying that God came into the world through Jesus, maybe it would be better to say that Jesus came out of an already Christ-soaked world. The second Incarnation flowed out of the first, out of God’s loving union with physical creation.”  He loves me and He loves you and He loves all of creation.”

When I realized that God loved me and I was like everyone else in the Spirit, I was united with everyone and everything, even a blade of grass and it was okay not to know, I began to see myself and the world differently. I was loved and I could love even with all the imperfections that abound. I see that it truly is as St. Francis said about loving: “It is better to love than to be loved.”

I want to be loved but loving someone else and that blade of grass is much better. And all love is unconditional. At one point in my life I detested the phrase “I don’t know.”  But not knowing is preferable and my burgeoning faith keeps me in love with God and Christine and the blade of grass.

Four Freedoms

 

I had the opportunity to take an adventure with some of my friends to the Taubman Museum of Art in downtown Roanoke, Virginia.  The museum is featuring the work of Norman Rockwell and we were fortunate to have a talk at our place by Della Watkins, the executive director of the Taubman, on Rockwell and his paintings. Rockwell’s Four Freedoms—Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear –are the paintings at the top of the page. The paintings were reproduced in The Saturday Evening Post over four consecutive weeks in 1943, alongside essays by prominent thinkers of the day. They were first published on February 20, February 27, March 6, and March 13, 1943 along with commissioned essays from leading American writers and historians including Booth Tarkington, Will Durant, Carlos Buloson, and Stephen Vincent Benet. The Four Freedoms paintings were the highlight of a touring exhibition sponsored by The Post and the Treasury Department. The exhibition and accompanying sales drives for war bonds raised approximately $132 million

The paintings had their genesis from The Four Freedoms Speech which was delivered on January 6, 1941 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, president of the United States, to a joint session of Congress. Roosevelt’s hope was to provide a rationale for why the United States should abandon the isolationist policies that emerged from WWI. In the address, Roosevelt critiqued isolationism, saying: “No realistic American can expect from a dictator’s peace international generosity, or return of true independence, or world disarmament, or freedom of expression, or freedom of religion–or even good business. Such a peace would bring no security for us or for our neighbors. “Those, who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The speech delivered by President Roosevelt incorporated the following text, known as the “Four Freedoms”:

The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

FDR lists the benefits of democracy, which include economic opportunity, employment, social security, and the promise of “adequate health care”. The first two freedoms, of speech and religion are protected by the First Amendment.  His inclusion of the latter two freedoms went beyond the traditional Constitutional values protected by the Bill of Rights. Roosevelt endorsed a broader human right to economic security (a job). He also included the freedom from fear against national aggression.

What has happened to our need to be free?  After the war, there was a lengthy period where all Americans prospered.  There really was a middle class that was the backbone of our American economy.  In 1975, the seeds of major change were sown with the founding of Microsoft by Bill Gates and Paul Allen.   A major revolution was underway led by rapid-fire technological change. Administrative jobs were replaced by computers as were mid-level bean counters.  Lives began to be turned upside down.

During the ten years of 1994-2004, four companies emerged that would change the landscape for everyone.  Amazon, Netflix, Google and Facebook changed buying patterns, the delivery of entertainment, the source of all information and human interaction.  Today our friends share articles and website offerings to let us know how they are doing.  Politicians and CEOs picked up the globalization theme and sold everyone on the idea that we didn’t need to make things, but we would control technology and therefore information.  So manufacturing went to China and Asia along with the jobs.  We were losing factory jobs and middle management jobs now  With the Patriot Act, we have given up on freedom and liberty as well as the American people..

Today we stand in America wondering where the spending will come from to support the economy. People tend to trim their opinions to match those of the group.  Only a fraction of the educated population of North America is prepared to think for themselves, even where matters of grave importance are involved.  The wiring of most people’s brains keeps them from thinking independently.  The brain is hard-wired to conform.

Conformity goes a long way to explaining the oblivion of Americans to the dire prospects of the US economy.  Our leaders use this tendency to conform to manipulate the perception of the economy in ways that jeopardize your future. Listen to this solution for the deficit.  They fiddled with inflation adjustments on Social Security and federal pensions.  Outlays for SS are about half of what they would have been had the adjustments not been made. They will lie to you.

Most Americans have little chance of enjoying a better life if they must pay for everything from their own resources. Living standards in the US are heading lower. Our government has overspent the available resources, will increasingly rely on predatory taxation, and will do all that is necessary to preserve the state at the expense of the people.

I miss the days of Norman Rockwell and FDR.

Presently, your government is making it very difficult to maintain financial assets abroad.  Many foreign banks will no longer take deposits from American citizens because of regulatory concerns.  Will you need special approval to travel abroad in the near future?

Full time work is an endangered species. Look for McDonalds to begin serving our food in kiosks with robotic servers.  Good jobs have disappeared and lower paying jobs will soon be giving way to technology.  Mercedes has driverless trucks on the autobahn.  But you can’t eat gigabytes.