I suffer from SDD - how about you?
A day or two after Christmas I arrived home drained and exhausted. You know how it goes: food, family and festivities. Our small family didn't exactly have a great big festive splash, but my Christmas day was preceded by a week of deadlines and duties 'to keep the pot cooking' as they say, and prior to that I was toiling in the garden and fixing up all the broken bits and bobs of the new house I moved into at the beginning of December.
I arrived back home on the 26th or the 27th and informed my neighbours that they won't be seeing me for the night, as I needed some time alone. We usually eat together - it's one of those 'my house is your house and your house is my house' kind of arrangements.
'Did you forget?', asked Joel or Tawa.
'Forget what?' I asked.
'We invited some people over for the night. They'll be sleeping in your house.'
Yip, I forgot. A 'few people' turned out to be just shy of 20 people. So much for some me-time. Some of them were still awake as I decided to call it a night at 4 am the next morning, after a great night of food, laughter and games.
The next few days this cycle repeated itself several times over: wake up, clean the house, do some work, entertain people, bury my head in my pillow and with it the hope to spend some time on my own. Wake up. Repeat.
People came over to fish and swim. People came over to braai and make music. People came over to kiss the old year goodbye and greet the new one with inebriated expectations.
Don't get me wrong. I love people. I don't fit neatly into the categories of either introvert or extrovert. I am both a people's person and well as an introvert, and somehow I find myself coming alive both through being hospitable and by being solitary. I guess that is why I have long been drawn to the monastic life for, for at its best this life emphasis both solitude and solidarity, to be 'alone' and 'together' at the same time. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in his book Life Together:
'Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.'
Came the first day of 2013, and I was spent. Having gone to bed at about 2am that same morning, I could no longer care to be hospitable to the people who slept over in my house or camped out on the front lawn. Dreary eyed and with the emotional capacity for kindness bordering that of a Nazi SS guard, I grabbed a book and walked down to the dam at the end of my outstretched lawn. It is here that I realised that I suffer from SDD: Solitude Deficit Disorder.
The last few days my soul has been in recovery as it urged me to rediscover myself for who I truly am, uninfluenced by the presence and opinions of others. Maybe you can relate with this disease, and as such I offer the following words for your consideration and meditation. May they heal you as they have been healing me.
‘Solitude is one of the deepest disciplines of the spiritual life because it crucifies our need for importance and prominence. Everyone – including ourselves at first – will see our solitude as a waste of good time. We are removed from “Where the action is.” That, of course, is exactly what we need. In silence and solitude God slowly but surely frees us from our egomania.’
‘As far as the search for silence and solitude is concerned, we live in a negative atmosphere, as invisible, as all pervasive and as enervating as high humidity in an August afternoon. The world does not understand today, in either man or woman, the need to be alone. How inexplicable it seems! Anything else will be accepted as a better excuse. If one sets aside time for a business appointment, a trip to the hairdresser, a social engagement, or a shopping expedition, that time will be accepted as inviolable. But if one says, “I cannot come because it is my hour to be alone”, one is considered rude, egotistical, or strange. What a commentary on our civilization, when being alone is considered suspect; when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices solitude – like a secret vice.’
-Anne Morrow Lindbergh
‘One thing has suddenly hit me – that nothing counts except love and that a solitude that is not simply the wide-openness of love and freedom is nothing. Love and solitude are the one ground of true maturity and freedom. Solitude that is just solitude and nothing else (i.e., excludes everything else but solitude) is worthless. True solitude embraces everything, for it is the fullness of love that rejects nothing and no one, that is open to All in All.’
- Thomas Merton
'The “active life” can in fact be that which is most passive: one is simply driven, carried, battered around, moved. The most desperate illusion and the most common one is just to fling oneself into the mass that is in movement and be carried along with it: to be part of the steam of traffic going nowhere but with a great sense of phony purpose. It is against this that I revolt … '
- Thomas Merton
'Society depends for its existence on the inviolable personal solitude of its members. Society, to merit its name, must be made up not of numbers, or mechanical units, but of persons. To be a person implies responsibility and freedom, and both these imply a certain interior solitude, a sense of personal integrity, a sense of one’s own reality and of one’s ability to give himself to society – or to refuse that gift.’
- Thomas Merton
‘To love solitude and to seek it does not mean constantly traveling from one geographical possibility to another. A man becomes a solitary at the moment when, no matter what may be his external surroundings, he is suddenly aware of his own inalienable solitude and sees that he will never be anything but solitary. From that moment, solitude is not potential – it is actual … As soon as a man is fully disposed to be alone with God, he is alone with God no matter where he may be – in the country, the monastery, the woods or the city.’
- Thomas Merton
‘The discipline of solitude allows us gradually to come in touch with this hopeful presence of God in our lives, and allows us also to taste even now the beginnings of the joy and peace which belong to the new heaven and the new earth.’
‘God works in us while we rest in him. Beyond all grasping is this work of the Creator, itself creative, this rest. For such works exceeds all rest, in its tranquility. This rest, in its effect, shines forth as more productive than any work.'
-Peter of Celles
There is so much more to be said, but let me not clutter your solitude with too many words.