When we first contemplated the idea of moving up a mile-long driveway, deep in the woods, without a neighbor in sight, waves of loneliness and fears of isolation lapped onto the shores of my mind with unrelenting regularity.
I have swum in the cold, dark ocean of loneliness and isolation before. For 20 years, I worked from home (headquarters were a whopping 1,500 miles away.) I sat chained to a desk and a phone, and the loneliness crept in. Working from home was considered to be a luxury in the early 90’s, the quintessential component to maintaining work/life balance.
In 1994, when my sweet two-year-old needed life-saving open-heart surgery, I opted in. Being home with my children certainly outweighed the idea of office chit chat around the water cooler.
I was wooed by a CEO, who flew me on a private jet to visit the mother ship. When I arrived home after accepting the position, I was met with a bottle of champagne and a fruit basket. I thought I had hit the jackpot!
As I would soon find out, working from home is a jail sentence. I was pinned by management from miles away. I feared straying from my desk, missing a phone call or an email. Taking a break to soothe a crying child or go for a run felt like a jailbreak, a betrayal of my oath to corporate loyalty, from the shackles of my own living room. So insidious loneliness set in, slowly tightening the grip, day by day, year after year.
I sought professional advice to assuage my stress and quiet my mind. A wise therapist taught me a technique to overcome the stinkin-thinkin of being alone day after day. She had taught me meditation and led me through a guided journey of my living room. I closed my eyes and visualized my surroundings. Think carefully about the chair I was sitting on, she said. Think about the pillow behind my back, the photographs in handmade frames arranged neatly on the side table, the oriental carpet at my feet. The books on my desk.
She had me picture, in my mind, the faces of the people who made all of those things. Look into their eyes, feel their joy, see their smiles. I thought of my mother needle pointing the pillow, the factory workers that stitched the upholstery and assembled the couch. The 7-year old gluing the shells on the frame with the picture of the children playing in the sand. I thought of me, the photographer, and my joy when I took that picture.
Today at the castle, following the CDC issued stay at home orders to shelter in place, I use the lessons I have learned to transform loneliness and isolation into a celebration of creativity. I picture the faces of the masons who built this place, stone dust caked in sweaty folds. I picture Charlotte Bronson Martin pouring over plans with her architect, so pleased with the progress. I imagine the faces of the gardeners, smiling as they prune, plow and ponder.
And as I look around, I see so many faces looking back at me, reminding me that we are never really alone.
Who would have guessed that such an isolating pandemic could bring such unity? As I reflect upon my time spent in solitude, both professionally and personally, I have found that the thing I used to run from is now something I wholeheartedly embrace. I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. But now, I love to be alone. After all, we enter this planet and leave this planet alone. I live in the principle of solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.
”Without great solitude no serious work is possible.”
“You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.”
Here’s my food for thought: How have you embraced isolation? What have you learned about yourself through being alone?