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For Some a Solitary Journey Leads Back to the World � Chef�s Choice Thirteen The happiest people spend the least time alone,� asserted the USA TODAY cover story that ran the day I received an invitation to share my thoughts on soulful living for the website�s third anniversary issue.

�Not!� was my disheartened rejoinder to the startling quote.

The words caught my eye because they run directly counter to my own conviction that too many of us think we are nothing alone: bereft, miserable, lost, adrift in a world that goes around in twos or more and is wary of solitary travelers.

We�ve even coined a word for those who prefer to be by themselves: antisocial, as if they were enemies of society, for society decrees that seeking contentment alone is heretical because our completeness lies wholly, steadfastly in others.

And so we grow old believing we are nothing alone, resolutely shunning the opportunities for self-realization and personal growth that solitude can bring us.

Little wonder we persist in the belief that a solitary existence is the harshest penalty life can mete out. We loathe being alone -- anytime, anywhere, for too long, for whatever reason.

�Where is my wonderful someone to make me complete?� is our plaintive, perennial cry, as if we were half-empty alone.

And that is sad -- no, it�s tragic! Surely, it's not soulful living.

After a lifetime, then, of seeking my happiness and fulfillment, my answers, my very identity in others -- all of which, I came to realize, I had to find in myself -- soulful living began with the realization that there are gifts we can only give ourselves, lessons no one else can teach us, triumphs we must achieve alone, despite our desperate need for someone to help us.

Nine years, then, into my search for myself, I�m finally in a time and place where my happiness, self-esteem and self-fulfillment have little to do with what other people think of me and everything to do with what I think of myself.

After a lifetime of auditioning for others -- parents, teachers, employers, suitors, lovers, spouses, strangers, friends, only to realize I should have put myself at the head of the line -- earned my own love, respect and affection first. And everything else would have taken care of itself.

How sad I waited a lifetime to find my true worth in my own eyes instead of in the eyes of others.

How barren all the years; years spent trying to be what I thought others wanted me to be instead of being simply who I was, the hero I was meant to be.

How long it took me to look in the mirror and see the only eyes that matter, the only eyes that truly appreciate and understand me. In them, finally, I have found all the respect and approval, all the love and esteem I sought and desired.

Now everything I receive from others comes as a gift, not a need.

Recently, someone took the hand of this weary, lifelong co-dependent, who long ago came to believe that all the good things that would ever happen to him would be of his own making, that the only gifts he would receive were the ones he would give himself, and she said something that blew him away.

"You are not a need I am filling in myself," she told him, "because I know I have to fix myself, that no one else can do it for me.

"You," said this bright and shining individual, "are a wonderful gift I am giving myself."

And so soulful living, for me, has come down to this wonderful realization that the world still waits out there for me. But I had to reach it through myself.

Reprinted from January 2003 issue of Soulful Living.Com �Lionel Fisher, author of Celebrating Time Alone: Stories of Splendid Solitude (Beyond Words Publishing, 2001). Reach him at beachauthor@lycos.com to share your thoughts on magnificent aloneness.