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True Wisdom: Knowing Yourself - Chef's Choice Two "I've been a widow for two years and while I missed my husband I was grateful he was in a place of joy and not pain," wrote Kimberly of Montgomery, Texas, in response to my last question of the month: Do you think people have to become semi-reculsive for a period of time to break the popular culturl-value system and build one of their own?

"In a meditation I felt he was A-OK," Kimberly explained. "And from that day on I began to rejoin my life as a single. I own a horse farm, work with individuals of diverse disabilities and abilities and see many people most days," she described where she is now. "I need four to five hours a day of alone time just to be, to contemplate, to walk or to meditate," she said.

"This refreshes me and makes me more aware of all for which I am grateful. It allows me to clearly see what people are doing and saying and to listen to my life 100 percent of the time instead of just doing a job.

"I met a fellow," she then revealed. "It was a great spiritual connectedness, and it was fun and a learning time for me. We live across the country from each other and are now great friends as neither of us wants to go further than intimate friendship. I felt as if he had awaked a part of me that had been dormant for a long time, and I am happy for that.

"I miss the companionship," Kimberly acknowledged of her solo journey as a widow. "But I like being by myself too. I like being alone, I think it's healthy, but there is still an inner yearning for that someone when something special happens. Or when I need a shoulder to lean on.

"It is such a physical feeling," she characterized her occasional yearning for "someone who knows the depth of feeling you have and who really knows what is happening in your heart and soul. But people need to be alone to discover their own compassion, love and a deeper understanding of self.

You need to be alone to grow those virtues into a purposeful life," Kimberly concluded. "Being alone helps you focus until you're ready to share with that partner who is nice to have along if he is in a supportive spiritual place and can help you laugh at yourself in those times that you fail."

A Prayer During Solitude

"Not necessarily," replied Lucy of Portland, Oregon, in response to our question on the need for temporary aloneness. "However," added the 51-year-old writer-librarian, "if it's possible to be away from the usual hustle 'n bustle of your life, for even a day, this is a good way to begin a change in whatever direction your life has taken that causes you to long for aloneness. The focus of that time, though, has to be the change in direction -- nothing else.

"No shopping, no social visiting, no naps," she stressed. "You must be clear with yourself that this time -- be it a few minutes a day or longer -- is to settle your soul. If time away from your usual day-to-day responsibilities is impossible, then make changes in your day. Turn off the television. Do not listen to talk on the radio -- only to music if it's conducive to your relaxation. And no cell phones! If the 20 to 30 minutes you can give yourself is only possible in a car on the freeway, so be it.

"During this necessary quiet-time, engage in some form of conscious relaxation technique. (Don't relax too much, though, if you're driving!) Create a prayer or mantra or form of meditation that's familiar and comforting to you. Repeat it constantly during your drive, particularly each time you find yourself reaching for the dial to listen to the traffic report or you find your mind wandering toward concerns of the day.

"Surrender to this time," Lucy pleaded.

"Surrender to the place you find yourself inhabiting. Surrender to the opportunity you've been given to quiet your mind and refresh your soul. If thoughts of your work or family or concerns or a simply marvelous creative idea occurs during this special time you've set aside for yourself--let it go. If this is a concern or a creative idea that is viable, it will return to you at a more appropriate moment.

"Now if this sort of 'letting go' is difficult for you, imagine that you're a stone resting on the bed of a river and that your extraneous thoughts and ideas are caught up in the flow of the water. Watch them drift by. Don't hold on to them. Trust that you'll find those intrusive thoughts and ideas again in a pond at the base of the river when you're ready to deal with them.

"They will be there," she assured, "even though many of them will no longer seem important enough to fish out when the time comes. Instead, ask for whatever you need during this necessary time for yourself. And believe that you'll be able to offer all that is possible for you to give when you're once again moving among the others in your life."

Fitting In: The Price Is High

"From birth we're trained in the art of fitting within the dictates of society, which eventually comes at a high price," remarked Sandra of Vancouver, Washington, in response to the question on the need for necessary aloneness. "The price of clinging to another person or to social activities in an effort to feel wanted, valued and loved is a false sense of self.

"Feeling that we're flawed because we're alone is a lie," asserted the 47-year-old retired elected official and businesswoman, who now lists her occupation as a 'Spiritual Devotee'. "We don't need another person to be perfect and complete," adds the married mother of two grown children, ages 26 and 28, and grandmother of a two-year-old boy.

"What if...?" Sandra asked rhetorically. "What would life be like if we spent time alone to love and value ourselves? What would life be like if we taught our children to do the same? It's a universal truth that one cannot give what one does not have. Yet we are taught that giving to others is the proper thing to do. And taking time for ourselves is a selfish thing to do. But if we don't take time to care for ourselves, we have nothing of lasting value to give.

"From this moment on, pretend," she suggested. "Pretend that you're not flawed but perfect as you are. What would you do? Would you value spending time alone? How would you be with yourself, with your family and friends?

"I'm a firm believer in taking time to be alone, with my self," Sandra concluded. "How much time and how one uses that time is an individual choice. For some it may only be 30 minutes a day. For others it may mean living alone. What's important is to take time -- however much of it you need -- to be alone and to celebrate you. Keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings and beliefs -- and notice how life within you and around you becomes rich."

"It is beautiful to do nothing..."

"Even though I'm married -- and quite happily I might add," revealed Bonnie of Las Vegas, Nevada, "I'm still a very reclusive person. I love to be alone to do whatever I feel like doing. I read quite a bit. I'm always listening to my music. I see my family occasionally. I go to a movie now and then. And that seems to be enough for me. I do miss being around nature and the beach, and maybe someday I'll return to it, but for now the most important thing for me is to be by myself."

Commenting on the frenetic pace of modern life, she added, "So many people seem to question their self-worth these days, particularly young adults, who are constantly rushing around, never taking the time to realize what is truly important. Everyone is just doing, doing, doing -- never taking the time to examine and appreciate what is valuable and what is wasted in their lives. No one seems to know how to simply be.

"Please don't wait until you're old to realize this," she exhorted. "Do it now and enjoy your life to the fullest by being in the moment."

About herself, Bonnie said, "I'm a 60-year old married woman and a retired '21' dealer who is extremely happy to be away from the casinos that I worked in for nearly 20 years. I am now an avid reader and I love music. I enjoy being in my home most of the time, as I am somewhat of a hermit, though I do see my family and grandkids, and I enjoy them immensely. My husband came out of retirement to go back to work. I, on the other hand, love being retired. I heartily subscribe to an old Spanish proverb that describes my cats and I beautifully in our moments of solitude together: 'It is beautiful to do nothing and to rest afterwards.'"

Her reasons for seeking so much deliberate aloneness, Bonnie ended, are best expressed by these favorite lines from the Tao Ching, interpreted by Stephen Mitchell, whose translation she favors most:

Knowing others is intelligence;
Knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.
If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever.

Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
embracing his aloneness, realizing
he is one with the whole universe.

Not-knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming is a disease.
First realize that you are sick;
then you can move toward health.

The Master is her own physician.
she has healed herself of all knowing.
Thus she is truly whole.Now for Some Action

"Not all of us are interested in changing our (marital) status," noted Nancy Rinderle of Portland, Oregon, in a letter to the editor of Willamette Week in reference to an article she'd read in a past issue of the city's alternative weekly newspaper. Her words caught my eye and are well worth repeating. "Cynthia Heimel's book excerpt (quoted in the article) came the closest to reflecting this view when she pointed out that there is no need to be ashamed of being single," wrote Ms. Rinderle.

"Wear your loneliness with pride! This attitude, however, despite its empowering effect, reflects the misconception that all singles are lonely. Where is the mention of the singles who have decided that there are missions in their lives better deserving of their energy and dedication, at least for the time being, than a truly dedicated and loving relationship?

"There must be more than a handful of the unattached who have gracefully accepted the occasional physical and emotional ache in exchange for the faith that the relationship that is best for them will arise of its own accord if they live their lives in the most genuine way they can," she continued. "Anything less is out of the question.

"The best possible partnership is one that better enables each person to fulfill life's calling. Sometimes that mission can be better achieved alone. A relationship is not necessarily preferable, just different, with its own unique set of advantages and disadvantages.

"That said, there's nothing wrong with a little action!"

Question of the Month

Which brings us to our next question for you. "No human being ever, in the end, outran regret," wrote novelist Thomas H. Cook. Regrets will always be with us. We can only reconcile and forgive them, each in our own way, each alone. Regrets are most poignant for the old, who have used up most of the chances they'll ever get and are left to confront their failed choices.

Have you reconciled and forgiven your regrets? How? And why was it important for you to do so?

Share your insights and wisdom with your spiritual sisters and brothers, would you? Tell us so we can tell others who are seeking their own hard-earned answers.

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Lionel Fisher is the author of Celebrating Time Alone: Stories of Splendid Solitude (Beyond Words Publishing, 2001). Reach him at beachauthor@hotmail.com to share your thoughts on magnificent aloneness.