Finding the Self in Solitude
Who are you when you're alone?
When there's no one to perform for or no one's expectations at play, who are you? For some of us, the thought of being alone sounds like an awful feat. We may feel like we desperately need others around us in order to hang on. Others have found comfort in the company of themselves. Heck, some alone time might sound real nice right about now! Even so, many people have never taken time to really sit and observe themselves in their barest form.
Then again, due to fairly recent global events, several people may have already had the opportunity to experience a glimpse of themselves under these conditions. The pandemic of 2020 brought with it, among other things, isolation. Hundreds were forced inside and away from the familiarity of routine, which was overwhelming for some, liberating for others, yet informative for all.
Mindful solitude helps us discover who we are without any pretense influencing us. And, while we may not necessarily like what we find there, by embracing ourselves as we are, we're able to build up and grow from a place of authenticity versus artifice.
What are you drawn to do when nobody else is around?
Now, you might have to sit with yourself for a long while before a real answer shows up. Initially, the impulse might be to reach out to someone or get lost scrolling on your phone. But, literally putting those things aside, and pushing past them, perhaps there we start to discover what's at the core of us.
Even so, are we just the sum of what we do, or is there more? Are we, perhaps, a tapestry of passions, dreams, fears, hopes, and the stories that shape us? What do we think about? What do we long for? Where do these feelings and thoughts come from? What's influenced them? Are they ours, truly?
Us According to Them
See, sometimes we find that we've been playing roles in other people's lives and defining who we are by who we are in proximity to them -- I'm such-and-so's mother, wife, daughter, husband, father, son, nephew...etc. We're trying to be what's expected of us, whether it be from peers, family, or society's standards. In order to do this, we may dawn masks and take up personas, even if we don't necessarily realize it.
Part of the reason this happens is that, somewhere along the line, we receive messages that tell us that, as we are, we are not good enough. We are incomplete, we are flawed, we need to be better. In order to be accepted, loved, and "happy," we must fit into certain standards of being. Again, these standards are largely shaped by social constructs.
For me, one of the pivotal moments that helped me understand that I had lost myself came back in my first college year, back in 2008. Beneath the surface, I was suffering. There had been so many cataclysmic changes happening in my life around me and great loss. While I had done my best to make the best of things, all I knew was that it was getting harder to function by the day.
That evening, however, had been nice. I'd just finished a lovely tryst with a handsome philosophy major. My face was puffed up and scarred from an accident, but he was tracing around the scab on my forehead with a delicate finger.
“It’s a shame,” he told me, “You’re like a hermit crab who’s collected all these bits of people around you that you’ve liked and stuck them to your shell. You’ve become a menagerie of so many bits of them that you’ve lost sight of what your shell looks like. Somewhere along the line, somebody made you feel like you weren’t good enough, and that’s so sad.” (Song of Myself, by Adelina Adler)
His words sent me down a rabbit hole of self-reflection. I was able to see the moments that had torn me down and made me feel like I was insufficient. I was also able to recognize the moments when I'd found pieces of other people that I'd like and how I'd adopted them into myself. As I put it, "I had built a character out of the things I wished I could be by pantomiming the behaviors and styles of those who held them, rather than finding the elements of those characteristics in myself and cultivating them."
Music As A Metaphor: Finding the Song of Yourself
In 2020, I wrote an article on Medium.com called Song of Myself: Finding Authenticity. In it, I talk about my personal journey with mindful solitude and introspection, and I offer an analogy that I think is pretty useful for understanding the process.
"I want you to pretend that we are all musicians walking around with our instruments. Say, for instance, mine was a guitar. Along my path, I’d meet a saxophone player wailing out a sweet tune, a real toe-tapper. So, I’d sling a sax on my back and try to play that tune. I did this with many instruments until I couldn’t even find my guitar beneath my one-woman band assembly! Thus, the first step was to identify the instrument bits that weren’t mine and remove them."
This part deals with studying your behaviors, thoughts, and perceptions and investigating their sources. Where did they come from? Who or what influenced them? Are they valid? Why did you choose to adapt them? Even if they align with what you'd like to be, is the expression of it genuine to you?
Referring to the latter, I go on to explain that, "at first I would change my tuning to match and play the songs of others. This was still incomplete, as it is inauthentic to the self. What I needed to do, you see, was to fine tune my own instrument to play the songs of me and harmonize with the songs of those around me. Not play the same notes, not play the same instruments, but learn my own, find the song of my soul, and become apart of the symphony of life."
The tuning came from examining my guitar, my self, and becoming intimately familiar with them. The wounds of the past, the shadow work, the nitty-gritty. I talk about reading my old journals and revisiting my younger selves until I cultivated compassion and a tender affection for the Me's throughout time who were just doing their best with what they had. Beneath it all, I found that, among other things, I had integrity, I was a loyal friend, a fierce defender of the set-upon, an adorably awkward dork with a weird laugh.
"Next, I thought about what I’d loved so much about the other peoples' songs I’d tried to take. Were they playing a tune called 'Confidence?' What, then, would confidence sound like to me if I were to play it with my strings? I searched for the things I did that filled me with confidence and cultivated them."
To be perfectly honest, during this process there were times I had to sit in front of a mirror and force myself to pick out things I liked about myself. I had to dig through those journals and my memories and objectively take a look at my actions through a self-valuing lens. My therapist calls this "preparing your case to yourself." You can point to evidence of things in the past that demonstrate certain actions to argue against self-negging perceptions of inadequacy that may be lingering. Especially with my depression at play, sometimes it felt like I was lying to myself at first. Eventually, thankfully, the magic of my words settled in.
"It wasn’t until I was [really] able to see myself that I could nurture myself to the point of self love and acceptance. It wasn’t until I faced the emotions and experiences that shaped me objectively and took time to understand myself with patience and an open heart that I was able to fall in love with who I was."
We may be afraid of disturbing the things that have sat within us for years. Interrupting the status quo to rile things up for the sake of self-healing might seem like a task best handled another day. And, yeah, doing the work to meet with ourselves and embrace ourselves fully can be a lot. The journey can open up old wounds and force us to look at things we'd rather not revisit. There'll probably be a need for therapy and a lot of crying and reworking of paradigms attached to it.
Even so, ultimately, I promise you it's worth it. To be able to know and love yourself fully, to take care of yourself with earnest affection and compassion, to be able to stand on the strongest of foundations because you know you are enough...to be free. Oh, my dear friends, there's nothing else like it.
I hope that you, too, become truebadors and find your instruments and songs. I look forward to hearing them.
Tools for Spiritual Support
The Dreams of Gaia Tarot, despite its namesake, is more of an oracle deck designed in the style of a tarot deck, whereas it borrows from the structure and elemental themes present in the traditional decks, but otherwise the similarities end there.
The deck includes 81 cards, which is larger than the traditional 78-card tarot deck. The suits are divided into the four elements (Earth, Air, Fire, and Water), and include five "extra" cards (Harmony, Integrity, Creativity, Manifest, and Union), as well as a card titled "The Dreamer," which represents the querent.
The Dreams of Gaia Tarot deck is a relatively new tarot deck, created by artist and author Ravynne Phelan and features unique, vibrant artwork, which is a blend of fantasy, surrealism, and symbolism. The images are rich in color and detail, and each card is meant to convey a specific message or emotion when viewed.
The deck was specifically designed to serve as a tool for helping readers gain introspection on areas of their lives that need tending to, specifically catering to healing and growth. As the back of the guide book states, Dreams of Gaia will help the querent on their journey "To Seek...To Feel...To Grow...To Heal."