Tag Archive for: flow

understanding solitude

The Seriousness of Solitude

I was brought to tears this morning by the most surprising of lines in a book:

I see more and more that solitude is not something to play with. It is deadly serious. And much as I have wanted it, I have not been serious enough. It is not enough to ‘like solitude,’ or love it even. Even if you ‘like’ it, it can wreck you, I believe, if you desire it for your own sake.” – Thomas Merton in A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His Journals

This is one truth I have endeavored to express in any myriad of ways, but Merton’s gravity does it more eloquently than I ever will. Solitude can wreck us and that is precisely why we should come to be with and know it, seriously.

What We Don’t Understand About Our Need for Solitude

Solitude is not simply taking time out for ourselves. Here is how we get solitude wrong: We think it simply has to do with being alone and not talking to anyone. To many, solitude means unplugging from email, social media, internet searches, television, texting, and phone calls. Others go further and believe that true solitude means turning the lights off, putting away all literature, leaving home, going outdoors, refraining from elaborate meals or fasting altogether.

When we think we are going towards solitude we are really looking to be left alone. This is what Merton means when he says, “desire it for your own sake”.

By looking at what we do when seeking solitude, we can easily see that the root of our need for solitude is one typically born of our need to escape, to get away from it all. Overwhelm is likely the most common excuse for a flight into solitude, but so is frustration. How many times do we say, “I just need to get away and clear my head?” But, how many times are we secretly hoping to regain control?

Solitude has a way of stripping us clean this is true, but we have no say in what is left over after it sweeps through. Solitude is not about being in control, precisely the opposite in fact. The process is anything but obedient.

What About Not Liking Solitude?

While living on an island by myself which I wrote about in my memoir Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks, I met the perils of solitude. I hadn’t gone to the island to be alone. I was not one of those people that Merton says “likes” solitude. Albeit, at times I had wished I could escape the shackles of societal pressure and expectations – why else would I be out in the wilderness? – but I preferred to be with both a crew of researchers and the sea.

In regards to alone time, I had nameless hours alone during my childhood as a latchkey kid. That was enough for me, thank you. I was afraid to be alone on that island because, like many others, I associated being in solitude with feelings of emptiness, abandonment, and depression.

So many of us are afraid of what we will find in ourselves when left to our own devises. What if we encounter that deep pit of sadness/hopelessness/pain/apathy? How will we ever come out? The question, “What is wrong with me?” often looms in the quiet of time alone along with “What am I doing with my life?” and “What’s the point?”

The Grace in Solitude

Yet no matter, there is great beauty and peace in this life of silence and emptiness. But to fool around brings awful desolation. When one is trifling, even the beauty of the solitary life becomes implacable. Solitude is a stern mother who brooks no nonsense.” – Thomas Merton

And, thank God she does brook no nonsense. What I found in living alone for such an extended period of time in such a harsh environment, was that solitude was stern. I was forced to stay in a solitude (my only way off the island was a private plane that came once per week), which took charge and ferried me past the anguish and tears.

I found an inner space so quiet and clear that I truly felt the sacred for the first time in my life. This was no fooling around. For those of us who currently reside in a fear of solitude, this is the gift of staying in solitude beyond the point of discomfort. Solitude surprises us with meaning and soul.

For those of us that wish, at present, to get away from it all, the craving is eventually destroyed by our own self-involvement. Our need to escape overwhelm and frustration follows us into the wilderness and we find that to know peace we must let go of ourselves. It is this surrender of control that can be messy, fitful and tumultuous.

If we stay in solitude long enough, we have the opportunity to glimpse the true grace of solitude that changes the life we no longer want to live. Solitude allows the sacred to infuse our being. Clarity becomes ours.

Understanding the Joys of Solitude

Sometimes life comes through and brings us into solitude without our planning or choosing so. This can be the unexpected job loss or the debilitating illness. One of my teachers called this “cocoon time” and it is known by mystics as a sacred gift along the road of transformation. If we can take these unplanned way stations without resistance or resentment, the benefits of going with the flow of divine timing are numerous.

What we usually forget about solitude is that the decision to retreat into solitude can beget from gratitude, joy and love. Simply taking the time to give thanks and reflect on this beautiful life we have is reason enough to seek solitude.

The magic of an honest experience of solitude is that what we once thought was important falls away. We are given the chance to touch something greater both inside and outside of ourselves. Pain and anguish melt away. We become centered and generous and good once again.

Not all of the time we spend alone is time spent in solitude. The grace of an experience of solitude is too strong to maintain for prolonged lengths of time. So we simply set the stage however we know how and wait for solitude to come to us.



About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch

Stacey Couch shamanic practitionerStacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a Spiritual Director and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the matters of the soul easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More About Spiritual Direction.

goddess pele

The Goddess Pele

In late July, I found myself arriving late at night onto “The Big Island” of Hawaii. I planned to go on this trip, but had left the details to my husband. We made a trade. I scheduled the logistics of our earlier trip in the summer to southern Colorado with our horse and he booked our flights to Kauai and The Big Island. It was great to finally let go and be along for the ride. I was pretty exhausted and immensely happy for the plush lodging and full-on spread of food our friend had arranged. Admittedly, I was confused and a bit worn out by the enthusiasm of our friend as he pulled out a bag full of freshly picked plumeria flowers, a “lea needle” and thread. He was excited to show us how to make our own leas. I held my eyes open through the demonstration then allowed myself to be towed along out to his car.

Where in the world could we be going at 12:30pm at night with three leas in hand? It was cold outside and that cozy bed sounded so nice. Our friend was bubbling with excitement and rightfully so, I had no idea what was in store.

In 5 minutes I was there, standing on the edge of a gigantic volcanic crater. The moonlight lit the entire crater and nearly blotted out all stars. Out before us rose and traveled out to sea an enormous plume of smoke, the breath of lava. At the mouth of the crater the smoke glowed bright red reflecting the lake of molten earth below. Molten earth. I had no idea I was going to see the Goddess Pele creating new land. I hadn’t even realized what this meant before this moment. At this moment, I remembered having this desire all my life. The fulfillment of this desire ran fresh through my veins. I was stunned by the experience and felt intense gratitude as our friend sang a chant to Pele and directed us to cast our leas as our gift.

This is what it looks like to travel, to live, without agenda. I wonder if this is what it’s like for Pele to create new land, to all of a sudden find that she has stepped foot into an experience that fulfills a deep yearning. What if every experience of our lives could be this spontaneous and this preordained? I encourage you to consider releasing the agenda and showing up on new ground. I surely wasn’t disappointed.

Degrees of Frozen

It seems just such a short time ago I was carrying on about noonday sun and flower petals. Enough time has passed somehow that all the vegetables have been put up and all the tinctures are brewed and bottled. The snow has come early and blessed the Earth with its quiet breath. So why has my life been caught up in the whirlwind when the air outside is so still and crisp? When my activity level does not mirror the seasons, appearances show that I am living out of harmony, but is this so?

Somehow, some way I don’t feel in discord. Disoriented maybe, but discordant no. There are these heavenly moments in the day when everything stands still, when the truth comes from my lips, and my heart is open wide. The subject of the conversation doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter who I’m speaking with or who I’m speaking of. As I dash from one task to the next all the details spin together like colored paint in a blender. There is no time in this melee to ask who I am or who I would like to be, there is just doing. I don’t even remember breathing once today, but here I am still moving through the world, enacting change.

Many spiritual masters teach stillness and observation as the keys to enlightenment. Most of us envision harmony with winter as a quiet, peaceful turning in. But, how many other manifestations of winter have we explored? We make assumptions and form static definitions of what each season is. Nature does not conform to such Platonic ideals.

An observation comes to mind that Sandra Ingerman expressed during the Medicine for the Earth class I took last month. She told us that when she merged with the Earth during winter she expected to find everything still and quiet. In contrast, she experienced a moving, shifting Earth, one very much alive and in motion. The concept of being “frozen” is relative. Absolute zero is hundreds of degrees below our current winter temps. That is how far we are from absolute stillness, hundreds of degrees.

My current degree of motion and activity may seem like madness to some. To a restless hummingbird that’s just traveled across the Gulf of Mexico, I am resting. It’s all a matter of degree and what experience of this season we choose to have. Somewhere along the way I choose this experience. Bewildered? Me too.

But, then I stop to consider. This winter has not been that still. We’ve had plentiful snowstorms that flood the warm ground, turn it to ice, then melt it to mud baths the next day. Winter is busy remaking the landscape with furious vigor and it seems, so am I.

In the Flow

What an interesting phrase: “In the Flow.” These days it is used to explain some great psychedelic high in a movie cast with characters doped up and checked out. Or you’ll find it in reference to an especially loquacious portion of a rap song. But, I’ll give the credit for its current meaning in my life to my friend who owns a mineral shop in Kauai. She used it in conversation the other day saying about a person she’d introduced me to that “they’re in the same flow we are.”

I spent my last weekend with my friend at the Denver Gem and Mineral show wandering at her side as she purchased inventory for her store. As usual, the experience of being surrounded by so many amazing specimens from the Earth was shear joy, but this time I had a window into the show that, at the risk of sounding cliche, changed my life.

There was the meteroite guy from South Africa who, after inviting us to sit behind his tables to sort through red sugilite, pointed out a stunning piece of flourite sitting on the floor. He pulled a magazine up that had been propped open against the same piece and showed us the photo of the stone. “What better place for a museum quality flourite than the floor?” we chuckled. There was the couple who had quartz clusters bigger than a riding lawnmower and amethyst geodes that wouldn’t fit through the door of my house. We shared potato chips over citrine spheres. There was the opal dealer from Oregon who shared stories about his increasingly rebellious son with a warm smile on his face, or, on second thought, was it the glow coming from the opals?

Here were these vendors sitting on tens of thousands of dollars worth of inventory during hard economic times. Sure we met the cranky ones who had worry lines etched in their face, and we were grateful for the good deals they offered and quality stones they carried, but it was the glowing people we spent hours with. The light through the minerals sparkled in their eyes. They were constantly moving the lamps in their booths to show us the color in the stones. They were absolutely high and in love.

My friend and I debated as to if these stones could be considered a “luxury item” or not. I felt so because if I were living off the land I would live well, but not have access to aquamarine from Nepal. She disagreed because even when she was a poor student she spent her money on stones. They offer as much sustenance to her as the tomatoes in my garden do to me. Point well taken.

Regardless of if the minerals are a necessity or not, there is a fabulous culture surrounding them. All these people loving what they do, allowing precious stones and money to flow in and out of their lives like a fresh breeze, traveling the globe either literally or through contact with the stones, and living well while they do it. It was truly infectious. Maybe I’ll quit my day job and hit the road?

Here are some journey question ideas in regards to the article “In the Flow”… Remember to be kind and gentle with yourself in this inquiry. There is no judgement, no right or wrong… just your invaluable experience …

1. Can I recognize when others are in the flow of creation?
2. What does it feel like to observe and how is it when I experience it myself?
3. If I recognize this movement in the world, when was my most recent experience of it?
4. If I can’t observe or experience this, what are the blocks to me doing so?
5. What is my definition of “In the Flow”? How does it taste, feel, look, sound, etc.?