How to face — and sit with — it, rather than run
“Loneliness is painful; solitude is peaceful.” — Henri Nouwen
Sometimes we have a hard time getting “enough” from others — from significant others to friends to acquaintances, especially those we’d like to become friends.
We have a hard time navigating our relationships with others because we’re actually challenged by our relationships with ourselves. We seek communities and relationships with others, sometimes to the detriment of our wellbeing.
Because sometimes we do this to avoid the discomfort of siting with ourselves.
Loving others won’t save us from ourselves
In her book all about love bell hooks writes,
“We all long for loving community. It enhances life’s joy. But many of us seek community solely to escape the fear of being alone.”
She’s right, of course.
So many of us fill our lives with distractions — especially other people — to avoid the deafening discomfort of… ourselves.
I was once talking to a mutual friend who was so uncomfortable in their own company that they wouldn’t go to the grocery store alone, and planned social events every Sunday night to avoid the stillness of that time of week.
Instead of sitting with ourselves, we shutter things out, banging pots and pans (sometimes literal ones) and averting our attention by asking, “what next?”
In Reaching Out Henri Nouwen writes,
“No friend or love, no husband or wife, no community or commune will be able to put to rest our deepest cravings for unity and wholeness”
He goes on to say,
“Instead of running way from our loneliness and tying to forget or deny it, we have to protect and turn it into fruitful solitude… Loneliness is painful; solitude is peaceful. Loneliness makes us cling to others in desperation; solitude allows us to respect others.”
“Learning how to ‘sit’ in stillness and quietude can be the first step toward knowing comfort in aloneness.”
Life requires self-love; self-love requires solitude
“Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving.”
“When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.”
Solitude is where we build self-love and develop authentic selves.
For as much as we advocate “feeling” / “validating” / “talking about” our emotions, we don’t spend nearly enough time just sitting with them.
We’re so quick to throw them out on the table, as though we can get over them by moving along to the next step. But that’s not how it goes.
We have to learn to sit with our own experience, to own our emotions rather than combating or quelling them. We have to breathe in acknowledgement; then breathe out acceptance — until we find salvation and self-love, only found in our own stillness.
Some short tips to sit with ourselves:
- Meditation. There are tons of great entry-level resources available, including a number of free apps, that will help ease you into meditation starting with short, gently-guided sessions. The benefits of meditation are immense, especially for quieting our minds and being at peace with our own selves.
- Sit in silence and simply observe your surroundings as they are. Try going to a coffee shop and, rather than retreating away from what’s going on into our internal thoughts, try instead acknowledging and mentally “embracing” everything that’s there — without judgement or emotion. If a coffee shop makes you anxious, try this at home.
- Breathe. It’s amazing how often we don’t fully breathe, especially when we’re feeling anxious. Any time you’re feeling anxious, simply take slow, deliberate breaths. Be aware of and focus on your inhalation… and exhalation. Repeat.
- Acknowledge each emotion, thought or feeling as it comes. Rather than suppressing emotions or distracting ourselves from them with other things, work to see each thing, face it, name it — and then gently set it down rather than indulging in it or letting it snowball. Gently acknowledge, in your head, “I am feeling anxious.” And then breathe and set it down. If it comes back, simply acknowledge it again — and set it down again.
- Be gentle with yourself. Don’t stress if it’s tough, or if the exercises don’t make sense at first. It’s simply about being comfortable in our skin, and it takes baby steps to get there. If we’re gentle with ourselves and keep at it, eventually we will develop security and ease and happiness in our skin.