Soulful Living: For Some a Solitary Journey
by Lionel Fisher
“The happiest people spend the least time alone,” asserted the USA TODAY cover story that ran the day I received the invitation to share my thoughts on soulful living for this 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.
Copyright 2002 Lionel Fisher. All Rights Reserved.
Lionel Fisher, a former journalist, columnist,
corporate communicator and advertising creative director
who lived and worked in San Francisco, New York,
Chicago, Miami and Portland, Oregon, before moving to
Southwest Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula. He is the author of
“Celebrating Time Alone: Stories of Splendid
Solitude” (Beyond Words Publishing, 2001), "On
Your Own: A Guide to Working Happily, Productively and
Successfully from Home" (Prentice Hall, 1995) and
"The Craft of Corporate Journalism"
(Nelson-Hall, 1992). In addition, Fisher writes several
self-syndicated humor/lifestyle columns, including one
on the art of being alone. Reach him at email@example.com
Lionel Fisher’s book is about
living well enough alone, even magnificently, instead of
seeking our happiness, our fulfillment, our very
identity in others when we first must find it in
ourselves. Fisher’s reflections on solitude came into
sharp focus on the remote Pacific Northwest beach to
which he moved eight years ago where he kept a detailed
journal to record his thoughts, feelings and emotions
during this climactic period of willful isolation.
In "Celebrating Time
Alone" he interweaves his own insights and
experiences with the stories of "new hermits"
he interviewed across the country -- men and women who
have stretched the envelope of their aloneness to
Waldenesque proportions, achieving great emotional
clarity in the process, as well as their urban
counterparts who, through necessity or choice, prefer to
savor their individuality in smaller servings.
The book’s central premise is
timeless and simple, notes Fisher: "There are gifts
we can only give ourselves, lessons no one else can
teach us, triumphs we must achieve alone. It affirms
that it’s all right to be alone, to want to be alone,
even to be lonely at times because the rewards of
solitude can make the deprivations so worthwhile. It
sings the praises of those who have found amazing grace
alone. They lead us in quest of our own undiscovered
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