g a t h e r i n g s

You Asked For It!: A Solitary Life

There is the circumstance of living alone and there is the state of loneliness. Sometimes the two are aligned, but it is not always so. The solitary life may be a contracted life, days and nights passing at a low ebb, despair just beneath the surface. The solitary life may be an expansive life, days and nights passing in rich moments, joy always within reach. The solitary life may be disconnected or connected.

It is a difference in the state of being. When I ask what somebody’s life looks like – I live alone, I have no children, my wife died, I have never been in a long-term relationship, I will spend the holidays reading – these details tell me little. The same is true of the opposite details: I live with my husband, I have a baby girl, my wife and I have been married for 14 years, I married my high-school sweetheart, I will be with 22 family members for the holiday. Of course, from the outside, most of us have all sorts of assumptions about the details. She’s not like me, I am not like him … She must be wrong, he must be misguided. Thank heavens, he’s like me, I am like her … They are right, on the healthy track. These judgments comfort and divide us.

Most obviously, there is an expectation in this time and in this culture that many of the milestones we use to mark the passage of time are associated with living in relationship: first date, prom, engagement, marriage, birth of a child, “empty nest,” grandchildren. This is part of the vocabulary of the general conscience that informs us, whether we are in accord with it or we struggle to redefine it. It is a legacy, and it is a form that in practical terms allows us to hand life off to the future. It is often difficult, perhaps confusing or infuriating or depressing, to find oneself living outside of this main stream, “the mainstream”.

In Constellation work, it is particularly easy to grab on to the details as a way of looking at a system and then inadvertantly, perhaps, diagnosing issues within a false context. If life-giving order is central to the philosophical premise, then when people are outside of that order, there is a problem. Right? Well, it is the state of being that we have to discover to understand whether or not there is order or disorder, so that we can accompany people on their path – rather than drag them down ours.

Imagine … a poet, sipping tea, seated at a beautiful table, writing words of such profound and natural power that the reader cannot help but be touched. Imagine her reverie as she first forms the words as though in a dream, and then later wears down her eraser as she perfects cadence and tone. The next morning, after sleeping the deep sleep that follows a full day, she transfers the words to her screen. She loves the sound of the tap tap on the keys. Once finished, she takes a breath and gently closes the screen. She puts on her coat and goes for a walk. Moving down the wildly crowded city streets or, perhaps, through the wild flowers of the country meadow, she makes contact with new images, sounds, bits of fleeting life; she waves to the dogwalker or the dogwood. Later she will incorporate these moments somehow into a fresh communication with the world. Imagine that when she is not writing, walking, sleeping, eating, sipping tea, or taking care of her home, she is fully awake and engaged with an internal landscape of ever-changing color and view.

I ask her: Are you married? No. Have you ever had a long-term relationship? No. Do you have children? No. Where will you spend the holidays? Right here. Are you ever lonely? Hmm, I don’t think so. Do you know why? I don’t really understand the question on some level. My needs are not a mystery to me.

If we feel into this woman’s state of being, we can let ourselves imagine, without fear, the bountiful dimension of this solitary life, absolutely connected to life and in deep accord with its movements. The superficial details different from that main stream, and at the same time a clear and refreshing tributary, leading to the same destination we all find our way to ultimately. Her contribution to life can be found in the great and essential reciprocity of all things.

I won’t dwell on the opposite imaging. We certainly know in ourselves, most of us, the striving for the superficial details to be in place, and the cyclical patterns in which we sometimes become lost. Even having achieved some or all of those familiar milestones, many feeling trapped in a lonely state, surrounded, busy, but out of touch internally. (I can only know this because he or she reports it to me. When I judge it – assume it – from the outside, I am looking at myself in the mirror.)

And, of course, there are still others who are deeply satisfied in their main stream, surrounded and full, and that’s a beautiful thing.

The resolution of any Constellation reflects the widest field; it always hints at the state of being that is at ease with life, folding in its details rather than attempting to control them. When someone lives in a state of anxiety or dissatisfaction or fear or other depletion, it is the state that holds the possibility of change rather than erasure of the symptom. Erasure is temporary and inaccurate. It doesn’t account for the original materials. The paint will eventually chip away and the original design will show through.

So, what sets the ecology of the current state? This is fertile ground for discovery. If I live in a state of anxiety, addressing the immediate problem will only inhibit the anxiety and it will only be a matter of time before I return to that state. If I live in a state of peace, then I can meet a challenge one way or another, and then return to the peaceful state that has the capacity to withstand the challenge. When our poet has a poem rejected by an important literary journal or learns of the loss of an old friend, and then experiences the disappointment or grief that is the consequence, she has a place to which she can return: a state of ease and replenishment.

When I learned one day that both of my great-grandmothers died in childbirth, something clicked. My mother mentioned this in passing, as part of another story, but I really heard it, especially as I looked into my brave, frightened mother’s eyes. Both of her parents had lost their parents in childbirth. These women and these infants had lost and gained everything in one profound transaction. I understood something about the ecology of my essential state: underlying fear with each step toward more life. In the underlying fear of losing everything is also a kind of preparation for the potential. A state of siege. So, husband, house, child, job … these wonderful details did not, could not, address the state.

But the “click” provided by my mother held something key. On my mother’s side these losses set the ecology for a state that I was born into and that has always informed my ways in the world. Rather than erase the symptom or continue to fall more deeply into that state, I remind myself that I can add sweetness to the ecology now, and that this sweetness will drift back into the past and simultaneously provide new sustenance for the future. I can continue to update my state, allowing fear to become a less relevant force, trauma to be contained by those who can handle it, who did already. And even as I face the challenges that life continues to bring to my doorstep, letting primary feelings move through rather than becoming stuck, I will return to my expanded state, one that is closer to that of the poet of my imagination.