Have you ever been in yoga class, in the middle of a practice of backbends, for instance, and the person next to you begins to speak to you or their neighbor? Or you suddenly start speaking to your neighbor? It is interesting when this arises (often when poses become difficult or generate a lot of energy); sometimes it occurs when there are spaces and silences between movements and the students are not being told what to do, but rather must simply be - and be with themselves along with the thoughts, sensations and feelings that arise at any given time. Or there may be the tendency to comment on every experience. Whatever the reason, there is a break, or a crack. A crack occurs in the space of interior time. Love can support, protect and honor this space of solitude even within the context of togetherness. We can do it for each other, if not for ourselves.
I am reminded of Rilke, who writes "a love that consists in this: that two solitudes protect, border and greet one another." Some (and all of us probably at times) find that solitude can be a great friend, a loving and accepting companion, or a cold and stark space.
As I reflect on my relatively short life and the hours and hours spent alone with myself and in a type of solitude with my closest companions (husband, cats) I am acutely aware of how this peace that I feel when alone could turn on a dime, say, if I were to lose my great love or my little friends. And yet we will lose each other some day. And we have known loss, some small, some large, many times over. But the space of solitude can even be a comfort during times of loss if we have been befriending it as a daily practice. And that includes the little pieces of solitude we afford each other, when we are actually together, sharing a space for instance. I so enjoy how my husband and I are able to hold spaces of solitude for each other even when we are together. It is in this that we, as Rilke says,"protect, border and greet one another." And in the continual nurturing of this supportive space of solitude in togetherness, even in the smallest of ways, we gently strengthen our ability to access it when we are visited by the inevitable, and are in some way, truly alone.
As a child I spent hours, literally hours walking, running, and being alone in the rural New Mexico of my upbringing. And I do not remember feeling lonely in those times. I loved, just adored, space. Space to play, to think, to dream, to be. Even boredom had its appeal. Contentment is how I would now describe those feelings - looking out over Johnson's Mesa at the early morning sunrise, or to the west in the evenings toward Vermejo and the rounded foothills that looked like saddles above the remnants and ruins of the abandoned coal mine. It was if the environment itself was my family, or partner, and we, in love, protected, bordered and greeted one another.
I remember the sound of nothingness - no-thing-ness - and how the rhythm of my breath withstood in stark temporal contrast to the eternal stillness of this space. It was truly like looking back in time through generations and generations of humans and pre-humans, to the species and landscapes and seascapes of the dinosaurs and beyond. A bubbling volcanic plain it/I once was, and now/then silence, except for the wind or breath. Or the sound of the occasional train whistle as it pierces the immense silence in the early evening, like the cry of bird or a coyote.
In that space of solitude, I did not feel alone or lonely because so much was present in the expanse of that space. The sanskrit word sthira comes to mind. It means steady and comes from the root stha which means to stand. The space seemed to stand. Sthira and Sukha. Sukha means ease or "well axle-hole" as in a good ride. There the space stood, it was well, a steady presence holding history as it rolls along. Protecting, bordering, greeting all in its midst with open arms, the "soft arms of the atmosphere" so beautifully described by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay The Oversoul.
In solitude we are given an opportunity to tune the very special frequencies that exist therein. Like tuning the radio as we used to do on summer evenings while sitting in a car on the sparse New Mexico plain. We would tune in to the space, and perhaps catch a signal from some far away place like Amarillo or Colorado Springs, or maybe even Nebraska...or sometimes just listen to sound of the great nothingness, together, in solitude.
The Indian poet Kabir writes:
The flute of interior time is played whether we hear it or not.
What is meant by "love" is its sound coming in.
Holding this space for each other is a type of love. In a yoga class, we can do this together, for each other. So when the day comes to sit, alone, in the dining hall of a retirement home to eat Christmas dinner in solitude (as I recently witnessed through a window on West End Ave) we will be as we already are - alone, together.