Everyone longs to be a butterfly, but few are willing to go into the cocoon.
Befriending aloneness intimately is a necessary rite of passage on the spiritual journey. As you’ll read in this article, aloneness is both a passage away from who we are not, but believe ourselves to be, and towards who we are, in greater and greater measure.
In a spiritually bereft, distracted and easily tempted society, embracing aloneness, not surprisingly, is rare. Much more value is placed on romantic relationships and keeping busy, while the slow of aloneness is easily judged, eschewed and, more deeply, feared. If you spend too much time alone, people eventually project their fears onto you. They worry you are isolating too much, and suggest you may want to start dating soon. Their reactions are usually their own fear expressed — fear of being alone, and fear of what comes with being alone, such as uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.
If you are single for six months, it’s time to start dating, isn’t it? Well, it’s been six months, that’s long enough. Or what about a lover? People don’t realize how much they hide in relationship, in sex, fearful they are of turning towards the person inside they have been running from their entire life; fearful of cultivating an intimate relationship with themselves.
Because we are so used to hiding in relationships, we don’t really consider the extent to which we conform in them. Conforming means we unconsciously bend our identity to seek forms of approval, being liked, fitting in, or simply to get sex. We adapt by being funny, charming, smart, good, pleasing, etc, just as we did as children to get mommy and daddy’s love. It’s not until we have departed long enough from relationships and given ourselves to the path of aloneness that we feel our integrity and see how much we were misaligned.
Committing to the path of aloneness does not mean you live austerely in a shack in the woods. For me personally, while I’ve spent many years being single, introverted and reflective, and often radically alone (which has not been easy), I’ve also been blessed to have a family of friends who are also on the spiritual journey and who support my choice to isolate. So, aloneness doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a hermit in a cave. (Nor does it mean being single for 15 years.) Rather, it means prioritizing you over others, again, sometimes radically, sometimes to extent of making others uncomfortable.
This is hard for a great number who have been conditioned to say Yes more than No, who have a hard time putting themselves first. Chronic guilt-driven caretaking is yet one more reason people struggle to carve out alone time. Many have been conditioned to believe it’s bad to put themselves first, and their conditioned identities believe their worth comes from doing for others. Once again, caretaking in this context is a way we hide from ourselves.
For these reasons and more, which I’ll get into, choosing aloneness is not easy. It’s natural to want to be with others, for we are community oriented beings by nature. We long to share our hearts and be heard, to enjoy meals with good friends, to give and receive touch and make passionate love, and to have a family. We are biologically and soulfully wired to bond with our brothers and sisters. But because most of us were raised in a dysfunctional home and society where there were regular, and often, significant failures in love, we have disconnected from our authenticity and garnered a fair number of attachment wounds, both of which we address by habitually seeking contact with others and losing ourselves in plain old busyness. We hide pain in the bandaids of relationship, sex and freneticism. These are some of the most common ways people conceal their wounds while simultaneously and unconsciously acting them out.
Working with various healing practitioners is thus essential. Whether that be a therapist, osteopath or shaman, a good healer will help reveal these unconscious patterns and heal their underlying trauma and program imprints. But your aloneness is equally healing. Time in dedicated spiritual practices such meditation, yoga, and journalling, as well as time in nature and reading spiritually uplifting books are part of the practice of being alone. Being alone does not mean watching movies or reading trashy novels all day. It means using your time wisely. It means learning to sit on a rock by a river without any influence like a cell phone or even a book. Just sitting, listening to the rush of water and birdsong. Not trekking all over the mountain on your bike, which is often just more distraction. (And I’m not suggesting you quit mountain biking.) Rather aloneness means slowing, stopping and listening to such an extent that you hear and feel yourself, and your relationship to life. And doing this for hours — regularly.
More than anything, committing to the path of aloneness is a gradual pulling away from the self that has been informed and conditioned by the world. That localized personal self most believe themselves to be is what Indian mystic Paramahansa Yogananda calls I-Consciousness. Also known as the ego, it identifies itself as separate from others, and life.
The ego belongs to the world of form, the world you were raised to fit into. It belongs to that which can never ever fulfill you, no matter how “successful” you are, no matter how much you have seemingly mastered the world of form. Aloneness is a gradual renunciation of that imaginary you — a walking away from so much that you have been conditioned to believe, conditioned to have, conditioned to be. You are walking away from who you think you are that the world taught you to be.
This renunciation of your temporal self is thus a renunciation of the world; for they are tethered together, just as the soul is tethered to the Divine Mother, to the Great Spirit. You renounce fitting in for true belonging, which only occurs at the level of the soul, a soul that does not belong to this world.
Like the caterpillar that eventually walks away from its myopic life of munching leaves to retreat in solitude in its cocoon, we too must learn to bravely walk away from our lower self if we are to have a chance at becoming a butterfly. Everyone longs to be a butterfly. This longing is innately woven in our DNA, in our hearts, for that butterfly is our soul essence. It is our place of be-longing. But few are willing to make the pilgrimage to the cocoon and to stay there long enough for life’s ordained process to unfold for us, unwinding us and birthing us anew. We lack the discipline and patience in a world full of demands, click-bait temptations and quick-fix solutions (such as online dating or gambling). We fear leaving the familiarities and comforts of caterpillar life.
More to the point, we fear losing our identity as a caterpillar, for that is all we have ever known. It’s a deep allegiance we have to this temporal self, an addictive fear-based loyalty that keeps us bound to the world of maya, or delusion, and separate from the promise of the deep unknown the cocoon holds for us. Yet if we commit long enough to our rite of passage, if we allow for the uncomfortable and radical emptying of our false, limited self, and give ourselves to uncertainty, day after day in our cocoon, we will gradually awaken to that which we’ve always been — our butterfly soul essence.
And there is not a single soul who has ever regretted this remembrance, no matter the sacrifices made along the way.
Spending enough time alone is such a blessing for when you re-emerge in the realm of relating again more regularly, and with a romantic partner. Consider the implications of two people coming together who have learned to love themselves in their solitude, versus two who have spent very little time by themselves, going from one relationship/lover to the next. Our society is made up primarily of the latter — of co-dependent versus co-independent relationships. Without enough independence, and without enough self-awareness and self-regulation that comes with both healing and aloneness, we unconsciously define ourselves through the other, just as we do as security-seeking children. By contrast, the independence cultivated in aloneness and through connecting to our soul essence keeps us anchored in such a way that we remain truer to our authenticity in the face of another, and in the face of difficult moments that all relationships eventually surface.
“Love consists of this: two solitudes that meet, protect and greet each other.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
We live in a culture that makes the dream of being in a romantic relationship and the dream of having a family superior to the path of being true to ourselves. The ramifications of this are monumental, to say the least. All you need to do is look at the ubiquity of domestic crises playing out — the stress on children, the sexless disconnect between parents, the financial strains, the health issues, the violence and neglect — and you’ll see family after family that has “built (its) house on the sand” rather than the rock of soul.
It’s time we turn this pattern around by making primary our pilgrimage to the cocoon so we may birth the butterfly within and ideally meet another who has traveled a similar distance into their own butterfly essence. It means committing to our healing work, but also walking the rite of passage of aloneness, again, not for just a few months, but likely years.
Yes, you can grow through relationships at any stage of your journey. They are powerful and usually difficult crucibles for transformation. This has certainly been true for me. But few see romantic partnership for this healing and awakening purpose. Instead, most default to losing themselves in the other, in trying to get from the other what they have yet to “get” from themselves. The issue is not the relationship, but our blind and habitual patterns of hiding in them and in upholding dreams that are so far from the painful, denied realities buried within.
What I am suggesting here may seem absurd to the masses — to have that level of dedication to our spiritual journey, that commitment to healing and aloneness. But I feel strongly that these pivotal times of global crisis demand it. We are indeed a strained and pained species, and most of this suffering comes from profound disconnect — from within, each other, and Mother Earth. Healing this disconnection will not come from building more superhighways of technological innovation, but from each person first re-turning to their soul essence and then building bridges from there to others.
That is our necessary destiny — a return to our hearts, and making that inner pilgrimage through dedicated aloneness an absolute priority. We must risk being judged, having those around us project their fears onto us. We must risk being different, and the discomfort of what surfaces when we depart from consensus living. We must risk feeling all that comes when we no longer choose to fit in, whether that be grief or anger, shame or fear. For feeling more, such as our attachment wounds, is one of the requirements along this path.
However… in this courageous spiritual journey we must also remember that in turning away we are simultaneously turning towards all we really long for. In being alone, we gradually return to being All One. And, in a world bent on divide and conquer, us-versus-them, in a world so filled with ego agendas to keep us separate from our soul, from the soul of each other and that of Mother Earth, isn’t this re-turning the medicine of our times, the medicine we all need now, more than ever?
The question is: Can you be here in the emptiness?
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Here are a few related short videos I made that may be of support. If you enjoy them, please subscribe to my Youtube channel. And don’t forget to select the notifications bell next to the Subscribe button to ensure you are notified when a new video is published.
- “I need to please to get love.”
- A Metaphor for the Spiritual Journey
- Staying with the Heartbreak of Longing without Filling It
Healing & Activation: My invitation to you is to participate in my online healing and activation ceremonies. Drawing upon the power and mystery of Starlight and its many emanations, transformation takes place at the quantum or cellular level, creating radical changes in health and empowerment.
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Check out Vince’s book: Wild Empty Spaces ~ Poems for the Opening Heart