Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Loneliness vs. Solitude

Let me write from the heart.

My natural instinct is to always consult my heart first. Whether I listen to my heart is a totally different matter. This world sometimes require us to do the total opposite of what our heart asks. 

But for now let me listen to it and write from the heart.

Nursery school are my first few memories of being in an environment where social acceptance wasn’t assured. It’s where I first learnt the concept of feeling alone, but not actually being alone, Nursery school was where I learnt that the world was bigger than home. I was dropped off  by my father every morning, and even with welcoming teachers and making new friends, I felt alone. I felt separate. I felt like I could easily be forgotten. Dismissed. Overlooked.  

Don’t worry. Eventually, I found it fun; this new world. I learnt my way around. My teacher wrote in one of my reports that I spent more time taking care of other children than playing.  I wonder what my mother and father thought when they read that. Especially, since I was the youngest in the house. Where could that have possible come from? It seems I was more concerned with giving myself a purpose in order to fit in.

 I am reflecting on that moment because I see around me a number of people who struggle with feelings of loneliness. I think sometimes we are scared to say that on some days we not comfortable in this world. Sometimes the mission of existing is tough, and the experience is rough.  But we are scared to say in case we appear ungrateful. 

Someone asked those same questions long  ago, and it even inspired them to write a poem.  Have you heard of the poem ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’ by St John of the Cross?

In the happy night,
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught,
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my

He writes about this strange euphoria he experiences in mist of despair, when he finally realizes the purpose of his suffering. (btw... I am not saying that we are all Saints) I love his honesty in the poem. I love the fact that his journey is not always blissful. That there are moments of doubt, fear, loneliness and even dullness in the process of life. As much as we try to fill our lives with things people, places, there will always be emptiness. There will always be sharp moments of stillness. Thoughts that remind us that this is all temporary and we are mortal.  It will always catch up with us but it doesn’t have to overcome us, most likely there is a purpose to not fitting in so neatly into this world.

Years ago, I went on a catholic retreat. We visited a monastery for the weekend. I don’t even remember the name and yet it had such a monumental impact on my life. I was going through a break up and the stress of back to back assignments at University. My friends and I were also going through the tensions of renting a house together for two years. I needed a break. The Catholic Student’s society offered one, so I packed my bags and disappeared for the weekend.   

What I found interesting about this retreat is the fact that  the Monks were not allowed to talk to each other. That was one of their vows. One of their sacrifices. They spent their days in silence, with very little time in the day allocated to speaking. An hour into the retreat, we joined then, we sacrificed our voice to God and began our silence. I spent atleast 24 hours in silence. Solitude. 

In our world with 7.1 billion people, everyone must struggle in some way to be seen, to be noticed to be acknowledged. Office politics, social circles, family gatherings, daily life require us to use our voices and our words, our conversations, and body language to assert our presence. Imagine a world where you can’t. Imagine if those 7.1 billion people were told they could not speak to anyone for two days. How would we communicate with each other? Imagine if we took it further and said everyone must wear the same clothing. What would that do for egos? How would people be able to catch clues of who we are if we all dress the same, and if we could verbally express who we are? Even the graves of the former monks have no names. Just a modern cross, marking the loss of many  in a special section of the garden. At first I thought it was a modern art exhibition. We don’t know who they are. We just know that they are graves.

I'm scared of lonely
And I'm scared of being the only shadow I see along the wall
And I'm scared the only heartbeat I hear beating is my own
And I'm scared of being alone
I can't seem to breathe when I am lost in this dream, I need you to hold me
I'm scared of lonely
I'm scared of lonely...

Yes. I just quoted a Beyonce single. I thought it was interesting that she choose to put this song on her album. As a successful woman with a husband and close family, she chose to sing this single. She never promoted it that much though. Interesting. 

A lot of our masters spent time in solitude, Jesus, Buddha, etc.  So don’t worry you are in good company. A lot of great works are produced when the mind is allowed to wonder on it’s own. But it’s so nice to be with people, to connect, to laugh, to share moments, to share each others’ lives. As Brene Brown says we are hard wired to connect with each other.

After a good night sleep, I remember enjoying the first early morning hours of the Catholic retreat. I liked this new challenge.  Five hours in and I was starting to feel it. No TV. No Movies. No Magazines. Just books. Lot’s of books on history. Lot’s of books on theology. No loud music was allowed, we had to commit to being quiet. I would pass a fellow retreat member  in the corridor, or find them in the tiny kitchen making tea, and force myself to  swallow the urge to speak. It felt rude. It felt unnatural, yet I had committed to silence. We had tea with the monks at 4.00 pm that day. Some really good scones…but no conversation. Just silence and the sound of people sipping and chewing. A few moments of eye contact and short smiles but mostly emptiness. By night time as I lay in bed the emotions hit me. I realized how much I rely on connecting with people throughout the day. Also everything that I had been bottling up, suddenly came rushing out of me. Demanding to be dealt with. Such is the nature of solitude.

Solitary confinement in prison is supposed be the worst punishment of all. Is it because the prisoners are left alone with themselves? The mind is incredible, but is it all the more unbearable if you’ve committed despicable acts, if you lived a terrible life?

Is solitude only for the strong minded like our masters?

When I asked people to write for a “welcome to womanhood” series, it was mostly because I was reaching a milestone in birthdays, and feeling extremely self reflective. I wondered whether other women had the same internal struggles that I was having. So I asked them to write their stories. I asked for moments in life when they realized they were grown women. My story is about solitude. It’s so far removed from my ideal experience of what it means to be woman. Yet it sticks out like sore thumb, it’s my experience. I see so many people dealing with loneliness but I am not quite sure why it’s there. They have families. They have children. They have partners.  They have great jobs, a social life. Yet there is the feeling staring them in the mirror. Loneliness. 

In my head solitude feels odd. In my heart in feels good.

A month ago I attended a party with a friend, where we met a kindred spirit.  Barely a few minutes into knowing each other, somehow we found ourselves talking about some of the struggles women go through when dating and when in relationships.  She told us, during a very dark period in her life, a newly single mother, and extremely heartbroken, she used to go to bars and order a drink by herself because for most of her young life she had always gone with someone. She had always ordered what she thought other people around would approve off. Forcing herself to go to the bar alone, made her figure out which drinks she liked. When she started figuring out who she was, she felt like she could be a good mother. I immediately thought she so brave, to go to a bar by herself in Kampala. Most people when they see a women by herself in bar… they assume certain things about her lifestyle. Even I was judgemental, as i listened to the story. When people see a woman alone they feel sorry for her, like she should be miserable.

In my world I’d be able to write the following sentence across my forehead:

“Stop feeling sorry for me, I am chartering my course, figuring out my destiny. ” 

Some people are like me,  innate nurtures, we feel guilty about alone time. We usually happily forget all about ourselves in other people. It’s so tempting and so easy for us. Regular solitude ensures I have no excuses. I have to work on myself. I can’t get lost in someone else’s life.

I feel like am fighting back for the woman who feels alone. It’s the experience she finds herself in. It's okay. It’s okay to have dark night of the soul too. Don’t worry, great things come from solitude.

“You are born alone. You die alone. The value of the space in between is trust and love.”

“Nourish yourself with grand and austere ideas of beauty that feed the soul… Seek solitude,” young Delacroix counseled himself in 1824

Illustrated by Chris Mugarura


  1. Nice blog. My first time.


  2. Thank you for reading Gloria, I shall check out the link.

  3. ....What can I say;I can definitely relate. Wishing I had gone on that retreat with you though, I could use some silence. Well written Maria

    1. Thank you for reading Kullein! I am not sure whether this post was inspired by hormones or life in general. I heard there are some quiet retreats in Uganda. I recommend the experience, just to learn how to quiet the mind, but its definitely not easy... I will take my time before booking the next one lol.