I have long been an isolated and secluded person. I seem to constantly maintain a posture of distance, even with those I care about. At the risk of falling into the well-worn and, perhaps, over-played trope of referring to one’s childhood past as an explanation of today’s injuries, perhaps this poise of disconnected isolation is, in part, due to the fact that I was an only child. Most of my time was spent sequestered in solitary endeavors. To be sure, this was a blessing, as I can see the various ways in which it gave my creativity of imagination space to roam and breathe. I developed an incisive analytical vision and a keenness of expression that may have not been granted to me any other way. And yet, that alone-ness became normal and familiar, while the belonging company of others became and, in some ways has continued to be, foreign. I still struggle with what it means to truly let go, to let people in, and to let people close. I find it difficult to release myself from the reserved constriction brought about by continuously holding the pose of seclusion. This seems to be the place where the blessing becomes the curse.
My time spent in solitary reflection and in the isolated pursuits of imaginative creation is energizing and revitalizing but, it has come at a cost. One can, indeed, have too much of a good thing.
German philosopher Martin Heidegger reminds us that “Being-in-the-world” is always “Being-in-the-world-with-others”. Thus, when we severe or restrict contact with others, we simultaneously cut and constrain our Being. When we keep ourselves closed off from the connective closeness of others, even the beatific musings of the imaginative can turn to bile. When the habituated denial of belonging creeps into the creative process, the internal whirl of wonder becomes a tightening gyre. John O’ Donhue explains that when this happens “it makes us insecure”. He says that “Our confidence is shaken, and we turn in on ourselves and against ourselves.” In a word, it becomes a kind of self-sabotage. Here, speculative thought becomes cancerously critical. Our expectations wax and wane vehemently between the extremes of being unrealistically ideal and unfathomably low, and we negate opportunities for our own growth and expansion in both cases.
These are all things that I all too often fall prey to. Over the years, I have become an anchorite of penitent contrition, carefully constructing the stone walls of the cloistered cell that keeps me closed off from all others. My self-doubt runs rampant. My confidence is always in short supply and is easily corroded. I set incredibly high expectations for the future and simultaneously believe that nothing will get better. In that regard, as John O’Donohue writes “Expectation is resentment waiting to happen”.
It is the friendship and belonging brought to us by those who reciprocally care for us that creates a breach of liberation. These people recognize the forgotten places within ourselves that we have banished to bearing the iron masks of injurious seclusion. O’Donohue makes clear that they do not come to us “with a battering ram to demolish the prison” in which they find us living within. Instead, with gentle mercies and tender grace they “attempt something very modest, namely, to remove one pebble from the wall.” In doing so, a pin prick of light pierces the cold grey veil our confinement just enough to illuminate the claustrophobic dark we have become far too accustomed to. This gleaming razor of luminescence cuts deeply and exacting. The sting of unexpectedness brings with it the awareness that we have mistaken the isolating restraint of the cage for “comfort”. We have named our pain as normal. We have accepted the confinement as something we cannot change. And now we are faced with two uncomfortable choices; remain constrained with the realized awareness of our shackles, or begin to chip away at the rock and rubble of separation in the hopes of discovering a sculpture of unknown possibility…