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Tuesday, October 18, 2016


In the movie Grand Hotel, Greta Garbo uttered the famous line, “I want to be alone; I just want to be alone.”  I don’t think there is a mother on the planet who cannot relate to this, especially when we are hiding in a closet trying to have a private phone conversation.  We are such a social society that I think we underestimate the healing powers of solitude.  The ethologist John B. Calhoun coined the term "behavioral sink" to describe the collapse in behavior which results from overcrowding.  Of course, his experiments were on rats, but isn’t that what we feel like when we can’t get any space?

My Dad was a big fan of the Myers-Briggs personality tests, and while I consistently scored off-the-charts for “intuitive-feeling-judging”, I was always right on the line between introvert and extrovert.  Pop pegged me for an extrovert at that time, however, because to him the ultimate determination is whether or not you derive your greatest energy from being alone or being social.  And while I would still say that being around the right people is definitely my greatest source of energy, at the age I am now I would also say that my greatest inner strength comes from being alone.
There is so much chatter in the world; endless ways to “connect” with people near and far and like anything, it can be a blessing or a curse.  I avoided social media quite assiduously until just a year ago and the culture shock of pervasive online socialization was quite alarming to me.  I have always been a call “screener” (remember the old answering machines where you could hear the message being left?) and this annoyed people (my Mom) to no end.  But eventually they (Mom) got it: I am a very socially engaged person when I want to be, but when I don’t want to be?  You really don’t want to know me.

Of course we all have those special people in our lives that we literally just cannot get sick of; Iris Murdoch’s (holla!) wonderful description of love as the quality of being “inexhaustible” to each other is beautifully true.  But these connections are unique and sacred; for the most part we are all susceptible to seriously getting on each other’s nerves.  And then there are the people who simply rub us the wrong way, no matter what they do.  They are kind of like our sacred people’s equal and opposite; just as uncommon, and just as necessary.
As I’ve mentioned here before, I am going through a difficult phase in my journey right now.  My sacred people are by my side through it, and their counterparts are exacerbating my pain, as is their function.  The one phrase I find myself uttering out loud unbidden on a consistent basis is “I want to be left alone”.  Due to my current circumstances, this is in part influenced by the “behavioral sink” I am experiencing in having very little private time.  But there is also a more energetic aspect to it—I want to be left alone to figure things out, to have some head space to myself, to make decisions without outside influence.

I am going to pick on my Mom a little bit more here (don’t worry, she can take it) because she has that classic “fixer” personality.  Like all good mothers, she hates nothing more than to see her children in pain; her typical response to our sadness was to try to “fix” or jolly us out of it.  I don’t know about you, but my LEAST favorite response to being in pain is someone urging me to be jolly.  I understand the impulse too well, however; and I am certain I have been guilty of employing the same tactic on others.
But when we are under high stress circumstances, we are literally walking a tightrope with no net; the need for balance and caution and concentration are extreme.  The last thing on earth we need is someone telling us we need to smile or handing us more things to juggle on the high wire.  We need to be left alone to complete the journey across the chasm.  The most interesting part of it for me is how much quicker I became accustomed to the “risk” factor (no net) than the stress factor.  This is a very good lesson to remember in happier, more productive times, so we don’t let stress dissuade us from taking healthy risks.

I recently had a conversation with my Mother about all the elements that are swirling about me, and she listened patiently then said, “I don’t know what to say.  I don’t know what to do.”  Believe it or not, that was music to my ears; she was just accepting where I am at and letting me be here.  She was standing by my side while leaving me “alone”.  It is good to have companions who let you be without interference or recrimination.  When you don’t know what to do, it is ironically helpful to have someone else validate that place instead of pushing you towards random action just to be doing something.
Just being is doing something, you know.  All the great philosophers have confirmed this.  Sometimes being feels effortless and light; sometimes onerous and excruciating.  But that’s the inherent design of living.  Our culture promotes “the good times” while only capitalizing on “bad times” for fear-based gain.  We don’t honor our pain, grief, tumult as we should; it is almost considered a shameful experience that must be hustled through.

My Father loved The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck and quoted it frequently.  Peck believed that depression* is part of a healthy life because in order to grow, we must be willing to give things we love up, especially parts of our self which no longer serve.  That tightrope we walk during the process teaches balance; balance increases our flexibility. 
Depression and sadness can be our greatest teachers, if only we don’t try to drown them out or “fix” them.  This is part of experiencing life whole; the retreat into the self for healing and transformation.  So when we are allowed to be in the cocoon of our pain with compassion, we do the hard work of becoming more.  More ourselves, more flexible and therefore more free.  We don’t ever move past what we don’t allow; allowing pain is the only way to healthily release it.

So when I say “I just want to be left alone” I mean I want to be allowed to be where I am at;  I want to be accepted this way too, not just when I am happy, strong and vibrant.  This is who I am today and that has got to be okay.  Self-acceptance is not a fair-weather friend.  It means every minute of every day you understand that you are valid and how you feel is your truth. 

 *It is critical to note the difference between “situational depression” and “clinical depression”.  If you suffer the latter, there is help available to you:  Depression resources


  1. Great post that I can really relate to. Fully accepting the side of me that is quiet and unsociable and not seeing it as a fault has been a big step for me.

  2. Wonderful, Kara. Even in my fortunate and unusually compatible marriage, we got on each other's nerves. Sometimes for days. Along with missing hugs, long talks and walks, and someone interested in my dreams, I miss talking through the hard knots with someone who found dark moods fascinating and knew they would eventually reveal unconscious treasures.

    I always considered myself extroverted feeling-sensation, but the older I get the more introverted I become and the more intuitive. We change.

    Your words about our culture not honoring the bad times is so true. Those bad times? My biggest teachers.

  3. Winter, spring, summer or fall...xoxoxoxo