By JENNY PRUITT CLEVELAND

An important part of overall fitness is core strength, which most of us think of as a measure of the muscles around our torso – our pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen. But overall health–physical, mental, emotional, social – is deeper than muscles.  Aka, let’s cut to the core.

These words by Ann Morrow Lindbergh in Gift from the Sea cut me to the core the first time I read them:

“It is not the desert island nor the stony wilderness that cuts you from the people you love. It is the wilderness in the mind, the desert wastes in the heart through which one wanders lost and a stranger.”

I was still a relatively young mother, living on an actual island, feeling cut off from the people I loved. But not by the island.

I was a stranger to myself, which, as Ann puts it, made me estranged from others, too.

“How often in a large city, shaking hands with my friends, I have felt the wilderness stretching between us,” writes Ann, “Both of us were wandering in arid wastes, having lost the springs that nourished us—or having found them dry.”

Solitude Fortifies the Core

It’s through solitude, Ann discovered, when we connect to our own core, that we’re then able to connect to others.

I long for solitude. But I’m afraid of it. I quite often resist it, which is easy enough for all of us in the tangle of relationships and responsibilities spread out from the center of each of us.

What am I afraid of? Perhaps that when I finally come face to face with myself, I’ll be disappointed. Or I’ll feel resentful that I’ve poured myself out in small, purposeless pieces? Or I’ll see whatever it is I’ve been hiding from myself for too long. Or … fill in your fear here.

Truth be told, I’ve felt all of these things. But I’m better for it. I’m most in touch with my humanity in those moments.

I’ve found that those moments don’t have to be the idealized magazine slick of someone doing meditation.  Life is not a yoga-calm-prayer-breathing-perfect-solitude exercise. Many of my moments of solitude come during exercise, when I’m swimming above the black line at the Y. Or stretching in the stairwell at work after a run at lunch.

Shed your Guilt over Solitude

As good as I know it is for me, I still harbor a certain amount of guilt for seeking solitude. Ann hits the nail of the head for me again:  “If one sets aside time for a business appointment [or …] social engagement …, that time is acceptable as inviolable. But if one says:  I cannot come because that is my hour to be alone, one is considered rude, egotistical or strange. … The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer, to work out his thoughts; the musician, to compose; the saint, to pray. But women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves:  that firm strand which will be the indispensable center of a whole web of human relationships.”

My mom knew what she was doing, giving me Ann’s book for Christmas, many years ago. She’s learned the art of solitude better than anyone I know. And I’m the beneficiary. It’s through solitude, after all, that she’s connected so well with herself and with those she loves – including me!

 

Jenny Pruitt Cleveland is a Content Creator in Nashville, Tenn. She swims, bikes, and runs a lot. In former lives she’s been a middle school teacher, magazine reporter and editor, cycling tour guide, and underwater photographer.