“Cherish your solitude. Take trains by yourself to places you have never been. Sleep out alone under the stars. Learn how to drive a stick shift. Go so far away that you stop being afraid of not coming back. Say no when you don’t want to do something. Say yes if your instincts are strong, even if everyone around you disagrees. Decide whether you want to be liked or admired. Decide if fitting in is more important than finding out what you’re doing here.” —Eve Ensler

In the last few years, immersing myself in solitude is a must. I didn’t recognize this need in my twenties and thirties. My internal compass did not even identify that my lack of solitude tilted my axis out of balance. There were signs I missed. After overscheduled days, irritation developed. Socializing in large gatherings or at a cocktail parties often created internal tension. This question kept repeating itself: “Why am I not fitting in?” This led to feelings of self-criticism and doubt.

It is easy to plunge into the maelstrom of activity, to create a life of busy, and to never confront the silence. In the past I tended to orchestrate a pile of errands so that I could keep the cycle of  busy moving. The doing became more important than the being.In reality, I never suspected that I gravitated toward introversion more than I ever knew. As much as I dislike standing in the middle of hordes of people, I am a social person. I enjoy a wide variety of friends and experiences, but, now, I know, it is only if solitude is still my safety net.  I am not certain the exact moment when my philosophy shifted, but I suspect it arrived after becoming a mother, losing a father, and taking time to determine, as Eve Ensler, points out, “finding out what you’re doing here.”

Crisis tends to push you to ask big, philosophical questions. For that you need stillness and quiet. My need to drown out the noise became paramount because I longed to contemplate the landscape of my life. I firmly believe the pivotal question for all of us becomes, “What is our purpose?” This question may lead to no real definitive answers so I think most of us spend our lives trying to avoid even dissecting it. Maybe that is what I was doing in my twenties and early thirties. Hiding. Not really interested in finding purpose, but focusing on fitting in and assuming that would be enough. Of course, it wasn’t. It meant having the erroneous perception that I was “accomplishing” more, but knowing myself less.

Solitude may not offer every answer that I crave, but it allows me to plunge backwards, and catch myself.