To witness and to be witnessed is a form of acknowledgement of our own and others’ existence. It is the sibling of ‘belonging’ identified by Abraham Maslow in his hierarchy of basic needs as crucial to our emotional well-being. Few are able to live entirely in the absence of either.
As I approach my mid-fifties, I suddenly find myself without parents – officially an orphan as one friend stated! Neither uncommon or unexpected. And yet I was unprepared for the sense of aloneness I experienced, even though I’m not from what you would describe as a close family either geographically or emotionally. It has surprised me, since I live and work alone I’m used to and comfortable with my own company. But parents or carers are our primary witnesses, they watch over us when we are young, validate our efforts as young adults and observe from the sidelines as we progress through life. And then at some point the witness becomes the observed as we in turn keep an eye on them in their advanced twilight years.
The threshold over which we take our first steps into aloneness is often experienced as abandonment. Many will step back in fear and seek distraction, the company of an unsuitable partner or live at the edge of other people’s lives, rather than allow the space and time for a solitary life to flourish. Alone we are faced with nothing but our own reflection, our repetitive inner voice, no-one to be impatient with but ourselves! Tired of our own story, we eventually begin to tell it in a different way, we no longer need to filter it for the ears or expectations of others and we can live our life as a question rather than a fiercely guarded certainty. Sooner or later a fresh complexion begins to appear, the gentle re-weaving of our inner and outer forms.
In the 21st century to seek solitude is considered odd, others feel rejected and offended by it. But to allow ourselves – and others – to be alone, whether for hours or days or weeks, is to live something that feels like a choice again. In this space we can experience our own truth, not to sink into despair of a mis-spent past or regret a decision made long ago, but to inhabit the space in a fresh way, to navigate the movable frontier between what has been and what we are about to become. Self-knowledge allows us to adopt the manner of the fledgling novice once more, humble and gracious in our attention to ourselves, others and life. It is good to remove ourselves from time to time from the chaotic flow of a world which never stands still, to find our place within it once more.
Painting ‘Field of Dreams’ Rebecca Pells Fine Art