Ponder the soul; for it is the source of all our inspirations
for material, mental, and spiritual success. ~ Paramahansa Yogananda
When the Peace Corps sent Susana Herrera to teach English in northern Cameroon, she was ecstatic. In her book, “Mango Elephants in the Sun,” she describes how she wanted to blend in to her adopted village, to drink deep from the well of the spirit of Mother Africa – and to make a positive difference.
The villagers, however, regarded her as a rich privileged American tourist, a nasara (white person) who had never encountered hardship and suffering. The women in the village stared at her in silence when she went to the village well to pump water to fill her bucket. They laughed at her when her foot became entangled in her sarong causing her to trip and fall as she tried to balance the water bucket on her head. When she attempted to break the ice by engaging the village children in play, they ran from her screaming in fear. This was not the experience she expected.
Susanna didn’t want to be an outsider, but she could not have felt more isolated and alone. As she watched the village women sitting in their sacred sister circle, she noticed her neighbor Clotilde, also an outsider, arriving at the well. Clotilde had made friends with the women and had become a part of their daily lives. Intrigued by their acceptance of her, Susanna watched closely as Clotilde greeted each of the women asking, “Jam bah doo nah?” It means, “Are you in your skin?” or more accurately, “Is your soul in your body?” They respond to her enthusiastically exclaiming “Jam core doo may.” “Oh yes. I am in my skin. I am alive and in my skin. My soul is in my body.”
Each of us, like Susanna, has a need to belong, to feel a part of a community. We long for connection with others. It is natural. Being an outsider can cause us to feel the pain of alienation so we sometimes sacrifice our aloneness to be with others, trying to fit in, even when we are not welcomed. Although the circumstances vary, each of us at various times in our lives has had to confront our sense of isolation. As painful and scary as it can be, experiencing your aloneness can teach you how to enjoy the pleasure of your own company ~ how to welcome and fit in with yourself. Embracing aloneness teaches you how to sit through the discomfort of loneliness so you can get to the other side of it and realize it didn’t kill you. Embracing aloneness teaches you how to be in your own skin and prepares you for being in healthy relationship to others.
Sitting with our aloneness requires courage and begs the question, “How do I live in my own skin? How do I live with myself as an autonomous being?” Rabbi Tamara Kolton teaches that loneliness should not be avoided because it is the soul’s longing for itself. Loneliness, she says, is a sign of spiritual hunger pains. It is the longing for connection not just to others; it is the invitation to come home to Self. Learning to cherish and enjoy your solitude rather than fearing and avoiding it allows you to actively begin to know and like yourself. It gives you time to think about how you want to be treated by others and time to practice treating yourself the way you want others to treat you.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert says that during her “Eat Pray Love” journey being alone prepared her for meeting her soul mate. Rather than avoiding her aloneness, she decided to treat herself like she was her own amazing boyfriend, taking herself on great dates, offering herself words of comfort, and asking herself everyday, “What do you need, dear one? What can I do for you?” She says she had the time of her life just being with herself enjoying the pleasure of her own company.
That is our work as evolving human beings. Before we can create optimal relationships with others we have to create optimal relationships with our Self. How? Learn to love your Self. Spend time alone with your Self. Loneliness is the opening to step more fully into your Self, into your Soul. To be able to enjoy aloneness we need to learn to endure loneliness, to go deep into it, and make friends with it.
When we miss the company of a friend, we reach out. We don’t hesitate to call, text, e-mail or visit. So the next time you feel lonely, before you distract yourself by seeking the companionship of someone else, eating another cupcake, going shopping and spending money you don’t have, turning on the TV, or reaching for another glass of wine, put in a call to your Soul. Instead of reaching out, reach in and ask your Self, “Am I in my skin? Is my soul in my body?” Sit in your aloneness until the answer is “Yes, I am alive and in my skin. My soul is in my body.” And when that answer comes you know you have come home to the most important company you will ever keep – your Self. This is the art of Soulful living.