Mind Matters — Befriending Yourself

We can learn a lot about ourselves when we connect and relate to others. However, we sometimes need to be alone so we can connect and relate to ourselves, and learn from this, our most primary relationship. Synchronistically, the theme of befriending kept popping up in conversations—yes, with others—today.

One person talked about how she, after years of being married, then divorced, then being in various relationships, was finally ready to enjoy her solitude. In her seventies, she has grown comfortable with herself and enjoys her own company.

Meanwhile, another person related that she had never been alone and had always been busy taking care of others. With an alcoholic mother, this woman found herself, even as a young child, parenting her younger sister. She pursues busy-ness and seeks to nurture others, fearful of alone time to take care of herself—to befriend herself.

Later, I talked with a couple whose son had just severed his long-term relationship with a young woman. The parents were almost as bereft as these young people were. Nevertheless, they had the insight to consider how their son and this young woman had never had time alone from each other all through college and thereafter. They recognized that, still young, their son may have unconsciously sensed the need to individuate not only from his family of origin but also from his girlfriend, who was so part of the fabric of his adolescent life.

Human beings are social beings: belonging and connection are vitally important. This is exactly why solitary confinement and social isolation is so debilitating and devastating to almost anyone who is incarcerated. That is the vicious extreme of the virtue of solitude.

When we find time alone to enjoy our own company, we are nurturing ourselves, and maybe even re-creating ourselves for a richer, deeper time to be with others.

These are not commandments carried down the mountain by Moses, but they may be worth pondering. Why not take a walk alone sometime? Or perhaps travel alone? As much as I thoroughly enjoy traveling with my family, I also like to take short trips alone. The world can open up in curiously different ways when an individual connects to and relates to the people and the environment without the mediating effect of friends or family.

And to help us in our mutual journey of befriending ourselves, consider Derek Wolcott’s poem Love After Love:

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
    — Derek Walcott, Collected Poems, 1948-1984