One of the most important discoveries of my life had happened ten years ago, while, of course, I was not expecting it. In fact, the expectancy of anything positive occurring was nearly nonexistent with the state of mind I’d happened to be in at the time. How could anyone anticipate anything good while homeless somewhere in Washington, near the border of Idaho in February? If anyone had told me my entire perspective on life would change for the better, they would have met the backside of the ax I’d used to chop firewood.
I was 22 years old, on the verge of adding another miserable one to that total. While my friends back home had graduated college and were beginning careers, families, and their adult lives, I was at ‘Inpatient Rehab #5’—a six-month stay at a house over 2,000 miles from home. My parents had discovered the place through a friend of theirs after another halfway house had given me the boot for relapsing. After yet another five-day detoxification at the recovery clinic, it wasn’t but a day or two that I was back on the needle wagon. I didn’t last a week before my mother had caught me in the act again. Luckily, there was no need for another maddening hospital detox. But at least there were other people to socialize with, instead of being stuck at my Mom’s all day with the one person I truly despised—myself.
That’s what heroin will do to you if it doesn’t try to kill you first. And believe me, it really tried. Not just once either. Two years before, it had tag-teamed with an older enemy of mine: Crack. While high on dope, driving back to work, I was finishing off a fat rock, listening to it sizzle, when…
I had experienced a drug-induced Grand Mal seizure while driving. I can’t imagine what could have happened had I not picked up my roommate before, who had somehow managed to pull in and park the car in a crowded lot from the passenger seat. He was saving my life, and likely someone else’s who was driving, while I flopped around like a fish out of water. Once I came to, my eyes had trouble adjusting to a wailing white light. Soon the blurry silhouettes became clearer in front of the bright fluorescent lights, revealing my girlfriend and parents, along with the light reflecting off the wet cheeks of my Mother’s reddened face.
The doctor eventually informed me of how close to death I was, but not before the first words came out of my Mom’s mouth right after I’d opened my eyes: “You’re going back to rehab.”
My stint at rehab
At this house in Washington, where I lived for six months with six other guys and a girl, there were many rules but only one punishment. The more severe the “crime” the longer your punishment would be. If you made the simple mistake of forgetting to put your seatbelt on, someone would always call you out, getting you caught and having to face the punishment of ‘being homeless’ for the night.
While ‘homeless,’ you were not allowed inside the house, not even for meals. In fact, you were basically on your own for food. There was a tiny trailer with canned goods, stale or moldy bread, and crusty silverware that appeared to not have been cleaned in years. Not to mention, the insane infestation of critters and arachnids that called the trailer their home.
There was a three-walled hut with a tin roof that was about two hundred yards from the house. With this being the only means of punishment, a path had emerged through the dense, snowy wonderland underneath the crowned canopy that was supported by massive, bark pavilion-like trunks of many towering Redwood trees. I’d never seen trees so big. With both arms wrapped around base of a tree trunk, your hands were nowhere near touching.
Inside the “homeless shelter,” there was a locked case for clothes and whatnot next to a thin table with an old canister of bear mace. I knew I wouldn’t see any bears, given the time of year, but wasn’t exactly sure whether or not Sasquatch also hibernated. The ground was surprisingly comfortable, made-up of mulch and playground wood chips. There were three sleeping bags leftover from whoever had been there last. These bags could have been used in the Arctic, they were so warm and cozy. (I brought one with me to sleep in after I was allowed back in the house.)
The sleeping bags were obviously made to fit only one person, however. For someone who had a slight tendency to break the rules—especially with sexual incentives—I unzipped all three, laid one on top of the mulch and used the other two as blankets, making a king-sized bed inside my new home.
My experience at the shelter
I would’ve never left the shelter if I didn’t have to, but that wasn’t an option. Once the sun started coming out, it got better, but before then and also each night before sleeping, was a tad bit cold. This was winter in upstate Washington, remember, and I was from Texas. If I wanted to keep warm, I wasn’t allowed to use the good logs that were already cut for the house; only the shitty pieces leftover, or whatever I could chop myself. Without any instruction (not that it’s difficult) I did what I had to do to keep warm and grew to love chopping wood. It became an addiction, it seemed.
But what had happened? Why was I out there? The only girl in our little group of drug addicts and I had started hooking up. This wasn’t breaking any rules, as long as it was off the property. But the property line was always too far when both are horny. Eventually, we were caught and ratted out, giving both of us two weeks each outside, and not together unfortunately. She volunteered to go first to get it over with, then in no time, it seemed, she was done.
As for me, I had racked up a few more instances on my tab—I ended up spending a month straight outside, ‘homeless.’ I had no idea that would be one of the greatest things to happen to me.
Being homeless and alone
If you’ve ever spent a good amount of time out in nature, especially alone in the woods, then you know how powerful it can be. For, only in solitude can we discover who we truly are. Only in solitude can we learn what our lives are about, what our personal purposes are and most importantly, reconnect with our souls so that we can live a life of joy, meaning and inner fulfillment.
Though few, there are many people from all over the country who are known to some as the “lone wolves of our modern day.” These people have ventured into the intimidating void of solitude to face themselves, discover who they are, surrender what they are not, and embrace their true life callings. At some point, every person must become a lone wolf. Every person must journey into the void of the soul to face themselves. The truth is that not only do we experience everything in our lives alone on an ego level, but we can never find our own purpose, peace, or answers engulfed in the tides of people or society. Living lives consumed by noise, distractions, escaping and constantly working are some of the main reasons why the people in our society never hear their intuition, the voice of the soul, that leads them towards joy, peace, and liberation.
It’s no secret that our lives in today’s society create immense exhaustion and numbness within. Not only do we feel constantly drained and frustrated by the fast-paced, consumer and commodity controlled lives we live, but the time we have to relax and reflect is severely restricted. As a result, many of us unconsciously realize that our noisy, jam-packed schedules allow us no time to truly live and enjoy life.
Before we know it, our days, months and years pass in a blur. Only when we emerge from our mindlessly busy routines can we realize that we feel lonely, scared and empty inside. This miserable feeling is mainly due to one thing: noise.
On your spiritual path, learning how to cultivate inner quietness is extremely vital for your mental, emotional and soulful health. To cultivate this inner quietness, you must first learn how to love solitude, rather than fear and/or avoid it. Only in quietness, the absence of noisy distraction, can we focus on developing inner and outer awareness, understanding and appreciation.
Inner quietness is an acceptance of yourself and the world, without any noisy conflicting expectations or desires. It is becoming mindful of the emotions and thoughts that are not you and letting them pass in peace. It is becoming aware of, and cherishing the beauty, fragility, and transience of all life around you. And lastly, inner quietness is making peace with yourself, your flaws and your failures, realizing that none of these are you; they simply belonged to you. Inner quietness is the state of ultimate love, peace, and joy.
The power of solitude
The first step to developing inner quietness is to understand, and practice, the power of solitude. There are three irreversible facts of life: We are born alone, we live alone, and we die alone. Aloneness is in our fundamental nature; it is at our very roots. In reality, we all experience life through an ego which perceives life in a singular, subjective way. While we are all connected on the level of Spirit, we are all alone on the level of the ego.
Although aloneness is greatly feared and avoided, almost every spiritual teacher in history has attested to its importance and the need for it to be embraced and cultivated. If you’re seeking to answer the questions of life, discover who you are, and connect with your soul, seeking aloneness is an essential pit stop on your journey.
In life, most of us are fooled by the illusion that we aren’t alone because there are people around us. These people could be your friends, family members, lovers, or groups who share your beliefs and values. Although these people may touch our souls and make us feel a part of something greater than ourselves, when these people leave or die, we are left alone in solitude.
However, despite the fact that we fear aloneness, we fail to realize how deeply beneficial solitude can truly be. Only in solitude can we be entirely free to be ourselves. Only in solitude can we explore ourselves freely, without the fear of judgment from others. Only in solitude can we rediscover the voice of our souls. Unsurprisingly, the reason why most people are afraid of solitude is because it reveals great truth which we’re unconsciously scared to death of facing.
For instance, many people in solitude discover that they are full of anger, hatred, grief or possess a trait that they’ve been avoiding, or a behavior pattern, such as my drug addiction. As a result, it is solitude that allows us to escape from the illusions that we have created about ourselves, and replace them with truth, clarity, and understanding. Unfortunately, however, most people have learned to equate aloneness with one of the most painful experiences in life: loneliness. Perhaps this is why we avoid aloneness like the plague?
It’s true that aloneness and loneliness look the same externally, because they are both characterized by physical solitude. Unfortunately, this is why aloneness is often falsely mistaken for loneliness. However, aloneness is not the same as loneliness because internally they are both two completely different experiences.
Loneliness versus aloneness
Loneliness, for example, is not chosen by us. Instead, loneliness is something imposed on us: it is manifested as a feeling of isolation and emptiness. Loneliness occurs when we haven’t accepted our natural aloneness in life and try to fill the fear of being alone with external distractions and comforts.
Aloneness, on the other hand, is chosen. Aloneness can be described as the beautiful feeling of being alone without being lonely. When we are alone, we are in a state of engagement with ourselves wherein our company is more than enough to keep us happy. Unlike loneliness, aloneness helps us to practice introspection and reflection so that we can reconnect with the voice of our souls. Not only that, but aloneness also allows us to appreciate and interact better with our surroundings through the cultivation of mindfulness, awareness, and gratitude.
Solitude is an essential soulwork practice. My hope is that these words will inspire you to shed the fear of being alone, and at the very least, seek some quiet time to reflect, learn, and connect with your inner self—your soul.