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I recently started chatting to a man on a dating website and wrote that I had a dream to travel to India to study Iyengar yoga for a couple of months. Unsurprisingly, I never heard from him again. I realised in the moments after I wrote those words that my life’s purpose at this time of my life, my greater purpose for being, was in-fact for the greater good by journeying within. I have unconsciously made a choice to be solo, to have my spiritual journey alone to this point and not within the support or the confines of a partnership. I have come to the realisation that while the decision was made somewhat unconsciously by forces outside of myself, that I am actually on a spiritual journey to enlightenment through solitude, not through relationships and that’s okay.
A good friend of mine once said to me that people choose different paths to enlightenment, some find it through disease, or relationships, or work but some of us are choosing it through our solitude. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in ten Australians lives alone, that’s 24% of us. Of that, a quarter of us are in some form of relationship. My grandmother once told me as teenager that “you may be lonely, but you are never alone.” And those words have stayed with me. She was a woman who spent her final decade embracing the solo journey and becoming a true, enlightened wise woman in the process. As much as we all missed our grandfather, her spiritual journey expanded and empowered her once he was gone. I believe that she chose that solo journey for the final years of her life so that she could pass her wisdom onto as many of us as possible and to take the leap into her next incarnation fully prepared.
I choose to view my solo journey as one of great spiritual significance. It is much like a pilgrimage, in that it is a long journey or act of devotion of “moral or spiritual significance”. To live a deliberate, monastic life is a well-known pathway to God/The Great Spirit/The I am. For centuries monks and nuns have chosen to spend days in isolation in a search for the silence to find themselves and God. Paulo Coelho, in The Alchemist, writes of following our calling, that is, the path that is chosen for us, he called it the Personal Legend. Hindus call it Pesha and refer to it as a “divine summons or invitation or the state of being called.” Even an aide of Pope Francis has suggested recently in the Telegraph that the modern speed and interruption of technology of our daily lives has made the idea of monastic life has been revived. People are seeking silence to hear that inner voice within the electronic chaos. Yoga can be a great teacher for the solo journey and to seek the inner voice. You are the only one within your body that can move and self-challenge. Ultimately, yoga is a solo journey but on a micro-scale. When you step onto the mat, you turn inward.
The choice of living life as a singleton is not an uncommon one, the Catholic Church talks of four callings, or “vocations”. In-fact, in Catholicism marriage is a call from God just like single life is. They are of equal value and people are valued for their choice. Unfortunately, to make a conscious decision to be single in modern Australia is often met with pity, sadness or well-meaning comments like “Oh, you’ll find the right one, he’ll turn up when you’re least expecting it.” But what if all of these amazingly wonderful single people were actually subconsciously choosing to journey solo for their spiritual growth and greater good? Even if they didn’t know they were.
The choice to be an empowered solo is a confronting decision. I saw the very fear of being single in a teenage mother recently. When I told her that I’d been a single mother for more than 10 years, she paled and returned immediately to the abusive relationship she had run to us for help from. I saw in her the fear of never having sex again, of being rejected and having the attachment of being single or of facing the prospective of being completely alone; of facing herself. So many of the younger generation don’t know how to be alone and jump from one unsatisfactory relationship to another, often sexual in nature. What they forget is the exchange of psychic energy is transferred during sex and intimacy is not always freeing, but creates more attachments and for those who have chosen the solo journey, it can distract us from the greater purpose of being, and that is universal love. However, Ram Dass warns us to keep the balance between ego and the soul. That is, to not become so fixated on the journey that we miss great opportunities.
Solitude can be seen as a gift. Within the moments of facing the only person who truly needs to love you can be empowering and is an enormous cause for celebration. Rather than see this time of solitude as a curse of being “single”, I’ve changed the language that I use around it. Single implies a passive thing that happens to you, yet Solo is empowered and strong, it is a choice. Journeying Solo can teach you about yourself, your sexuality and your body, gratitude, responsibility for the self, independence and confidence, of embracing the fear and doing it anyway. Leanne, 44, has been journeying solo for more than 10 years and found that her time alone has given her time to reflect on the poor relationship choices that she had made and the patterns in those choices. Leanne found that if she had been in a relationship, she wouldn’t have returned to university after 25 years as a hairdresser. “Being on my own taught me to challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone because I haven’t got a man to protect me from all that and to hide behind.” Vikki, 40, also says that she would not be the same person, nor had the same opportunities if she had not been travelling solo, “I would have most likely held back…if I was with someone.”
Rather than fighting the solo journey, embrace it. Embrace the solitude and the time of spiritual growth. It’s not about rejecting every possible relationship that passes by or even avoiding sexual encounters altogether, but being an active participant in who you will invite into your spiritual space and who you will not. Lauren, 35, says that by acknowledging the solo life, she is no longer a victim of circumstance. “I choose not to settle and I choose to be with myself, in a relationship with myself that is whole, uncompromising and self-loving,” she says. By really knowing who you are, you can allow relationships on your own terms, not just roll into it. We all have needs, but many times we confuse sexual need for love and that’s when we lose sight of the bigger picture. Lauren says that “this solo life means needing to be there for yourself. Completely…It is a gift to have the time and space to fully nourish oneself.” Whether you choose Solo for a week, a month, a year or ten years, embrace it, throw yourself into yourself and the amazing story that you are creating for your own life. Embrace your yoga practice, your meditation, your work, your life, your passions. Go and do a yoga or Vipassana retreat. Release the expectations of family, friends and society and their desires for you. Focus on what you want. Be grateful for this time alone and fall in love with you and your life. Be grateful for the things you can do alone. Yoga is one of the best activities for this. Once you step onto the mat you create your own solitude. The best teachers will allow you to turn inward and embrace the solitude within the support of the class. Even within your own practice it is a self-journey within the greater whole.
There are no wrong choices in life, only choices. Whatever you chose to do, go into it with your eyes open, do it unashamedly and do it with the whole of your being. Make a choice, stop reflecting back on what could have been. Respect that you make a decision and own it. But also don’t be so fixed that you miss great opportunities for growth both within and without of relationships. And as Lauren says, it means that we have the opportunity to find freedom and independence and fulfillment from within, rather than from another or through their eyes.”
Alyssa Curtayne is a teacher, student of life and a mother of three beautiful daughters. Iyengar is my favoured yoga practice of choice, but I don’t mind a good Vinyasa. Have finally mastered the headstand and got my heels down in downward dog, it only took 20 years!
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