The Roar in Solitude
by Rudri Bhatt Patel
“For now she need not think of anybody. She could be herself, by herself. And that was what now she often felt the need of – to think; well not even to think. To be silent; to be alone. All the being and the doing, expansive, glittering, vocal, evaporated; and one shrunk, with a sense of solemnity, to being oneself, a wedge-shaped core of darkness, something invisible to others…
and this self having shed its attachments was free for the strangest adventures.”
– Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
“Listen to the pause.”
My legs are crossed and sweat forms pockets of insecurity in between my fingers. The meditation instructor’s voice vibrates in my ear and her command feels foreign, “Be still. Let your mind embrace the present.” I take a deep breath, inhaling sandalwood incense, my Eternity perfume and the collective restlessness in the air. Closing my eyes, I attempt to focus on now, but instead my mind gravitates toward a list – put damp laundry in the dryer, pick up peanut butter and jelly from the grocery store and pay the $125.00 electric bill.
Again, she says, “Allow your mind to wander. Don’t judge your thoughts.”
I try again. My eyes closed, I inhale deep and exhale with purpose. For a millisecond, the quiet swallows the noise.
It took four decades to attain this single moment.
My twenties were spent chasing the noise I thought I craved. I ping-ponged back and forth from law school classes to my part-time bank teller job to my “important” errands. Isn’t this ambition? If you are doing nothing, then are you living? The anxiety flowed in my veins, but recognizing the distinction between doing and being doesn’t materialize until the right epiphany is ushered into your life. You believe this kind of busyness is the one that will crawl into your soul, fill you with contentment and carry you forward. If you aren’t busy, then what are you doing? Does your life mean less?
I pursued the life that appeared accomplished, the one focused on doing, but kept being at the periphery. The words quiet, meditation, solitude were a foreign language – I didn’t pause. In the background noise filled my space. The hum of the radio in my car, the television playing in the background, the need to fill up every single second with something, whether it meant talking on the phone, going to dinner with friends or inventing errands. I kept moving. Because sprinting forward meant achieving. Living with noise offered little opportunity to confront quiet.
Pivotal moments twist the landscape of your life in a way you don’t always expect. When I witnessed my father’s illness, I couldn’t ignore the quiet. There is the quiet after hearing the prognosis, “He’s got less than a twenty percent chance to make it through the end of the year.” The quiet slinks into the room while I sat next to my father when he received chemotherapy. Then there is the ultimate quiet. When the body goes. Beat. Beat. Beat. Silence.
My father’s death forced me to reconcile the bridge between noise and solitude.
What was I doing? Was I living?
It’s difficult to leave behind a life you thought you craved. To live a life that meant something required confronting the space between the breaths. It meant a slow unraveling, letting the spool of thread roll out of the palm of my hand. A year after my father’s passing, I gave up my legal career. I realized this restless energy wasn’t fulfilling, but taxing.
I started paying attention – to the light that filtered through the blinds, to the sound of my breath in the morning, to the laughter emanating from my daughter’s belly. I began running. I set my alarm in the morning for 5:30 a.m. and managed quiet jogs in my neighborhood. The pink and blue tones of the sky, the rise of the sun and my feet hitting the ground became constant companions. I learned to love the solitude of these moments.
The time in midlife is spent pausing and sitting in silence. Looking at the sunrise. Appreciating the ability to move my limbs. Spending a few minutes a day acknowledging silence. Reading a book. Meditating. Breathing. Eating at a restaurant alone. Acknowledging that the space between and in the breaths is the one that speaks the loudest.
I take another deep breath. The meditation class ends with a few more moments of quiet.
I not only hear the roar of silence, but I hear the roar of solitude.
Rudri Bhatt Patel is an attorney turned writer and editor. Prior to attending law school, she graduated with an M.A. in English with an emphasis in creative writing. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Brain, Child, Role Reboot, The Review Review, The Huffington Post, Literary Mama, Mamalode and elsewhere. She writes her personal musings on her site, Being Rudri, and is currently working on a memoir that explores Hindu culture, grief and appreciating life’s ordinary graces.
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