Aha’s: Part Two–You’re Not Alone

We got married at age 19! We had been married for seven years. Our daughter was five years old. My immature husband had tugs towards freedom. He didn’t want to be married anymore. He never discussed his unhappiness or yearnings–one day, he just announced that he was leaving. In shock, I begged him not to go. Couldn’t we possibly work things out? Why didn’t he talk to me about his longings? But then, he talked so little. He was after all, a macho man who heroically kept his feelings and thoughts to himself. I remember dramatically falling to the ground and grabbing his leg as he tugged me across the kitchen floor. That was it! He was gone! And there was nothing I could do about it. I had no idea where he was going. He left no way to contact him.

That night, I cried into my pillow as my daughter slept in the room next to mine. The next day, one of my brothers came to stay with me, sleeping on the living room sofa. I had to get my bearings, figure out what I was going to do. We had bought our little fixer-upper house at a “steal” so our mortgage was reasonable. I could manage the payments with support from him. But I couldn’t think straight. My mind was going in a roundabout–what had I done wrong? Why did he leave us, me? Was I really on my own? How could I be a single mom? I wasn’t prepared for this. My mom had stayed with my dad through every sort of hell. Aren’t we bred to stay in a marriage no matter what?

After a week or so, I told my brother to go home. “I’m going to have to make it on my own sooner or later,” I said. “I might as well start now.” That first night, I got my daughter to bed at the usual time. The long evening was ahead of me. I was emotionally exhausted. I thought I might as well call it a day also. The bed faced the doorway to the kitchen–it was an old house probably built in a hurry, without a hallway. I remember lying there, crying. I said in a muffled voice, “I’m alone, I’m so alone.”

In that precise moment, I felt the most calming presence. It seemed to be present in the doorway, although invisible. It spoke clearly, yet without a voice: “You’re not alone.” The sense of calm deepened. I felt no fear. I fell into a deep and restful sleep. When I awoke in the morning, I knew what I needed to do and I proceeded in that direction.

A week or so later, my ex-husband came back. My intuition said, “Don’t take him back. He needs to grow up.” My upbringing said “You need a husband, a man. You can’t be a woman on her own.” I let him return and life got very difficult after that. He became a raging alcoholic and I stayed through it all until our two daughters were grown and left home. You can be married and feel the loneliest when there isn’t open communication…or love.
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The message “You’re not alone,” held my hand through many a lonely time after I finally left my marriage. Sometimes, I try to recreate the experience and that calm feeling that accompanied it. At the beginning of winter, lessening of light and shorter days, I can slip into an existential loneliness. Sensing into this existential feeling, I began to realize that loneliness is a human condition and it’s also not true.

On one such wintry evening, I was working on a painting of a polar bear. I couldn’t quite capture something as I painted. I stopped and sat down with my pen and paper.

“It’s cold and I’m alone again at night
the stars so far away, no comfort there
Is the polar bear aware of its plight?
Ice floes are melting does anyone care?”

In that poetic moment, my own loneliness joined with a polar bear out there in the frozen wilds, alone on an ice floe watching his world melt. What was to become of him? My loneliness met with what I perceived as his loneliness. I was immediately less lonely. I was part of something larger than my small self in my little cottage. I was part of this earthly home, connected to that polar bear, to all of life.

When I can fully grasp that I’m not alone, I invoke that deep calm.
“You’re not alone.” Those words resonated with me then, and they do today.

Alone Doesn’t Have to be Lonely

I don’t remember exactly what inspired this mixed media painting.  Except that it was another intuitive journey and continued to shift over time.  Putting down colors that I was drawn to, seeing images within the evolving piece, deciding which ones to elaborate on and which ones to let go.

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It was a cold, winter’s night in the mountains where I live.  There was the early dark of winter and a blizzard outside.  There was nowhere to go and no friend to meet.  An existential loneliness settled in around me.  Resistance is the first response when an uncomfortable feeling presents.  Feet dug in…”I don’t want to go there.”  But it persisted and I needed to be with it.  I’d been working on a painting of a polar bear in the Arctic.  I’d been trying to paint the aurora borealis.  Good luck with that!  That sky went through so many changes.

aurora

What prompted me to paint a polar bear in the Arctic, that I can’t really say except that as I created the background, his image hovered in the painting.  I brought him forward.

polarbear1

That night of extreme loneliness, staring at this painting in process, imagining the polar bear as his world disappears, I wrote the poem that I’ve already shared in this blog earlier.  It begins like this…

It’s cold and I’m alone again at night
The stars so far away, no comfort there
Is the polar bear aware of his plight?
Ice floes are melting, does anyone care?

Painting this piece, writing the poem, helped to shift my energy.  The poem and painting connected me to something outside of myself, bigger than my small life and this moment of loneliness.

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To be human is to feel loneliness at times.  In this time of the pandemic, social isolation and uncertainty, find a way to either write, draw or paint or any other creative activity.
One exploration could involve color.  Color crayons, watercolors, acrylics, colored pencils…any of these work.  On a piece of paper, put down colors that you feel particularly attracted to.  Place them side by side, at different angles to each other.  If you are using paints, notice which colors make other colors “pop” forward and which colors recede.  Let yourself play with color.

 

 

Existential Loneliness

polarbear2.jpg

This painting had an evolution…it started off as three women disco dancers, then two polar bears, then a single polar bear with a different landscape and now this rendition.  Finally, I wrote the following sonnet on the canvas as a part of the background in the meadow.  It’s not meant to be legible, only a design element.

One cold night at the beginning of another long winter in the mountains of northern California, I fell into that state of existential loneliness.  I happened to have this painting in process on the wall in front of me.  My own loneliness expanded to include the polar bear at the north pole.  I considered his solitary life, that his habitat is dissolving due to global warming.  There is the real possibility of his extinction.  In writing this sonnet, I connected to the polar bear and as a result, I felt less lonely.
Is that the secret to existential loneliness–to expand our circle to include more of the life that is?

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© by Christine O’Brien

It’s cold and I’m alone again, at night.
The stars, so far away, no comfort there.
Is the polar bear aware of its plight?
Ice floes are melting, does anyone care?

Across the tundra the northern lights dance;
radiant colors blast the starry sky.
If we change our ways, would he have a chance?
“Global warming; couldn’t be helped,” we sigh.

We’re safe in our cozy habitats, home.
The borders of our lives within these walls.
The far arctic circle, his place to roam
outside of our range, his frozen cry falls.

What’s it to us, a whole species demise?
Could it have gone better if we’d been wise?

Poetry as “The Message in the Bottle”

Edward Hirsch referenced poetry as “a message in a bottle” to be found and opened at some future date by an anonymous reader.

When I paint a piece or write a poem, what or who do I have in mind?  What am I tuned into?  It varies.  Sometimes, as with this painting of the polar bear, I followed an intuitive flow that started with marks on a canvas. From these marks, three disco dancers emerged and quickly shape-shifted into three polar bears at the North Pole; then to a single polar bear with the Aurora Borealis as a backdrop.  Finally there was this solitary polar bear in a meadow.  The journey of this piece wasn’t decided by me ahead of time; what it wanted to become was disclosed as I stayed with the process.

What is the message of this painting?polar2

One cold and snowy winter’s night, I felt that existential loneliness.  I looked at my polar bear painting on the wall & I wondered what it felt like to wander, a solitude, across the melting ice floes of the North Pole.  What would it feel like to have your habitat disappearing beneath your feet?  What would it be like to be made for this icy world and to witness your world dissolving?  As the ice floes are melting, does this then predicate that the polar bear becomes extinct or does he metamorphose in some way to accommodate this once familiar, now changing world?

And so I wrote this sonnet to the polar bear, for myself in my loneliness and for the unknown finder of the message in the bottle.

Lonely
© by Christine O’Brien

It’s cold and I’m alone again at night.
The stars so far away, no comfort there.
Is the polar bear aware of its plight?
Ice floes are melting, does anyone care?

Across the tundra the northern lights dance:
radiant colors blast the starry sky.
If we change our ways, would he have a chance?
“Global warming; couldn’t be helped,” we sigh.

We’re safe in our cozy habitats, home.
The borders of our lives within these walls.
The far arctic circle, his place to roam
outside of our range, his frozen cry falls.

What’s it to us, a whole species demise?
Could it have gone better if we’d been wise?

For Your Contemplation:
I’ve talked about following your passion when writing poetry, prose or creating art. Sometimes, a fleeting feeling seems to govern your life. How do you respond to this? When feeling lonely or sad or some other uncomfortable feeling, I desire to be done with it as soon as possible.  I don’t want to dwell there.  Yet, I’ve learned to allow it the time it takes.  The truth is that we all feel lonely, sad or in grief at times.  To allow it is the courageous response…to create from it is to engage the common human thread of loneliness that each one of us experiences.  Your deep transitory feelings can be expressed through poetry, prose, painting & other creative venues.  You cannot decide who is going to pick up your bottled message on some lonely beach.  You can only hope that when they do, they find what is inside personally useful, portent, potent and perhaps powerful enough to induce change for the good of all.