Solitude in the North

Learning how to be solitary is central to the art of loving…

December 31st, 2018 to January 3rd, 2019

Last year, Jane and I spent the end of 2017 deep in the snows of Sweden. There, on New Year’s Day in 2018, I wrote about Mys on the train travelling to Stockholm. This year, we spent the last days of 2018 and the first of 2019 in the far north of New Zealand at Glinks Gully, near Te Kopuru.

Glinks Gully, Te Kopuru, New Zealand.

The bach at Glinks Gully has been the shared retreat of John and Anne
Robertson-Bickers and their relatives before them since the early 1920’s. I first visited the area in 1978 on a cold winter’s weekend. Later, Jane and I got to know John and Anne through our children.

This is a place to unwind as the place gently wraps itself around you. You spend long hours talking with all the people who pass through this sanctuary. With fifty kilometers of beach in both directions, it is a place to walk together or in delightful solitude for hours….

Learning how to be solitary is central to the art of loving someone. When we can learn how to be satisfied while alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape. Paul Tillich wrote that “Language has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone and the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone” (Tillich, 1959).

I walked eight kilometers alone on my first day in one direction and then another eight in the opposite direction the next day. The beach is wide and flat, with seemingly endless dunes that reach out to the cliffs far above the beach. The seagulls who decided you are intruding on their solitude object raucously as you approach, always aborting their dive close to your head as if changing their minds at the last minute. Eventually, they decided I was mostly-harmless or stupid, flying off in a noisy huff.

Solitude gives you time to recharge. The bach is filled with captivating people. This time, there was a carpenter, a social worker, two trainee airforce pilots and a commercial pilot, a heavy-vehicle trainer and a department of conservation biologist. Add to that a musical theater director / conductor, four dogs and a mechatronics engineer who builds land yachts to sail on the beach here in his spare time. Anne herself covers so many bases, ranging from flugelhorn player, maker-of-scones, grammar-wizard and multi-linguist. Then there was a retired cabin crew member with her new baby. Deeply fascinating people with deep, rich stories to tell. And I hunger for stories…

No conversation in this place ever seems trivial… except perhaps some of the ones I start <grin>:

“Sarah, I was thinking while I was out walking…. I don’t have a Spotify account: is there a karaoke channel on Spotify?”
“I don’t think so…” Sarah looks at me quizzically, perhaps wondering where this will lead.
“Only I was thinking… if there is… all those people sitting in their bedrooms alone singing into their hairbrushes…all those wanna-be Elvis’s and Celine Dion’s… it kind of beggars the imagination, eh?”
“I didn’t think you owned a hairbrush…” Sarah comments.

But… being alone gives you time to recharge because, yes, all this human interaction expends a lot of energy. You need time to pause and process all you have talked about or risk losing it.

You reflect more when you are alone, getting in-touch with your emotions. Writing about Mys last year, I talked about “… finally getting comfortable in my own skin..”

Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made like new.”
Ursula K. Le Guin – the Lathe of Heaven (Le Guin, 2008)

You stop looking for validation. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… they encourage us to expect to and want to be stroked and Liked when we are clever, witty, funny or sad. No, we ought to be able to become comfortable enough in our own skin and not need that kind of endorsement to feel good about ourselves. There are times when we are quite capable of validating ourselves, especially if we have a Christian faith that gives us a deeper perspective on our self-worth. Self-worth that is rooted not in ourselves but in what our Creator has forged within us.

Not at Glinks Gully but the sign in the window of the small dairy near AUT University.

So, Brave New Year folks. 2019 will demand courage from us all.

Le Guin, U. K. (2008). The Lathe of Heaven: A Novel. Simon and Schuster.
Tillich, P. (1959). The eternal now. McGraw-Hill.

Author: Rockweather

I am a writer, musician, teacher, and researcher at the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) in Auckland, New Zealand.

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