by Dunya Dianne McPherson
Every autumn, I spend three solitary weeks at Ravenrock because—this is my incapacity—I feel my depth best when ‘worldly’ cacophony is diminished. The most sensitive dimension of self /non-self eludes me unless I’m away from wifi, news, traffic, etc. Here is one of my Solitude Writings.
It began raining at sunset. I went to bed soon after but woke, worrying, at 11pm. I put on my sheepskin jacket, boots, and a headlamp, everything but pants, and trod bare-legged across the Studio out onto the Stone Porch. A dense mist filled my headlamp light with a befuddling, edgeless miasma. Part of me expected to hear a foghorn. Cool wet fingers crawled on my naked face and legs. I hadn’t brought the solar panel in ahead of the weather, and sometimes New Mexico’s rain and hail can be fierce and damaging, but the panel looked fine, merely getting a good wash. I locked the door against the torrent and snuck back to my burrow.
I woke again at 3am. It was still raining. I gazed into the dark. The moon cloaked in heavy cloud made a faint gray shape above juniper silhouette. I considered reading or writing but didn’t want to blast the night with lamplight. I suppose I had thoughts—I can’t remember. I only remember darkness and its soft depth. Virginia Woolf writes in her essay ‘A Walk by Night’, “The eye might bathe and refresh itself in the depths of the night, without grating upon any harsh outlines of reality; the earth with its infinity of detail was dissolved into ambiguous space.” I listened to the tympanist on the roof drum. No sharp needling patter, no menacing hiss, no thunk, thunk. The clouds were not in a rush to dump or angrily hurl their cargo. The rain met flat metal without argument. Millions of drops—that is what a long rain is, millions of drops, or more—landed close together, the sound of each mingling into its neighbor, and the roof accepted the throng with a steady open breast. Curled under my duvet in the lullaby, I watched peace—a strange, palpable entity—blossom amidst bits of darkness the way tiny plants bloom between the rocks after a rain.
It is strange to write about solitude;
it doesn’t fit into cultural dialogue.
The experiences are so real, so full, so dynamic,
yet this pulsing has no name, no language, no narrative.
Perhaps this keeps it uncorrupted.
At dawn the soaking downpour continued. I rose, lit the wood stove, and brewed morning tea, placing a little cheese dish next to the teapot, a cup and saucer on the right, the creamer on the left. In wilderness solitude, every moment becomes an art moment, a dance of objects but also of action, the duration of movement and rest following clues of temperature and light. One could call these deliberate contemplative actions ‘practice’—awareness, slowing, one thing at a time, being present—yet they don’t need that weighty title; this is just how it is here in solitude.
Chairs and ravens, cups and squirrels are friends. Wild animals, of course, keep their distance, always measuring space, but I am always trying to sense where an object wants to be, trying not to force things into stiff alignments. I watch the space around and between objects compress or widen. If space hangs awkwardly, I move the object a few inches and then the room sighs and relaxes. All the while I feel my breathing. Each entity, inside and outside of the room, has its own presence, and objects carry the touch of humans who have designed, manufactured, groomed, or crafted them. The limbed trees, the meandering gravel path, the white cupboard doors, the Persian carpet hung on the barn-red metal wall, the French market basket on a high clete-hook, the stone floor, a silver kettle warming on the black iron stove, rainwater gurgling in the gutter, snapping hearth fire, the hand-painted Mexican teacup, a basket with cowboy hats, the wild and lively painting titled ‘Canyon Storm’, the Moroccan hamam bowl and lanterns, my father’s spinnaker sack, my mother’s figured Italian leather eyeglass case, the rattan chair, the kilim cushion cover, the little wooden table Ric and I built on my birthday upon which sits Volume 1 of Virginia Woolf’s essays. All these have been created by humans and, right now during solitude, that brings humanity close enough.
Some days I feel I am sitting on the ceiling watching myself live, watching myself from another time, from another galaxy, or watching myself as if I was a doll in a dollhouse, as I did with my dolls in childhood. I am an exhumed 21st century human in a gallery of exhumed objects. With this comes a curious fatigue. All my ambitions are falling, and the more they fall, the more tired I am. This usually happens in wilderness solitude where you don’t have to keep up appearances, but successive solitudes have deepened this divestiture. Ambitions have held me together and pushed me along. They have been a necessity; we all have to craft how we will make our way in this world. And now they fall…I’m not bone-tired, though sometimes my bones sigh. Am I world-weary? Soul weary? My female body runs deep below my persona, the latter a mask of coping and hiding, a spiky, hard-shelled weaponry of surviving in America—the marketing, jostling, elbowing. “This is who I am! Buy me!”
Ravenrock is a safe haven—quiet, non-confrontational, with few demands—made as a place of the nurture, yet what we envision for our comfort does not necessarily deliver a predictable experience. I remove my helmet, put down sword and shield, untie the breast plate, and instead of wholeness I find my female body riddled with vigilance. I know I am not alone; almost all female bodies in the world are thus riddled, but company is no comfort to any female body. I feel I’ve been living as good a bargain between personal fulfillment and service to others as I could manage. Yet not one minute of it has been free from the vigilant war of female-hood. It wears you down, the incessant pounding against one’s being. Layers and layers harden into mineral and now, in this kind solitude, my body melts like salt. It is this sort of tired.
I move on. Everything I do in solitude—cooking, bathing, dancemeditation, housekeeping—is a breathing dance. This space with its objects navigates me. It’s not that there is a fixed way objects in space should be arranged—that would simply be decor—but rather I wake to the way rooms and space continually shift. They are moving though they appear to be still and empty. Waves of heat and gushes of microbial life emanate from me and settle. The air changes. The space moves, pulses. Space is full and alive. It slowly eats my fatigue. I hear beckonings. They are terribly delicate and immensely potent; a glimpse is often enough, or a murmur. I move on, beckoned…
It is strange to write about solitude; it doesn’t fit into cultural dialogue. The experiences are so real, so full, so dynamic, yet this pulsing has no name, no language, no narrative. Perhaps this keeps it uncorrupted.
My work and writing are sponsored by Dervish Society of America (DSA), a nonprofit 501-C3 organization dedicated to the Path of embodied mysticism. DSA provides opportunities for personal development, exploratory inquiry into embodied spirituality, and community connection through practice, service, and performance. DONATIONS are tax-deductible.