THE ART OF BEING ALONE

By Beth Zollars

10 Minute Read


 

“Aloneing” it

I fondly recall, as a young girl in the 1970s my mom’s Chateau Drive Bridge Club. Paisley-printed maxi skirts and cowl-neck sweaters adorned neighborhood ladies sporting perfect Farrah Fawcett flips or Toni Tennille pageboys.

My CPA Dad sequestering himself in the upstairs study while my brother and I hiding behind the living room pocket doors listening intently for juicy gossip about our friends. Although the hubbub producing nothing but benign chatter I couldn’t help feeling a palpable joy and connection from the “Bridge Ladies.”

Reflecting back to my eight-year-old self, imaging my own group of exotic “Bridge Ladies,” raising our kids together in a spirit of laughter, wisdom, and sisterhood. Fortunately, I have made meaningful life-long connections providing support, love, inspiration and continuous hilarity in my life.

I am forever grateful for my community of non-bridge playing women, providing amazement and awe at all they have survived and accomplished. While deep connections play an intricate role in the person I am, sometimes we need a break from family, friends, and community, self-reflecting and hitting the pause button.

We all have our ways to decompress; through working out, meditation or spa-trips. My favorite is spending time alone. My inaugural blog post explores the art of spending time with yourself, creating connections with you—the magnificent one and only.

 

 

Super Busy

Women from all walks of life fly the “I’M SUPER BUSY” flag. A never-ending tally of appointments and commitments define “high functioning women.”

Women caretakers and peacemakers, even the best of us, can hit the wall-happening at any time in our lives. Stress can be particularly high with school-aged children as we mega-move through soccer games, social engagements, careers and tending the home fires.

Transitioning our kids into adulthood, taking care of an aged parent or relative and later-life career changes adding a level of unexpected stress aging into our own slow-down mode.

Recently, a solo trip to my summer retreat on Upper Saranac Lake in the mountains of Upstate New York, sparked my interest in the act of intentionally spending time alone. After all, I’ve spent lots of time traveling solo for business, from Beijing to Boston. Traversing the globe alone built confidence in me as a woman.

The next step in my growth process – intentionally spending downtime alone, without friends, family or lots of planned activities. Purposeful “aloneing it” can be defined by a few hours a week at your local park or a week-long hiatus in a remote hideaway.

At first, the ground may seem unsteady and unfamiliar without surrounding family and friends – feeling unnatural and downright lonely. Brave the urge to invite a friend joining me in committing to finding your alone space.

Fast forward to a recent dinner party where speaking about my upcoming alone trip to Upper Saranac Lake produced a confused reaction from most of my friends. “Why are you going alone?” “Is Bill (my husband of 24 years) going with you?”

The barrage of questions and puzzled faces shared a look of concern and wonder.  The reactions were not unusual; I’ve heard them many times before as a frequent solo traveler. At this point in the conversation, I usually feel required to create excuses validating my “go it alone” experience.

Why didn’t I feel confident enough to say,” I’m spending time alone because I need to decompress, and I like being alone.”

Simple, honest, and authentic.

 

 

 

 

 

The long and winding road

Driving through mountainous, country back roads and towns long forgotten, the last leg of the 12-hour trip becomes challenging but beautiful. Leaves exploding in hues of red, yellow and orange like a massive Rothko painting keeping my tedium at bay.

Spotty radio stations blaring an amalgamation of static and classic rock like Foreigner or some other unremembered 80s group. My senses overloading nostalgia circling me, drinking in the fall colors of my childhood.

Halfway through my circuitous drive, static becoming overwhelmingly annoying. Switching off the radio, creating a silence bearing reflections of why I found myself in Pottersville, New York.

Sensing clarity on the edge of my fall-drunk brain thinking about the enduring radio static the last several miles. In the beginning, growing comfortable with the mixture of music and static. After all, the white noise was better than utter silence in the car. “The Rock of Central New York” giving me a sense of comfort, familiarity, and place. However, after a few hours, the acceptable static became intolerable auditory hell.

 

The need for silence was more survival than comfort.

An emerging similarity between my trek into the woods and the unbearable static became apparent to me. Clearly the static of my own life—serving numerous demands and playing multiple roles—directing me hungrily to the solitude of the woods.

When it comes to women and the act of juggling life, more is better, keep busy, stay scheduled and PILE IT ON!

Please don’t misinterpret. Having multitudes of meaningful relationships; husband, family, and friends offering rich dialogues and deep connections – creating gratitude and thankfulness every day. No doubt, you do as well.

Alone time may seem like an escape hatch or even a luxury. Traveling may be a luxury but not an escape; almost the opposite. Solitude can be like a giant magnifying glass pressed against your soul, a retreat without the label or the stigma.

Even our family, friendships and social connections distracting us from delving within to find the quiet, clear the static, and discoverer true-self, purpose, or just chill out.

One of my favorite authors, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, an aviator in her own right and wife of aviator Charles Lindbergh, wrote poetry and nonfiction. She touched upon topics as diverse as youth and age, love and marriage, peace, solitude and contentment, and the role of women in the 20th century. Lindbergh’s “Gifts from the Sea” is a popular inspirational book, reflecting on the lives of American women and my go-to for inspiration, even by modern-day complexities.

 

“Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves.”

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

 

What is the true essence of ourselves? I don’t really know, but I do know for most of my adulthood my essence has been under the well-meaning static of family, career, social obligations, sporting events, fundraisers, dinner parties, racing from one activity to another, over-scheduling myself and my family.

For fear of what? What the urban dictionary defines as “FOMO,” the fear of missing out?

FO·MO

noun

ˈfōmō/

 

“Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere,

often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”

Worried my social connections would wane? Or my child might not be popular or make the traveling soccer team? I would like to think not – upon further reflection – at times, guilty as charged.

We get sucked into believing we need activities by the thousands to complete our essence “or else.”  Or else our child may not be invited to a birthday party, soccer team, college, fraternity/sorority. Or else we may not have “the right” social group of friends, country clubs, dinner party invites, job offers, fill in the blanks.

We spend so much time worrying “what is happening elsewhere” and dread being alone forgetting how to enjoy our best selves once we do find ourselves alone.

And I guarantee at some point in your life –  you will be alone.

I hear women (including myself) use the expression “crazy busy,” “overwhelmed,” “my plate is overflowing” as the standard stamp of approval for a response to “How are you?”

In households from Pasadena to Poughkeepsie a woman’s mantra “I’m super BUSY”  defines our existence.

We miss out as women when the fabric of our souls derives value from believing busy is essential to being.

Yes, obligations exist in the real world. We take care of children, take care of work, take care of parents, take care of pets, take care of friends, take care of bills, teachers, sisters, uncles, aunts, dry cleaners, plumbers, charities. Take care, take care and take care some more.

Can we all say stop? For ourselves and those around us. Stop.

 

One of my personal favorite spots for “Aloneing it” time on the porch in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York.

 

 

 

Plate spinning anyone?

I had a goal a few years back to “listen more.” My intention was to talk less and really be present during my interpersonal relationships.

All good, until I actually had to listen while being bogged down with a thousand “to do’s” spinning in my head. Dinner plans, grocery lists, work commitments, kid’s activities, elder care, whether I should cut my hair… you name it. There is quite a bit of activity our brains handle on a minute-by-minute basis. Plate spinning extraordinaire.

Meditation has definitely been a tool for my brain and to help me be present. One of my best friends is a meditation guru, and I highly recommend starting this practice yourself.

But the physical act of removing yourself and finding alone time amplifies the soul’s ability to focus and open up yourself to new experiences.  Like meditation on steroids.

It’s similar to a retreat, yes. But I did it my way, in the structure (or lack of structure) of spending the day in sweatpants, underwear optional, not washing my hair for four days and listening to podcasts, writing, reading, watching bad Netflix series, cooking, hiking, kayaking. Whatever the hell I wanted.

The power of being alone is the best gift you can give yourself. Is it scary? Sometimes at night I still think a creature is going to appear in my window. And yes, I end up talking way too much to the grocery clerk.  It’s not forced silence after all!

 

 

Outcomes

At the end of my alone trips I’m refreshed and thankful for my family and friends. I love life with a fresh set of eyes. My time seems more valuable and I don’t need to fill it with stuff and fluff.

Sometimes my friendship circle becomes smaller. A sense of clarity seemingly permeating much of what I personally and professionally commit.

What is difficult? Re-entry can be filled with loud spaces, idle chatter, silly arguments, and shallow relationships suddenly overwhelming. Like a reality TV show where I haven’t asked to be a participant.

The way you see life becomes a little more curated and selective.

 

But I can’t take a week off?

Your alone trip doesn’t have to be a week in some remote woods location. It can be going to a movie alone, (small steps) or a night at a favorite hotel in your own town.

Sometimes a trip to your favorite city can be a good “aloneing it” trip. For me being in a city of millions by myself feels weirdly more isolating.  I believe an alone trip is best explored someplace quiet, where you can just be with no schedule, no obligations, no judgment. No static.

 

One of my favorite things to do when I’m alone is cooking

It lets me be creative, and I put lots of love into my cooking. And guess what? I don’t have to garner other opinions about my particular dish.

My go-to Veggie Soup is one of the special big-batch soups I make when it’s just me. It’s the way I like it with lots of fresh veggies of the season with a bit of a ginger and lime juice for an extra kick.

Check out below my recipe along with some of my Adirondack travel recommendations.

 

Now go

It’s your turn. What do you think? Do you spend any time alone? Where and when? And how do you feel about it? Does it scare you or is it something you may be open to trying?

If the answer is yes, then go start planning your first “aloneing it” adventure. Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Woodswoman Veggie Soup

 

Ingredients for In the Woods Veggie Soup

1 cup chopped green beans

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1 cup sliced carrots

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup cubed butternut squash

1/2 cup diced onions

2 cups roughly chopped greens ( I like Swiss chard)

2 teaspoons chopped fresh garlic

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

4 whole limes

1 12 oz can crushed tomatoes

1 qt water (more or less as needed)

2 Tbsp. fresh chopped cilantro

1tsp. Coriander

1-2 tsp. salt to taste

1 tsp. white pepper

2 Tbsp. Olive oil

Saute onion and garlic until soft. Add veggies, water, tomato, and spices, bring to boil then simmer on low  1-2 hours until harder veggies are soft (test the carrot). Add fresh lime juice and ginger, let cook additional 15 minutes. Add fresh cilantro and simmer 5 minutes. Serve with grated parmesan or even a dollop of sour cream. YUM.

 

My top 3 places I recommend to try “Aloneing it”

Spending most of my life summering in the Adirondacks I have a wide and varied hotel, camp and B &B experiences. Having a home on Upper Saranac Lake affords me a bed whenever I like, but I often send guests to check out these premier places. Treat yourself.

Adirondacks/ Upstate New York

If you are not familiar with this part of the country here is a bit of general information about the region. Its’ quaintness is only topped by the natural beauty, untouched by major development due to the strict environmental laws inside the “blue line” Adirondack park. Thousands of miles of hiking, crystal clear lake water and several towns with lots of foodie experiences, the perfect spot for an alone trip.  You’ll never want to leave.

Visit Adirondacks

Lake Placid Lodge/ Lake Placid, New York

(Luxury)

One of my all-time favorite hotels is in Lake Placid, on Placid Lake, the ringing of a by-gone era with beautiful hand-hewn beams and majestic stonework. Whether you are dining at Artisans lakeside  during summer months or enjoying a hot toddy at Maggie’s Pub, there is a warmth and feeling of familiarity that nestles you in like visiting an

old friend. Note that smaller children under 12 are now permitted but not in the main lodge or Artisans dining area.

Lake Placid Lodge

 

Mirror Lake Inn/ Lake Placid, NewYork

(Luxury)

Family owned since the 1930s, Ed & Lisa have been the caretakers of the “Mirror Lake Inn” tradition since 1976. Their passion for hospitality, along with the incredible staff is evident throughout every aspect of the property.

They take great pride in providing guests with an authentic Adirondack experience and are extremely proud to have earned the prestigious AAA Four-Diamond, “Exceptional” award for over 30 years.

 

Mirror Lake Inn

 

Main House of the charming Mirror Lake Inn

 

Hotel Saranac/Saranac Lake, New York

(Moderate)

Constructed at the height of the Roaring Twenties, Hotel Saranac quickly became an icon of downtown Saranac Lake. Following an unprecedented head-to-toe renovation, the hotel was born anew in early 2018.

Hotel Saranac combines the history of the Adirondacks with modern amenities.

A beautiful authentic sanctuary for your stay, your base camp from which you’ll strike out each morning and return to kick back and relax in true comfort each evening. Hotel Saranac is unmistakably a historic hotel, but your room is filled with modern comforts and design details. Prepare to have your expectations of the Adirondacks redefined.

 

Hotel Saranac

 

And Lastly…
Best little gifts to bring back to whoever held down the fort while you were gone.

Your best gal pal, caregivers, babysitters, husband, or your next door neighbor. I am more than sure someone had to pitch in while you were on your reprieve. Thank them with one of these great little gifts from woods.

 

Adirondack Store and Gallery/Antediluvian

I purchased these little treasures at Antediluvian /Adirondack Store and Gallery on Saranac Ave in Lake Placid,  providing one of a kind gifts, antiques, large case goods, decor, and interior design services.
Christopher English and Stephen Dori-Shin are experts when it comes to furnishing your home away from home in the woods or directing you to a one of a kind gift. Big investment or small take away, they have everything you need/dream/lust after and then some. If I venture out at all, I make it to these two tastemakers beautifully curated shop.

(Listed below additional links if you do not find yourself in the Adirondacks soon)

Adirondack Store

Antediluvian

 

 

Perfect zip canvas bags in all sizes by Danica Studio

 

Perfect for any fire starter, my fav for the man in your life.

Rosy Rings Pine Candle

 

Picture Books make the perfect thank you or anytime gift.

 

Now go create your next alone adventure!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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