Seeking to be Alone to Find God in All Things + Scarce Silence in The City
Alone is necessary and good, difficult to come by and easy to forget the need for. I have come to appreciate the need for being alone, especially alone outside as a source of soul healing, spirit refreshment and equilibrium enhancement. I appreciate alone time in all it’s permutations from serene, relaxing and contemplative to the grieving places or time alone on trails to fast walk off a heap of unprocessed anger. All these transformative and healthy times are facilitated by the state of aloneness. Several years ago, I added an hour alone and silent into my faith practice by walking to Mass through Golden Gate Park, it proved a rich and rewarding element and I am healthier for it, all around. Alone time anywhere lends itself to a spiritual state and the possibility of transformation. Aloneness enhances the ability to accompany others in a clear state of focused attention and with intact intentions. Recently I was reminded again of this formula for good, in a more concrete way (a randomly chosen decorated rock painted with “listen to the silence”) during a SF Archdiocesan retreat. Yes! Alone and in relative silence in SF is the pinnacle of restorative time. Without alone time our time with others can be less joyful and without reminders of the value of being alone, we can be drawn to constant screentime, our thoughts and hearts muddled with modernity and taken from the primal, spiritual and natural. Alone is not new to me and alone in The City is one of the best ways to be.
I grew up in several City neighborhoods (from the inner-Richmond, Noe Valley to Bayview-Hunter’s Point) in the 1970s-90’s when the term “latchkey kid” was applied to youths who had no supervision from the time school was dismissed until whenever a parent or guardian returned from work. I think “free-range “ in the 7x7 a more fitting phrase for how I crisscrossed The City that came to serve as surrogate parent. There was a different ethos in parenting and many kids like myself were afforded wide latitude to discover, we found peace and protection in the “cutty spots”. And big fun and mischief in those same places. These quiet nooks, outside the surveillance of grown-ups were and still are compelling, alone places where one had the freedom and space to think, sometimes drink and always soak the goodness of nature within the grind of City living.
A few brilliant City spots immediately come to mind and bring smiles; the rugged shoreline behind Candlestick Point to what is now termed Heron’s Head and Crane Cove Park, the Steward Slides and Glen Canyon and of course Golden Gate Park in every nook and cranny (casting pools, Bison paddock, Spreckles Lake among the top of the list). Stern Grove and Ocean Beach during off-hours also prime alone time venues. Many, many, so many more exist.
It was not hard back then to find City spaces to live young, wild and free to be….alone! The value of this enrichment or “nature therapy” as it has come to be called was immeasurable. Places to sit and lay back watching clouds or bird spotting; owls, heron, peregrine falcon, red tailed hawks, scrub jays, hummingbirds and raven (if fewer). Back then the “angry bird” award definitely went to the greedy scrub jay. There were alone places to pray or the privacy to cry, I recall wailing aloud only to have my pity party suddenly interrupted by aggressive squirrels demanding a candy bar. Not cool, no wonder rumors circulated that the squirrels were hunted as supplemental meat by some SF humans. Alone places to sit calmly under so many different types of trees with a little black sketchbook or just thoughts to sort and detangle. If those City spaces to be alone were occupied, equipped with a paper fast pass (saved in stacks for the inherent art value) and a memory of Muni lines embedded (having been a proud solo rider since age 3) it was nothing to hop a ride and hit Sundial Park or behind the Ramp to see the beautiful wide angle bay views for perspective. Alone is where we learn ourselves in relation to a crazy everchanging City.
These days solitude is harder to come by in The City, as life here has become busier, messier and more complex. The pandemic only brought more folks out to discover the great outdoor places that have always made this City feel more down home to me. This is all good, provided one keeps a few secret spots a secret. The Bison Paddock, and felled trees around the horse stables still bring the sense of childlike wonder and provide prime peaceful places to be alone. And while I’m now too grown to be caught climbing big trees near Spreckles Lake, the early morning hours still provide alone places there to think &/or drink (a frozen Kona Mocha from Henrys House of Coffee has replaced Henny in a sippy cup or 40s in a bag) and the time is spent alone but also held in the love of City that so many others have heard the siren call of. I am ever grateful for alone time , especially when outside, in relative silence with my thoughts and possibly the good company of animal friends in The City of Francis.
"Silence is not the absence of word or sound. It is not characterized by absence but by presence, a presence too great for words. When we have some little joy or pain we are apt to talk about it. When joy or pain grows strong we rejoice or cry. But when bliss or suffering become overpowering — we are silent." Brother David Steindl-Rast, Catholic monk of the Benedictine Order
Halidgka P. Reiskin, SF