A lot of people who live alone talk about the challenge of cooking for one, but I don’t buy it. Sure, there are some dishes that only make sense to prepare in quantity, and some of those aren’t very good left over. But there are also delicious small-quantity meals that can be put together in less time than it takes for  the delivery to arrive. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy sharing a repast—I love to sit at table passing the bread from hand to hand, refilling each other’s wine, lingering over the last morsels of food and conversation. But there is something equally—if very differently—lovely about preparing a meal for oneself with care and enjoying it slowly with the company of a good book, or perhaps a just a view of the darkening sky.

Last week I went to a concert with some friends, which is unusual for me. I first developed the habit of going to performances alone by accident (it’s not always possible to find a companion who shares my latest curiosity), but it’s now become a more conscious practice. I go to the theater, or to the concert hall, for the communal experience, but I like being the master of my own attention in the buzz before the event, whether it’s taking in the stage, eavesdropping on fellow audience members, perusing the program, or just trying to shed the day. And while some terrible evenings can be salvaged by lively post-show analysis, I’ve never had a truly great evening anything but diminished by discussion. 

Recently I began studying with an Important Yoga Teacher. I had resisted this path, partially because seeking out a “star” yoga teacher just seems kind of gross–the worst kind of New Yorkness. Also, the chain near my apartment is cheap and convenient, and while there are some inexperienced or merely adequate teachers cycling through, there are also a couple who are quite wonderful.  In first weeks following the move, I spent a fair amount of time thinking about the quality of instruction—was it sufficiently better to justify more than doubling my monthly yoga cost? The quality of instruction is excellent, but lately I am coming to realize that the quality of the community is equally valuable. I appreciate that I do not swipe my bar code upon entry, just as I appreciate the fact that I do not walk through a retail shop on the way into the studio. I especially appreciate the sense of the sacred space, which is created not so much by the representations of the various deities as by the intention and the intensity of the practitioners.

In Ashtanga yoga, you practice a set sequence to the beat of your own breath. The teacher(s) move about the room, offering adjustments and teaching the next pose in the sequence as individuals are ready. Because each person begins upon entering, there is no opportunity for conversation: I know almost no names, and certainly no personal details, of my fellow yogis, and yet there is something that passes between us as we come together each morning. It is a daily experience of being completely absorbed in one’s own practice, and at the same time being aware of oneself as a member of a community. One of the most important techniques of the Important Yoga Teacher seems to be to simply leave us alone… so we can practice.

Back to the solo supper: There is a story told about Lucullus, one of the canonical great men of Roman history who was also known to be quite the gourmand. The story goes that one of his servants, upon hearing that there would be no guests for dinner, served only one course. Lucullus reprimanded him, saying, “What, did not you know, then, that today Lucullus dines with Lucullus?”

More than three decades into a life that has turned out to be more solitary than not, I understand that there is a difference between being alone and being lonely. More recently I’ve come to see that conversation and connection are two very different things—and in fact, some of the most satisfying communal experiences can involve no exchange of verbal data whatsoever.

Explore posts in the same categories: heritage, practice

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