The Gifts of Solitude

The past few weeks, following my discovery it’s likely I have Asperger’s, have been difficult and revealing, but ultimately rewarding and healing. I feel like this revelation has come at the right time, during this period of lockdown, when I have time alone to process it.

Learning more about autism I have gained some valuable insights for others. I discovered the story of Matthew Tinsley* who, like me, used alcohol as ‘a coping strategy against the extreme anxiety caused by being autistic and living in a non-autistic, social, flexible world.’ ‘His diagnosis gave him the knowledge to realise his own anxiety as an autistic person, and his need to reduce the demands upon him.’

I also watched Chris Packham’s ‘Asperger’s and Me’**. In this programme Chris shares his experiences of sensory overwhelm, struggles with social relationships, and his obsession with the natural world. I was particularly disturbed by his visits to the US to find out more about remedies to eradicate autism and agreed with his conclusion that for many autistic people the best treatment is to be allowed to spend time alone. Chris is blessed with being able to live on his own in a house in the woods.

Looking back at the past I can now see that the periods when I experienced the highest levels of anxiety were those when I was putting the greatest demands to be in social situations upon myself. At the time I was writing and editing for Gods & Radicals and forcing myself to go out to protests and engage in a lot of political debate online I got so ill with anxiety and IBS I didn’t dare go anywhere that wasn’t within 20 minutes of a toilet ‘just in case’ and that lasted for a couple of years.

I also got very stressed when I combined taking an admin job that I found overwhelming (I had mistakenly taken it presuming it would mainly be managing a website and producing posters and a newsletter and hadn’t realised it involved dealing with spreadsheets and… administration… duh!) with a leading role in applying for and gaining funding to organise a series of local events called ‘The Wild and Rural Lives of Poems’. These lines from a poem written at the time describe the effect:

After the late night meeting
my head was pale and flashing
a tawdry halo a broken circuit
a worn out lighthouse
behind my eyes…

I did those things for the right and the wrong reasons. I went to the anti-fracking protests because I genuinely wanted to stand up for the landscape I love – I didn’t want to see Belisama’s river poisoned, more aquifers shattered like the aquifer beneath Castle Hill, more damage to the underworld. I wanted to create beautiful and magical events. But I was also aspiring to fit with a model of the ideal pagan/poet – socially and politically engaged and doing outward service to my community because I felt insecure about the value of my own work, which is more personal and mystical.

Repeatedly I’ve made the mistake of thinking to be a good awenydd and polytheist to my gods I should have a role in a religious community and be promoting the awenydd path and Brythonic polytheism. This drive again, came from good and bad motives, and had mixed results. During my time with Dun Brython we produced some valuable articles and shared some enjoyable meet-ups. Yet we never achieved our aim of growing the group and developing a shared practice due to lack of interest.

At Awen ac Awenydd we’ve done good work collecting and sharing information on the path and personal testimonies on our website and in our anthology ‘The Deep Music’. Yet I failed, after three attempts, to organise a physical meeting in the North West of England. The strain of administering the Facebook group, never knowing what arguments I might have to deal with, outweighed the benefits.

The time arrived to acknowledge it is best for me to be solitary, like many of the awenyddion of the past. Myrddin in his forest, Orddu in her cave, Afagddu hanging out his black wings on the shoreline. That, as I’ve always known, I’m not cut out to be a Taliesin – a celebrity bard.

These insights are the gifts of solitude. Having worked through them I have reached the stage where I can begin, as my gods keep telling me, to focus on ‘my gift’ – my awen. Learning I’m autistic and will always struggle with social relationships has given this imperative the additional strength and urgency needed to blast away my lack of belief in my path born from the arguments about cultural appropriation and my failure to learn Welsh, master the medieval texts, and prove myself a ‘proper’ awenydd.

In my solitude, free of demands, praying, journeying, drumming, drawing, writing, I’ve been thrown back on a far more raw and primal relationship with the awen and with my gods little mediated by the Welsh scribes. Visions of the deep and its deities from before Welsh was spoken, Brythonic, ancient British, before there were humans to speak at all. Of the Annuvian, of the depths, of the Other.

The gift of a mythos that is deeply personal and that I hope to say a little more about soon.

*https://network.autism.org.uk/good-practice/case-studies/autism-and-alcohol
**https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IjdEJdr-vfs

7 thoughts on “The Gifts of Solitude

  1. Thornsilver says:

    I’m glad you’re coming to understand more about what to do for your own well-being. I’ve been considering that as well. I wish you luck on that journey! And I look forward to hearing more of what you have to say. I have reflected that building or being gifted a personal mythos seems inescapable when following Gwyn. 🙂

  2. Aurora J Stone says:

    This time of lockdown has granted you time to learn about yourself at level and in a way that might not have been possible without the enforced time down. I love your insight that you aren’t cut out to be a celebrity bard! Now comes the challenging part how to manifest this newly emerging path and way of being when the world comes back out in the open. With each post like this I hear you becoming more and more your truest self, and that gives me great joy.

  3. barefootwisdom says:

    Your bit about the “awenyddion of the past” really strikes a chord for me. At this point in my own life, I’m trying to let myself relax into the role of “wise hermit on the edge of the woods,” where I emphasize the word “relax,” here, as something I still struggle with.

    For me, at least lately, it’s the inner voice pressuing me to be more active, more busy, that I need to produce more of the sorts of tangible products that others will value and appreciate… and pay for. Even though I know that my work happens in the stillness, in the silence, and that without that stillness and silence I’m lost, adrift, cut off from my source of strength and from the flow of inspiration.

    There’s also the fear, which is simply the other side of the same coin, that if I don’t adopt that more outward-facing role, there will no place for me, no support, no subsistence. What would it mean for all these different roles—the contemplative and the active, the public and the private, the quiet and the attention-grabbing—to be valued? Valued by our communities, and by ourselves?

    Yet I think there’s also a healthier attitude in the vicinity. I know that in my own case, I sometimes have a kind of awed respect and admiration for those who take the roles that I cannot, the roles that do not come naturally to me and would be immensely difficult if not impossible for me to take up and sustain. But I have to wonder if the reverse is also true: that just as much as you and I are not cut out to be a Taliesin, neither was Taliesin cut out to be one of us.

    • lornasmithers says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. That ‘wise hermit on the edge of the woods’, although closer than Taliesin, is another figure I don’t quite identify with (too cold!) but I can see how that way of being would be deeply magical.

      Yeah that conflict between being true to one’s soul and making a living is the bane of my life. I’m truly grateful for the support I have from those fund this blog and buy my books but know it will be enough to make a living. Thus the only way forward is finding a ‘real world’ job that impact on my creativity too much. I certainly couldn’t meet the demands of being a professional poet (or writer) which I guess I have a certain grudging admiration of Taliesin for.

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