Thanks a lot for your exploration of aloneness, Fiona. This resonates deeply with me as it has been a major issue in my life.

When I was 18 I found myself in Germany. When I was just 8 I had gone to the Congo with my mother and baby sister, to join my father who had been posted there. We lived there for over two years and after a couple of months in Mauritius, packing our stuff, we followed him to the Lebanon. We lived there together (my 5 years older brother had come with us this time) for 7 years, then I spent two years in Bristol, at a boarding school, to take my A Levels. When I finished school my parents were about to leave the Lebanon with my younger sister to go to Afghanistan.

At that time I met a German guy in Lebanon who was on holiday there. We fell in love and spent 10 days together before he returned to Hamburg. He put an awful lot of pressure on me to go and live with him and as I didn't know where to go anyway, I did. I didn't speak a word of German, W. was a complete stranger and I had quickly fallen out of love, so I was terrified.

Germany was the fourth foreign country I had gone to live in in a period of 10 years during my childhood and adolescence when one normally develops a personality. I had been totally uprooted, was extremely insecure and had practically no orientation. What I had really learnt to perfection was to observe the people I was with and the situations I found myself in and to adapt, to merge. I had practically no judgmentalism, because one has to have an opinion to be able to make a judgment. It wouldn't have felt safe having an opinion and anyway I didn't have any.

There was one situation that I remember vividly. I had been in Hamburg only for a very short time, I was with W. in his room, and he wasn't looking at me. He was busy doing something. It suddenly felt as if I had disappeared into thin air, even my body. A terrifying engulfing void had opened. There was "nobody at home". Just nothingness. The mirror was gone and I was gone with it.

I wrote this very much later:

Never dare reach out to the stars
Cling on tightly
It's your only chance

During the next 20 years or so I studied, worked, had children and gradually developed an (adequate) personality. Then the whole house of cards collapsed. I had been living under such a degree of stress that at one point it all imploded. I had built up my false self unconsciously, in complete and utter darkness, and after my breakdown I began to perceive it, to get acquainted with it, to explore it and gradually, over the further 20 years that followed, to slowly, slowly overcome it. I practiced getting over the fear of being on my own, for short periods of time. I have never lived alone until now, though. Now I am alone and in silence many hours every day and this is so nourishing, so rejuvenating and delightful.

I believe the false self is an absolutely necessary factor in our journey, our first task in life is to create it and the second is to overcome or integrate it, and to return to the One. Ideally, of course. Most people get stuck in the first stage.

My tough old bird has been smouldering in the cinders for quite some time now! I recon it'll be cooked soon.