McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Eva M. Simms
contemplative, ecofeminist, ecopsychology, embodiment, gender, phenomenology
This study presents an existential-hermeneutic analysis of nine women's first-person accounts of extended periods of solitude. The accounts were analyzed along the five existential dimensions of spatiality, temporality, embodiment, language, and co-existentiality, producing a rich portrait of the women's lived experience of solitude. One of the first-person accounts was provided by the author of the study, who underwent three solitary retreats in the interest of this project, adding an autoethnographic component to the work. Theory from the existential-phenomenological, monastic, ecopsychological, and feminist literatures was applied to the data, enabling us to interpret the significance of the shifts the women experienced through an interdisciplinary set of lenses. The women experienced both subtle and profound shifts in their senses of self and modes of being in the world over the course of their retreats. In the absence of direct human relations, the women developed greater intimacy with things, non-human beings, and the Divine. Through the practice of simplicity, the women cultivated humility and more contemplative modes of seeing, revealing previously hidden contours of the material world and fostering a child-like sense of wonder. By leaving clock time and slowing down, the women became increasingly oriented toward the present moment, entrained to the rhythms of the natural world, and attuned to their desire. By retreating from the gaze of the (human) other, the women worked to heal a sense of alienation from their own bodies, experienced a respite from feminine performativity, and came to move through the world more seamlessly and comfortably. And by observing silence, the women cultivated the ability to listen beyond the human conversation and the chattering of their own minds, developed a more sacred relationship to language, confronted their emotional "demons, " and found themselves increasingly drawn toward the poetic. Overall, through their solitudes, the women developed a greater stance of receptivity toward the more-than-human world, deconstructed elements of identity and modes of being aligned with the "false self, " and recovered aspects of their lived experience which had been neglected or suppressed over the course of becoming an adult, and especially a woman, in the context of contemporary American culture.
Arndt, K. (2013). A room of one's own, revisited: An existential-hermeneutic study of female solitude (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/287