A friend and I try to walk in the morning twice a week. This morning, she wasn’t able to join me, which I didn’t know until after I’d already stepped out into the chilly air. It was tempting to turn right back around and go back home, get my jammies on and snooze just a *few* more minutes. Instead, I walked. And thought. And took a few pictures of pretty fall colors (the main image for this post is one of them; I love how it looks more like a painting than a photo).
Just before I got home, I realized that it was the first time in a while that I’d been truly alone. The irony is, I work from my home office, and I’m probably alone between 8-12 hours a day, if I don’t have a meeting or event to attend.
Even during all of those hours, I’m almost never alone.
[pullquote]Language… has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone. ~Paul Johannes Tillich, The Eternal Now[/pullquote]
I’m on the phone with clients and colleagues. I’m keeping up with e-mails (or at least trying to!). I’m reading articles, blogs, books and, if I’m really restless, the backs of cereal boxes and shampoo bottles. There’s seldom a moment when my thoughts are not in direct response to someone else’s thoughts!
This experience brought to mind a wonderful insight offered in a speech by William Deresiewicz, given to the United States Military Academy at West Point:
My first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play that I arrive at an original idea.
The overall point of Dereziewicz’s speech was the connection between solitude – which he defined as being completely alone with your thoughts – and leadership. He spoke of how seldom we enjoy solitude anymore. What we need, he said, was people who could think for themselves.
Another part of his speech resonated deeply with me:
Thinking isn’t about learning other people’s ideas, or memorizing a body of information. It requires concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea of your own. You simply cannot do that in bursts of 20 seconds at a time, constantly interrupted by Facebook messages or Twitter tweets, or fiddling with your iPod, or watching something on YouTube.
It was on this unexpected solo walk that I realized how much of my thinking is through the filter of other people’s thoughts. Despite that I am alone physically for maybe 75% of my working hours each week (which this introvert loves!), other people’s ideas and stories occupy a large parcel of my brain real estate.
As introverts, we live in the world of thoughts and ideas (whereas extroverts are more oriented to activity and action). We thrive on information and a need to process that information until we’re satisfied with it.
Do I want and need other people and their thoughts, opinions and ideas? Absolutely!! And, it’s important that that’s balanced with quiet mind time.
I’m noticing that even though I’m “alone” for significant chunks of time, I’m still tired and drained.
I must unplug more often. With all of the information in the world available in an instant, 24/7, inches from my greedy curiosity about what others think, I have to trust that I can think for myself.
[pullquote]Inside myself is a place where I live all alone, and that’s where I renew my springs that never dry up. ~Pearl Buck[/pullquote]
I need more time away from books (gasp!), computers (no!) and the phone (not quite so gut wrenching :-)).
There is no shortage of ways to unplug: morning pages, journaling, meditation, doing something artistic or playing my clarinet, going for walks alone. The more I do these things, the more I’ll be able to protect my energy, whether I’m with others in person or virtually. And who knows what my mind will dream up?!
What do YOU think? How do you make time to be 100% alone? What benefit do you experience when you think for yourself?