14 July 2011
These three photographs were taken this week in my garden where I find suspended quiet.
How do the monks do it? Stay sequestered away from the world to live a reflective and repetitive existence where silence, forgiveness and humbleness are practiced. Masterful philosophers and writers have been penning the virtues of solitude for as long as humans have been recording their behavior. In our culture it’s terrible hard to envision such a life, but I can. Still, its stranger than strange that monks have websites and participate in social media to promote their monastic life and recruit new monks-in-training (e.g., see portsmithabbeymonastery.org). Their need to dive into the popular culture reminds me that solitude still has a dubious reputation. And I’m not referring to the hermit-like, monkish-isolationist solitude, but the rejuvenating, reinvigorating and inspiring kind–the kind that everyone can use to replenish.
So is anyone seeking solitude these days? While I do imagine hoards of the overly-saturated and socially-connected secretly searching for cover, I’m not convinced. Thankfully, as an introvert, it’s a necessary part of my modus operandi. Solitude gives and I am rewarded. (seeking solitude is especially difficult for extroverts)
I’m disturbed that my grandchildren’s generation is wired for life. So when they visit, I do what I can to slow down the moment. There is a challenging puzzle on my dining room table for their enjoyment; books and magazines abound for their entertainment; games are stashed in case that appeals to their moods. Oh, and there is the art of good conversation as we play a hot game of scrabble. But pure unadulterated peace and quiet is harder and harder for them to experience.
When my children (pre-wired generations) were tots, I instituted a quiet time after lunch. They had to go to their rooms and take a nap or play or read. I had equal time to do the same. It strikes me as counterintuitive that parents started sending their children to their rooms as punishment–“time out” philosophy. As a child and adult, stick me in a room alone and I’m in a space for exploration of the world within and beyond. But, of course, one does not need to be placed in a room by themselves to find solitude. It comes in various forms and shapes.
“True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment,” said William Penn (1644-1718). History tells us that as a Quaker, Penn was following the tenets of his beliefs. Quakers live in the mainstream, but practice a philosophy of non-violence and quiet reflection found in monastic life. Years ago I attended a Quaker meeting and it was revelatory: people gathered together to be in silence. That was a “wow” moment.
I know that you do not have to have peace and quiet to get peace and quiet. It can be a state of mind. But being alone is so much better. It’s the restorative formula that seems missing from our twenty-first-century lifestyle. So I suggest that it become an additive–an additive that is plied with the most nourishing ingredients.
The pluses of digital overload can be counted, but trying to blend the popular culture’s progress with our own needs as sensing animals is often problematic. And the most obvious ramification is the mind’s restfulness. Sure, we’re suppose to be active in our wakeful hours, but velcro-ing to a computer is physically and psychologically counter to the human animal’s story.
Maybe, that’s why there is a rise in yoga classes, purchases of second homes in remote destinations, a spike in home cooking, and a resurgence of farming as a lifestyle.
In this age of blogging and social networking a person is constantly at the keyboard. Sure, idea-generation and inspiration do not need solitude, but silence does help. We all know the flashes that occur on a walk, in the shower, in the garden, on a bike ride, on a run, or any place where the mind can be stilled. The human condition needs time to deflect and reflect. And, it’s worrisome that younger generations are exploring nature less and less.
Adding solitude to your days may sound too monastic, but it is actually just the opposite. I’m not advocating a secluded lifestyle a la Emily Dickinson, who sequestered herself and became one our country’s most beloved poets. I am suggesting that we take a break from the computer and tablet, and divert our attention and seek a quiet sanctuary. Fit it into the schedule like eating and exercise: a sort of self-leveling as is used in computer games.
We can coexist between our solitary and social self, awakening each as needed. The hardest part is recognizing when we need a mini-retreat (long before our anxiety mounts). It’s an opportunity for self-exploration and just letting go. Not forced but a self-induced gift.
Solitude seems the perfect cost-free, benefit-filled mental currency for today’s overly committed and saturated minds. It’s a timeless way to refresh. It might even become an under story to survive our wired, cultural landscape. A result just might produce the an inner voice that bubbles to the surface with a new lyric about everyday living. Or at the very least release some of the physical strain of sitting at the computer for hours.
If nothing else check out Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1849) from your local library; he was the über experimenter in search for the perks of a simple life with the additive solitude. It’s a great beach book or to curl up on a hammock, and laze a day or two away in your own search for peace and quiet.