Psychic Solitude The Quiet Revolution
How long can you be content on your own – without your cellphone, email, ipad, mp3/4, portable dvd player or anything other than a setting where you feel comfortable and private? Do you even have such a place where you are beyond the reach of intrusion, where you can be completely on your own for some period of time? Other than the bathroom, where can you be truly private? If you wish – even sometimes – that you could spend time in such a place – the un-plugged technology-free zone – your body (and your mind, soul, Self) is sending you a message.
Psychic Solitude The Quiet Revolution
One of the great ironies of modern life (or post-modern as some insist on calling it) is that one can go to the wilds of Siberia or Lappland (Painting below by Carl Hallbeck, Wikimedia) or deep into Patagonia or the Amazon forest and still be disturbed by the sound of jet engines in the distance! Even worse, in what appear to be ‘wide open spaces’ we are still vulnerable to the intrusion caused by HAARP, spy satellites, sonar systems, ELF waves, radio waves, microwaves, radioactive emissions from reactors or the dozens of other energies operating just beneath our level of conscious awareness. We are in fact bombarded with subtle energies – even that coming from the computer you likely spend time on every day. Some stimulation is necessary for a healthy life but our highly industrialised society produces an unprecedented number of stimuli many of which only register subliminally. We are affected whether we wish to admit or not.
The Nature of Stimuli
How we feel about stimuli in the environment has a great deal to do with the type of personality we have. As geneticists forge ahead with research into the properties of our genes in relation to everything inheritable from eye colour to the potential of developing certain categories of disease, they are also discovering links between personality characteristics and genetic make up. In general the research confirms what until now has been learned through observation. For instance, we know from experience that Extroverts seek stimulation. They crave variety in everything from food to recreational activities. Extroverts prefer spending a good deal of time with others as opposed to spending time alone. Extroverts often seek out the spotlight and enjoy being the centre of attention. Because their attention is focused on direct sensory experience and how other people are responding to them, extroverts tend to be sceptical about the effects of subtle energies on our neurology. Extroverts, being risk-prone, challenge the significance of scientific findings as applied to them so that they can continue pursuing risky adventures. The extroverted personality is an advantage in a democratic setting where fellow citizens may be immigrants from very different cultures. ‘Making friends easily’ is another trait of Extroverts who pride themselves on having ‘lots of friends’.
Introverts, on the other hand, are more inner directed. Introverts tend to be the thinkers amongst us. They approach new situations more as observers than participants, pick up on subtle changes in mood in themselves and others, and are usually more comfortable listening than speaking when they meet new people. Introverts tend to ask more questions and listen more closely to what is being said and they like time to think before having to draw any conclusions. In general, Introverts are more aware of even subtle energy shifts in themselves and those around them.
Introverts are not anti-social or misanthropic but they do value – and physically, emotionally and intellectually NEED – a less noisy, less crowded, less ‘exposed’ way of life. Introverts are not fond of noise, crowding, or spending time with boisterous people. Introverts truly do enjoy quiet and even solitary pursuits like reading books (as opposed to email!), hobbies like building models (boats, planes, 3D puzzles, etc.), spending time outdoors on their own or with one or two close friends or family. They prefer individual pursuits to group undertakings. They prefer music that soothes rather than stimulates, environments that aren’t too cluttered, and above all, they enjoy being on their own – even for what extroverts would consider to be very long stretches of time – so that they can recover from the overexposure to stimuli in their enviroments that Extroverts crave. What extroverts consider to be stimulating, introverts usually find ennervating, draining away precious energy and leaving them feeling emotionally and even physically exhausted. This is not imaginary on the Introvert’s part; what is ‘normal’ for the Extrovert may be overstimulation for the Introvert.
Of course, few people are 100% consistently extroverted or introverted. There is a continuum that stretches from extreme introversion that may involve mental illness to extreme extroversion with a manic dimension to it. However, according to Susan Cain’s best selling book, Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking, studies devoted to assessing personality types on the continuum have found that 1/3 to 1/2 of the population are introverts, obviously a sizable part of the general population. When I saw this book on Amazon’s pre-release list, I was ecstatic. At last, there is a credible overview of the research data on personality types that focuses on the Introvert not as an anomaly or social freak but as a valuable human type, the thinker, the quiet child or adult with a rich interior life and – when permitted to thrive – a productive contributor in many fields of endeavour.
The Secret Language of Birthdays
I’ve never doubted the value of quiet pursuits. As a child who was born on the seventh day of the seventh month perhaps there was no escape from it – I seemed to have been born to immerse myself in the pleasures of the mind: enjoying stories, learning to read, preferring to spend time in a library to spending it engaging in group play. It would be decades later that I would discover the ancient significance of birth dates in terms of our temperament and our deep preferences for some pursuits over others. As a “7″ I was naturally quiet, introspective, inclined toward spiritual philosophies, with an insatiable desire to read and learn. I was also painfully self-conscious, socially a bit awkward, deeply empathetic toward both adults and children who were in emotional pain, and usually left off of ‘teams’ when it came to playing games.(Part of me was relieved, part of me mortified!). I really didn’t know how to play in the usual childhood context. I liked ‘playing school’ whilst other kids played group games that involved a great deal of noisy play. I was definitely an odd-duck in a society that valued ‘team players’ and ‘out-going’ personalities. In my heart of hearts I wanted to be liked but I also wanted and needed to spend time alone, exploring the world of rocks and shells or hiding behind the languid branches of a weeping willow just to enjoy the quiet nearness to a tree.
The Quiet Revolution
I wish my parents could have read a book like Quiet and – what I would recommend as a companion volume - The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine N. Aron. Because we’re not born with instruction manuals, our parents are at the mercy of whatever child-rearing philosophy they inherit from their parents or create for themselves based on their own childhoods and/or lots of reading on the subject of child development. Regardless of where they start out, however, the majority of parents succumb to the ‘norm’ upheld by the society they live in. As a result according to Susan Cain, “Too many people live lives that don’t suit them—introverts with frenetic social schedules, extroverts with jobs that require them to sit in front of their computers for hours at a stretch. We all have to do things that don’t come naturally—some of the time. But it shouldn’t be all the time. It shouldn’t even be most of the time.”
Introversion as Creative Incubation
As eminent an individual as Albert Einstein would agree wholeheartedly with Cain. When asked how he managed to be so productive all his life, Einstein explained that he needed unusually long periods of time alone to think and work. But he was not speaking only of an office or laboratory where he could work on his own, uninterrupted. Einstein also recognised the need for an emotional space between himself and even those closest to him. He understood the necessity to live out the advice of Polonius to his son, Laertes: “This above all: To thine own self be True, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
The ‘Lone Traveler’
Einstein put it this way: ”I am truly a ‘lone traveler’ and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, and even my immediate family with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties, I have never lost a sense of distance and a need for solitude—feelings which increase with the years.” In being true to his essentially Introverted self, Einstein revolutionised our understanding of the universe and the reality in which we live. Had he been more of a conformist, spending lots of time socialising with people just to be ‘polite’ or to ‘make an impression’, or because other people ‘thought he should’, how much we would have lost. The truth is we ‘belong’ to no-one, not even our parents or families. Each of is born as distinctive as a snowflake but we must assert our right to remain unique even if it means insisting on being alone for great swathes of time. In a society designed for the comfort of Extroverts, it is the Introvert’s job to educate those closest to us on the importance of our solitary time to our physical, emotional, and mental health. What it comes down to is this: Tolerance of differences is the measure of a healthy society.
All of the resources cited in this post are available HERE.
Image credits: Paintings by Roerich and Hallbeck, Stained Glass Window of Polonius and Einstein Memorial courtesy of Wikimedia, Creative Commons.