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QUINTESSENCE

Habits of Creative Practice 4

Moonshell, Ukee Aquarium
Solitude, says the moon shell. Every person, especially every woman, should be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week, and each day... The world totally does not understand, in either man or woman, the need to be alone... Actually these are among the most important times in one's life - when one is alone. Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone. The artist knows he must be alone to create; the writer, to work out his thoughts; the musician, to compose; the saint, to pray. But women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves: that firm strand which will be the indispensable center of a whole web of human relationships. She must find that inner stillness which Charles Morgan describes as "the stilling of the soul within the activities of the mind and body so that it might be still as the axis of a revolving wheel is still."
- Anne Morrow Lindberg, "Gift from the Sea"

Anne Morrow Lindberg's comments about the importance of solitude are as true today, if not more so, as when she first penned "Gifts from the Sea" in 1955. The benefits of solitude for the human soul are undeniable in this contemporary era of continuous technological hum. We are linked-in, online, accessible, and checking in more frequently with the world and our demanding lives than ever before possible. "Unplugging" has come to mean "taking a break" from the world. Dropping off-line into silence, stillness, the present moment.

Something inside each of us craves stillness. Humans sail away, climb high peaks, retreat to the woods, take vows of silence, try any of "fifty ways to leave" their troubles as the song goes. Burnt out, we experiment with an endless odyssey of solitudes - we understand why Forrest Gump laced up his shoes and took to the road. We crave a space where we can be alone with ourselves: in solitude is fundamental renewal. Clarity. That said, how difficult finding the time!

I began running in middle school as a way of escaping the chaos of teenage life, in particular the break-up of my parents' marriage. Needing frequent interludes of silence to decompress adult life, I continue the habit. Heading out on a run late at night, early in the morning, regardless of weather. I am that "lone wolf" - alone with my thoughts as the miles fly by. For you it might be the yoga mat, cycling, kneading bread, a garden, hiking, laps in the pool, a whittler's knife, a crochet hook, paint by numbers, meditation. Your solitude may be creative or the farthest thing from it. It's quality is self-care.

The benefits for the writer of frequent passages into solitude are enormous. Not only as Lindberg says to work out our thoughts, but more importantly to recharge the inner well from which all creativity arises. Creative effort is enduring, exhausting, and ineffably demanding. It cannot be done on the fly, or with half-attention or "between takes," or while multitasking. Creative work begins in collected focus, drawing from inner resources, contemplation and imagination. These fuel cells evaporate in the presence of anxiety, distraction, fatigue or preoccupation. Frequent solitude is the way to nurture and protect our creative energies.

Easier said than done. Too often we fret that setting aside "alone time" means we are "wasting time": pressuring ourselves with the belief bigger more important tasks await. Too often we allow ourselves to be convinced the demands of others take precedence not just now, but always. Often we are too uncomfortable with ourselves in stillness to give stillness a chance to speak, to settle into it. We expect a product at the end of such arduous self-imposed breaks; dismissing solitude if we do not then produce a book, an idea, new thinking. We must instead give solitude it's due: recognize stillness as a sacred time, solace of the self. What comes of our solitude is whatever we most need; even if that be unmeasurable, intangible, anything but concrete. What we require will rise from deep within if given the space. In stillness we are primed for lifting what lies within without. Excavation, reflection, sifting, construction, release. Solitude, to borrow from Anne Morrow Lindberg's insightful prose, nurtures "the firm strand that will be the indispensable center." The cornerstone.

An important step toward both good living and good creative practice might be to find that one place or activity or combination of things that allows us to access our inner axis of stillness. Beginning with a modest goal, we can dedicate whatever small amount of time is available to our fledgling practice of solitude. Steal time if we must. The benefits of solitude, of inner stillness, will infuse every other moment of life and work with inspiration: inspire, to breathe.

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