CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY | By JOANNA TEBBS YOUNG
Let’s talk about solitude.
This may seem a strange topic in a column about creating community, but I assure you, it is related.
This past month, I have spent most of my days in solitude. My family has been away, and I have taken advantage of this rare opportunity to work on a big writing project. Despite missing my loved ones, I haven’t felt lonely at any moment. This is a wonderful aspect of being an introvert.
But even extroverts can, and should, spend time alone. These are not polarized personality traits. Just as I can, and do, enjoy leaving my nest of solitude once in a while to meet someone at the coffee shop, to attend a networking event or gather with some friends to discuss mommyhood and writing over a glass of wine, a naturally extroverted person can just as happily hole up at home for the day, focusing on a creative project or a good book.
During the long hours of just hanging out with me, myself and I, I’ve had much time to think and reflect (which I tend to do in writing and any creative practice, including dance, yoga, meditating or just “pondering stuff” works). Self-reflection is a healthy and necessary practice, not only for our personal growth but for the benefit of those with whom we live and work.
I recently saw an experiment where people were put in a room with an electronic device, such as a smartphone. There was no other stimulus in the room and many of the research subjects chose to use the smartphone rather than be alone with their thoughts, despite the fact that the device gave them an electric shock! Although this study might speak more to a mass addiction to our handheld electronics — and any addiction is in reality a method to escape uncomfortable emotions (look up comedian Louis C.K.’s fabulous conversation on the Conan show about hating cell phones and sitting with the “sad”) — it does speak to a deeper problem: we tend to be afraid of silence and nothingness. But it is in that nothingness we can cultivate change.
Any artist or creative thinker knows there must be times of silence and aloneness in which to develop ideas. While group brainstorming is indeed helpful, it is also vital to balance this out with quiet contemplation, the kind that usually works best in doing something “mindless.” We’ve all had the experience of coming up with a brilliant idea in the shower or while doing dishes or weeding the garden. It is when the “monkey” mind is preoccupied that the deeper, wiser mind (or body) can get to work.
So how does this translate into better community? I believe that if we all took, rather, gave, ourselves times of solitude, even if it was for a few minutes a day (parents: we all know the bathroom is where we flee for this, right?), we could ultimately be more helpful community members. Even if your current “community” is just your family or co-workers, or if you work on a much bigger scale as a city-wide community-builder, giving yourself quiet time allows you to think more clearly, know yourself — your limits and true needs — better, work more effectively, give a little more, and ultimately come up with better ideas for growth and change for everyone.
(P.S. I want to thank Bridget Scott who took over this column while I was away. She is a fabulous writer. But she’s also a fantastic baker, so go visit her at Speakeasy Café and take advantage of one of her other gifts. Her toffee cookie might just take the cake, so to speak.)