Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit.
Do you spend much time alone?
I do — or, at least, I used to. I was always a Lone Ranger type, even as a kid, generally quite content to be under a tree in the backyard with a book instead of schmoozing with the neighbor lady. I remember so clearly even in my teens, in full-on high school-overachiever-cheerleader-theater-kid mode, reading enviously about Henry David Thoreau's solo escape to Walden and wishing I could just ditch everything in that prescribed suburban Nebraska world and do the same.
Folks can get weirded out by people who are super comfortable being alone. Have you noticed this? (Jonathan Rauch did, and for that, I will always love him.) I remember being about 19 on a semester abroad in London; per usual, I stuck with my standard M.O., flying solo, hitting the theater by myself, heading to the British Museum on my own, zipping out early and heading home late, what have you. And I'll never forget how shocked, how struck I was by how very offended a few friends were by that quite unconscious ability to just do my own thing. They took it personally. But for me, it was just easier, more instinctive, more comfortable, more natural, this solitude, I suppose. A few years later, when I moved to Europe by myself as a recent college grad, I remember thinking to myself: "Holy god, yes. I can finally be alone." And it was true.
Fast-forward a decade or so, and life as I know it now is a constant march of being social. That quiet London theater student with her nose in a book wouldn't recognize this teaching, martini-shaking, stranger-greeting creature whose social calendar is booked out three weeks ahead of time. We change, yes, and we introverts learn by necessity how to be a little more professionally extroverted. But, of late, and perhaps because of that very shift, I've been so hungry for silence, realizing how contingent upon it is my ability to write, to breathe, to think, to craft any kind of creative anything. So as I look ahead to solo time in Thailand next month, I know that's where my heart needs to be for a bit of refueling, the same way you'd charge an electric car or your battery-drained iPhone at night.
SO this morning when I woke up to find Tricycle's daily featured article on The Power of Solitude, I had to smile. Dr. Reggie Ray writes about the importance of solitary retreat, the power of learning to sit with your racing neurotic mind and really remove yourself from the social stimulants that keep you from touching ground with that very heart of things. And I was grateful.
We are a very extroverted society. Even though within the Western tradition the practice of seclusion and retreat are very much a part of our own spiritual culture — the contemplative practices of Roman Catholicism, for example — most people are not aware that they are part of our heritage.
I think the other reason is that not only has the typical Western person spent little or no time alone, but many of us have an underlying fear of solitude. Possibly driving some of the misunderstanding of retreat is a deep-seated fear of being alone without distraction, without entertainment, without “work,” without other people around to constantly confirm our sense of self. We live in a culture driven by consumerism. Many of us feel, perhaps without realizing it, that unless we are “producing” in some sort of external, materialistic way, our legitimacy as a human being is somehow in question. We don’t really see where retreat fits in....
One of the things [people] often discover when they get into those situations is that they’ve brought their whole world with them. Their anxiety, their disturbing emotions, their mental speed, their mental preoccupations are just as present in solitude as they are in ordinary life. In fact, they may be even more prevalent. The problem is that they don’t know what to do with their mind.
Retreat combines solitude and the practice of meditation, where you begin to actually explore your own mind. What you find is that, through intensive meditation in retreat, you begin to attend to your mind in a direct and unmediated way: Your mind begins to slow down, your sense perceptions open up, you find yourself increasingly present to your life, and you begin to experience solitude in a deep and genuine way.
The environment is solitude, but the essential ingredient is meditation practice — what you actually do with your mind when you are alone.....
[This] takes a lifetime of practice to develop. But I’ve discovered that if you do the practice, the results manifest themselves. Now that’s huge. This is not wishful thinking. Real, undeniable, and lasting transformation is what’s at stake. That’s what I try to communicate to my students. Number one: it takes work. Number two: it gets you to a place in your own life where maybe you really want to be more than anywhere else. So it’s definitely worth doing.
Amen, brother. How can you fit a wee bit more solitude into your own routine? Even if it's just five minutes alone on the bus, or ten minutes under a tree before you head into that cocktail party? Give it a try. Your mind — and your heart — will thank you.
Caring For Your Introvert (Atlantic Monthly)The Power of Solitude (Tricycle)