This week, I got the chance to be in a quiet room by myself to focus on my writing. Our son is eight months old, and the urge to write has been getting stronger now that he is sleeping better and I have more energy. Some friends and I decided that each week two mums will look after three babies, giving the third mum the chance to have some time to herself. The thought of a few hours protected writing time is blissful but it turns out that making the most of it is harder than I thought.
The hamster wheel of everyday life
There I was with a few hours of writing time in front of me for the first time in months and I was unable to de-clutter my mind. If you are anything like me, the moments of quiet in your life are few and far between. The waking hours at our house are filled with playdates, chatter, song, giggles and whining. If the kids are asleep, I am tempted to nap too or I switch on the radio and use the time to catch up on chores, touch base with friends or family or slump on the sofa with a book or my laptop. I feel the constant pull of twitter, facebook and online news. Do you, like me, reach for your mobile phone as soon as you wake and throughout the day to check messages? Even my parents, who until a few years ago owned old Nokias, are now hooked on their smartphones and ipads. It’s an addiction. Life today is a whirr of constant interaction; it has become all-consuming.
Finding ways to centre yourself
Okay, this sounds a bit new age but I think we are losing the ability to clear the decks of everyday concerns and just be. We fill every waking moment with gadgets and noise and somewhere in the midst of all the chaos we have begun to lose ourselves. Or at least, I have. Spending time with family and friends is one way of regaining our equilibrium. Writing and listening to music centre me. But it is equally important to spend some of our waking time tuning into our thoughts without any distractions. The problem with sharing yourself with the world the whole time is that we are always in a state of giving or receiving. We risk losing ourselves somewhere along the way.
The confidence to be happy in solitude
It takes courage to say no to family and friends. It takes strength to resist the pull of media. I have even begun to feel anxious when I am out of the loop. Is this mode of always being busy – of which we are often so proud – fool’s gold? Too much interaction is as much of a chain as too little. Maybe we subject our minds to constant chatter because we are afraid of what thoughts will form when we are alone. Are those who are able to sit in quiet repose the ones who really own their true selves?
Stilling your mind
You might say that you have no time to practice stillness. I’m going to take it step by step. Next time I shower, I’m not going to plan out what I have to do next. Instead, I’m going to take five minutes to clear my head of everything that is going on around me. Next time I go for a walk, I am going to leave my phone at home. I’m not sure how successful I’ll be but every now and then, I might even try and get through my daily commute without a book or my ipod.
Wherever we are, time alone has the power to restore us. I wonder how much stronger I would feel if I could do this regularly. I wonder how much more clarity of thought I would have as a writer if I was more adept at clearing my mind of the hustle and bustle of everyday life. If you had more time for yourself, would you have a keener sense of who you are, what makes you happy and how you need to get there?
Finding the balance
There is no doubt, my family and friends bring me joy and ground me; books, radio, television, smart phones and the internet enrich my life. The sense of belonging that goes with being part of a community is an empowering feeling. We feel loved and protected; it is good for both the ego and our sense of security; we grow. But the truth and self-contemplation that emerge from periods of being completely alone are equally important. Finding the balance that works for you between these two states is important for us all.
For writers in particular, to create something relevant and original, we need to be a part of the world but also be able to retreat to the periphery. I will be practising the art of sitting in a room and being comfortable by myself there. Will you?
‘We need society, and we need solitude also, as we need summer and winter, day and night, exercise and rest.’ Philip Gilbert Hamerton
‘Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your won presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement.’ Alice Koller
This blog post is also featured in the June 2013 First Friday Link Party for Writers on Carol Tice’s website Making A Living Writing