Something happened in the last few years that knocked me off my true course. I let go of the anchor rope to introversion and drifted away from my inner compass. I can't identify the specific causes; it may have been the perfect storm of conditions. I can, however, see how easy it is to happen in today's world, compared to life 20 years ago.
I used to snicker like a smug geek when my accountant would comment on why he didn't "do" email. He said that it created unnecessary urgency. I think that is part of what caused me to lose my connection to myself: an unnecessary sense of urgency that oozes into life at every seam.
"Urgent" opportunities to do almost anything you can imagine: study any subject instantly; try new activities; communicate with anyone, anywhere; and—my preferred drug of choice—the ability to know what's going on at any moment, 24/7, in all corners of the globe. All that potential is seductive. Come out, come out, it calls. And if you don't heed the siren call of unlimited possibilities in today's always-on world, there is a little nagging feeling that maybe you missed something.
But recently, the nagging feeling of missing something was replaced by a stronger sense of disease that what I missed was me. I wasn't even sure who me was anymore, because I hadn't checked in on myself in so long. I used to find out what I was thinking about through journaling, writing poetry, and reading. None of which I have done with any regularity in awhile. Instead, I've been living "out there."
I have always identified myself as an introvert, but since allowing myself to be blown off course, I felt like an outsider, an outsider to myself. Introversion is turning inward. Extroversion (or extraversion) is turning outward. Turning in is focusing on the world of thoughts and ideas; turning out is focusing on things, people, and activities.
I shouldn't delve into a world of psychology I know very little about, but I believe it is accepted that we are not one or the other (introvert or extrovert), but fluctuate between the two, with one more dominant than the other. That seems true to me. I can have very extroverted days and periods, but I am more comfortable, more at home, when I am turned or "tuned" in to the world inside my head and heart.
"Know thyself" and the "unexamined life isn't worth living" is not just Socratic advice for living. Looking inside and quietly examining your own mind, or just sitting--giving up your hold on your thoughts—is at the core of secular and Buddhist mindfulness and meditative practices...and the reason why people of all ages and at all times seek the quiet, reflective peace found during a walk alone in nature.
The Tibetan word for Buddhist is “Nangpa” or “insider.” Dharma teaches that you can only find peace and happiness by looking inside, by examining and getting to know how your mind works, so that you can interrupt the habitual mental tendencies that lead to unhappiness.
But in today's world, the solitude required to look inside is less and less valued. So much so it seems many people just can't "do" solitude. We live in a culture that respects and encourages everything that is not solitude. It promotes constant visibility and getting yourself out there: joining teams and groups, creating bigger and bigger professional and personal networks, attracting hundreds or thousands of Facebook friends and Twitter followers.
Yet, in the ultimate sense, in the terms of "things as they are", we are alone. We came into this life alone and leave it in the same way. And, in the time in between, we do everything we can to forget our ultimate aloneness—pretending it's not so.
Sometimes it's not that we are purposely leaving our inner life behind, but we just forget about it. In the book, Introvert Power: Why Your Hidden Life is Your Hidden Strength, by Laurie Helgoe, PhD, she writes: "We get busy, and the more distant solitude becomes, the more we avoid it.... It may be a fear of coming down from the stimulation."
I confess that this helps explain what happened to me. Although I knew I needed to stop and disengage from "out there", whenever I tried I was like a kid with ADD—my body and mind revolted. Solitude can be uncomfortable at first. Those of you who practice meditation are familiar with that uncomfortableness when remembering the first few times you tried to meditate.
Writing is like that too. We remember we like it, but when we try to get into again after a long absence, it feels awkward. We feel bored, not used to being stimulated from the outside-in, rather than the inside-out. But if, like me, you stick to the "practice of solitude" your dedication will pay off. You will be reacquainted with the joy—yes, joy—and energy in the treasure you left buried inside.
Stop now and sit, for 15 or 20 minutes, with a koan, a poem, or an idea for a new creative project. Immerse yourself in your own mind, in the stimulation of ideas, and—like the most addictive video game or computer activity—you will be hooked back into yourself after a few times of adventurously exploring your inner landscape. You may be surprised at what you find.
As Walt Whitman suggests in his enlightenment narrative, Song of Myself, celebrate and sing yourself. Loaf and invite your soul...
About these blog posts
A mix of older posts I wrote for the blog, Suchness: It's All Good - Buddhist Ramblings, LinkedIn articles, and Career Coaching blog posts.