I came across these words by Julie Pointer in Kinfolk a few weeks ago (a great magazine) and I’ve been thinking about it since– “I spend time alone to cultivate my own joy and well-being, for the sake of becoming something worthy of sharing with others.” It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day, but so important to pause.
“In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Marie Rilke writes, “People have even made eating into something else: necessity on the one hand, excess on the other; have muddied the clarity of this need, and all the deep, simple needs in which life renews itself have become just as muddy. But the individual can make them clear for himself and live them clearly (not the individual who is dependent, but the solitary man).”
What I want is a quiet life.
I mean a life that listens: to other people, to my place, to silence. I want to notice even the smallest things, to stay immediate to my surroundings. But daily distraction can be so fragmenting, so addictive, and the kind of attentive patience I seek requires clarity of mind. To find this clearheadedness, I must make a commitment to do so — I have to say no to the constant, frenzied consumption of “needs” (more often wants and excesses), and I have to make room for the quiet, contented yes I actually desire.
I feel most acutely present when I am away from the noise, when my circumstances pare down all unnecessary clutter. I have experienced this fully in short parentheses in my past– living in a convent in a hilltop village, working on a remote island with scarcely 200 inhabitants, visiting my grandparents in their summer cottage on the river. These represent the simplest times, when I am completely content with nothing but words, pen and paper, the outdoors, my feet, my eyes. I return from these respites feeling soft, malleable, ready to make something good of myself.
But apart from the luxury of true time away, daily life clamors. I am folded into busyness, worrying about friends, washing the dishes, money, work, wondering what I will make of my life. It’s hard to get ahold of myself in this cycle, unless I actively venture to reassess, re-move. Even the plainest gesture can renew me — jotting a few words down (somewhere, anywhere), opening a book, taking a walk, doing jumping jacks, baking, drawing some lines, watching the trees move outside my window. In dire times I take a drive, always somewhere with unfenced expanses and wildness in which I can lie. I eat an apple; I hear the birds. I move beyond the minute scope of myself, and I am refreshed by the marvel of the osprey’s nest, the river unceasing, the cows in the field.
When I am alert enough, these moments of relative aloneness overwhelm me with the freedom of choice. It is a generous gift– to choose the way I want to live, in spite of circumstance. I believe that I am daily shaping myself through my decisions, and so I make them earnestly, carefully. But I too easily fall into patterns I believe to be obligatory– habits of convenience I depend upon. I am carried away by the impulse to keep up, though this sentiment inspires only a perpetual state of wanting. I’d rather punctuate my days with actions turning me towards gratefulness, revitalizing my eyes to see the calm goodness already around me. If i excuse my mind from easy diversion and turn my attention to noticing what’s before me– whether word, wind or moth-wing– I find a simple quiet life within me.
I love solitude, but I do not remain there forever. My solitary times fortify me to listen more clearly and to love better when I am in the presence of others. We are meant to commune together, which means to empathize, to relate to, to be close with. When I take the time to perceive the world as it is–and myself as I am–I have more empathy and gratitude for those I encounter daily, be they friends or strangers. I spend time alone to cultivate my own joy and well-being, for the sake of becoming something worthy of sharing with others.”
– by Julie Pointer