Saturday, September 8, 2018

On Solitude

"Let me have a draught of undiluted morning air. Morning air! If [people] will not drink of this at the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some, and sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their subscription ticket to morning time in this world."
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Mornings are - unquestionably - the sweetest way to start a day. Before there is wind in the trees or scampering in the woods, or an urgent sound from rooster, car, or airplane, there is a quiet invitation to breathe deeply and live your best day.

I'm with Thoreau. We should bottle it. So many of us have lost our subscription - our permission - to take long moments (at any time of day) to ponder what's ahead, inhale and exhale with intention, and savor a minute, or ten, of stillness.  

I have come to the woods on Whidbey Island, off the coast of Seattle, to find mine.

To be clear, I did not build the cabin in which I am languishing, Thoreau-style, although I am certainly Thoreau-ishly eager for observations of the "essential facts of life", the fullness of nature, the singularity of solitude.

Nor have I come for two years. Just 12 days.
I am here on a Thoreau-esque mission, albeit abbreviated and absent construction, to discover what I might be missing in the never-ending hum of my lovely life at home.
  • What is beating in my heart that I refuse to hear in the bustle of a daily routine? 
  • Where on this journey am I zooming when I should be meandering? 
  • When did a TO DO list become the only creativity of the day? 
  • How do I find a well-lit path back to me? 
I am on day 4 today.

For the previous three days, I have quite intentionally attended to my breath, (especially that early one in the still of the morning). I have - daily - moved like cold honey through a dozen yoga poses, and sat with the sounds of birds and squirrels and faraway ferry horns in a meditative posture for a minimum of 15 minutes. I have celebrated tea and warm bread with butter over the writing journal - scribbling stream-of-consciousness until I discover myself doodling. I've moved like a sea turtle the 6 steps from desk to kitchen sink to porch and back to desk. Mindfully, deliberately. 

So. Day 4.
This was the day, per the wisdom of a shaman friend, I could expect the quiet to fully engage and shove aside the ground clutter inside my head.** The day I could begin to prophesy, dream dreams, see visions...

I will hold my hopes high for Day 5.

I can say this: I am calming.  It feels like I've lowered the pitch of my vibration in the world. My 2-month old headache is mostly gone. My deep breaths come in long draws instead of the shaky pieced-together jaggedyness I showed up with four days ago. 

But still...
In all this calm and beauty and solitude.
Still, I find I am entertaining a monkey in my brain.

I am ever so aware of Senator Kamala Harris's tenacious questioning of Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill this week. I've not fallen behind on my op-ed reading in the New York Times. I am still perusing everything from best fiction to most frightening fact at The New Yorker. Still clicking on the link to find out what's trending in food for Fall. Still shopping for a dress to wear to a wedding in October. Still checking Instagram. Still texting with my closest people.

Clearly, I did not get away from it all.
Because even in the sweet, deep woods of Whidbey Island - where there is no appointment to keep, no house to clean, no errand to run, no cell signal to speak of - there is wifi. And, to be honest, it was the first thing I took care of when I arrived. 

Logging on. 

What's a modern woman/writer/reporter to do about that, Thoreau?
I have not remained connected without some consternation. Is solitude really solitude with such ready access to the outside world? Is the grounding I have come here to find impossible with the chaos of the world glowing at me from the screen of my laptop? Am I afraid of unsupplemented alone time? 

I am giving a complete disconnect some thought. Perhaps for one full day, at least. 24 hours without the monkey jumping from the sounds of silence to the tirades of Twitter, from the freshness of the morning air to the dulled sense of national grief, from the lilt of a songbird to the lies of an Executive.

In fact, our man of intentional solitude, Thoreau, did not practice total abstinence from Real Life while in his woodsy cabin, either. It seems 1845 Walden Pond was swarmed with picnickers and swimmers every summer, ice fishers and skaters in winter. H.D. could walk from his cabin to the family home in Concord in 20-minutes. Apparently he did so several times a week to grab some of his mama's cookies and eat a meal with friends. Historians who like to pick on Thoreau, also tell us his mother and sisters made weekly visits to the cabin, bringing along food and gossip from home. (If this intrigues you, read this.)

So I'm not going to make apologies for being in the midst of a 2018 redefinition of simplify, simplify. I will only confess that I am experiencing solitude in a way most women I have known cannot/will not allow. Because...finances, calendars, families, commitments.

I am so lucky.

I do wish this opportunity for all my female friends who have let the continuous loop of "urgent" and "must do" play without stopping in their heads. For each of you, I promise to relish every one of the next 8 morning breaths, to stretch gratefully into every slow porch yoga pose, to chase the mind monkeys away for at least 15 minutes a day...and to look at the distracting beat of the world with calmer, kinder, more compassionate eyes. 

Also this...
How vain is it to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live. 
(Thoreau said this too.) 

So...whether in the sweet, searching hours of solitude or the distracting, always-with-us social media moments, do this: Stand up to live. And take a long, deep breath when you do.

I have heard this in the quiet morning air in the woods of Whidbey. 
Peace, friends.

**Results (apparently) cannot be guaranteed under certain conditions. 

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