Be with yourself

Grady enjoys a self-chosen respite from the Christmas chaos, December 2014

Grady enjoys a self-chosen respite from the Christmas chaos, December 2014

“Children especially need solitude.  Solitude is the precondition for having a conversation with yourself.  This capacity to be with yourself and discover yourself is the bedrock of development.” Sherry Turkle

Much has been written about the changes technology is bringing to the way we relate to each other.  Does it connect us more closely, or paradoxically isolate us by decreasing our experience of being physically present and face-to-face with another person?  It’s a difficult question to answer, but one aspect of the debate I have yet to see mentioned much is the effect technology has had on solitude.

Have you ever known anyone who had to have the radio or television playing when they were alone?  Do you know people who feel uneasy if they are not within easy reach of a cell phone?  Have we bought into the idea that it is our responsibility to be available to others every waking minute of every day?

During the brief time we spent with Grady recently, I was impressed that he seems to have an innate sense (as his father did) that quiet time alone is of utmost value.  Many of his waking hours were spent in rowdy play or curious exploration, but also, he seemed almost contemplative at times.

One afternoon Drew and Megan left to explore Mount Vernon while MeMe and PaPa happily stayed with Grady.  After the usual staged protests that vanished literally before they had gotten five feet from the front door, he quite happily returned to the living room with us, obviously not distressed.

Jeff had gone to retrieve several stuffed toys for him to play with.  To our surprise, he lined them up in a sort of circle and lay down in the middle of them, using one as a pillow.  Thinking he must be ready for a nap (though it was not yet time) I covered him with a soft throw.  But he did not sleep.

For at least an hour he lay there, eyes wide open, apparently content with the silence and inactivity.  Jeff was nearby reading, and that seemed enough for him.  From time to time I would come in and check on him, and he would smile, but wouldn’t budge.  He was right where he wanted to be, doing what he wanted to do.

How intelligent that seemed to me!  How I envied his ability to simply lie quietly, free of entertainment or amusement, happy to do nothing but enjoy a respite from the nonstop excitement of the Christmas holidays.  I started to wonder how many of us, especially young people, ever have such time to recharge and renew our souls.

Justifiably fearful of children’s safety, we increasingly guard them from exploring alone in the neighborhood, or outdoors, and equip them with cell phones so that we can feel connected to them at all times.  We may over-schedule them (not to mention ourselves) to the point that they never experience the rich atmosphere of time spent by oneself.  But I believe Turkle is right; solitude is the bedrock of development, and quiet time alone rightly deserves to be a priority not only for them, but for us too, no matter our age.

So, in keeping with the theme of today’s post, I am going to unplug from my computer this week.  Please keep those comments coming in if you have anything to say — I love reading your comments, and will read and respond to each one on Saturday or maybe Sunday evening, depending on when I can get back to it.

I don’t want anyone to worry about us or how we are doing this week.  I assure you that “no news is good news.”  I will miss hearing from you and exchanging ideas, but that will make it all the more fun when I do plug back in.  Thursday’s post has been scheduled and will appear as usual, unless there is some sort of WordPress glitch.

If you feel increasingly stretched thin by the continual intrusion of ringing phones, pinging email, mock-urgent news broadcasts, and mind-numbing commercials everywhere we turn, don’t be afraid to just unplug everything for awhile and be with yourself.  If possible, take a walk in the park, or the woods, or a nearby garden or meadow.  Listen to the sound of the wind in the trees, or the birds calling to each other.  Tune in to the conversation in your mind.

Like father, like son -- Drew at about the same age, enjoying our back yard. Huber Heights, Ohio, sometime in 1985

Like father, like son — Drew at about the same age, enjoying our back yard.
Huber Heights, Ohio, sometime in 1985

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

6 Comments

  1. Susan

    What a sweet story, with the pictures to match. i know so much has changed since then, but it’s a beautiful memory that as usual you draw such wonderful insight from to share with us.

    • Thank you, Susan. It helps to know that you understand the bittersweet memories, but I’ll take the sweet with the bitter any day! I appreciate your kind words and your presence here.

  2. Judy

    I very much enjoyed your column today — so much so that I went back to the original one just to read the comments too. In the 7 years since you wrote those words, not much has changed. People are still walking around with cellphones glued to their hands and now even “smart watches” are available. I hope that parents somehow pick up on the idea that teaching their children to enjoy quiet time with their own thoughts is at least as important as learning how to use electronic devices. Being able to center yourself and enjoy that peaceful calming of the mind is a survival skill in today’s stressful world.

    • Judy, so true! I had been hoping that one of the silver linings to the Covid shutdown would be the rediscovery of old-fashioned pursuits such as reading, quiet conversation with one or two people, and generally slowing down. But not surprisingly, I think that Covid has actually increased our digital fixation, with meetings, doctor appointments and even worship services still online for many of us. I use my so-called “Smart” phone much more than I used to, but I still refuse to wear it. I think everyone has learned (and I have told business contacts) that I may not get a text instantly as most people expect, and if it’s urgent and I don’t answer quickly, they need to call. I will sometimes go many hours without checking my texts, and I’ve learned that most people find that surprising. This constant connectivity has its advantages, but I do think it breeds impatience and the inability to sit still and quiet for very long.

      Thank you for your continued presence here, and for taking the time to go back and read a bit of the astoundingly massive archives of this blog. Many years ago my Aunt asked me to create a book of everything, but I found that each post (including the comments, which I felt were an essential part of the online community) ran to several pages! I was a bit overwhelmed when I realized just how much I had written, in posts and comments, over the years. In fact, I do need to at least do a backup of everything. I haven’t done that for at least a few years and I do want to keep a copy of everything, if only in digital format. Of course, whether or not I’d ever be able to open it up again is anyone’s guess!

      • Judy

        Your Aunt had a good idea and I think a book would be a perfect way to preserve your wonderful work (hmm, I think I’ve told you that before!). I’ve copied off several of your columns over the years. You’re an amazing writer and have a kind empathetic eye for observing human behavior. I’m a Julia’s Blog fan!

        • Awww,thank you Judy. You are such a good writer yourself, that it’s even more of a compliment that you enjoy the blog.

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