Posted by jlubans on May 20, 2014

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Caption. Alone at the shore. Photo by M. Lubans-Othic, @May 2014

The novelist Ruth Thomas recently wrote about the importance of being lonely. She asks, “Is loneliness always a bad thing – or should we cherish our pre-internet memories of ‘vacant and pensive’ moods?
Now, in my eyes, there’s a difference between being lonely and being alone. The forlorn Hank Williams’ hearing “That Lonesome (train)Whistle Blow” is not the same as what Ruth Thomas feels in an isolated cottage 300 miles from home and family and, not inconsiderably, off the grid (OTG). Hers is a “creative loneliness”.
“What I did have, of course, was plenty of time to think – and what I ended up thinking, was:
a) Oh God, I’m really lonely
b) This reminds me of my childhood
c) Will my family ever forgive me?
d) I have to start writing something
e) Oh! I’m beginning to enjoy myself.
I suppose a kind of survival instinct had kicked in at (e); and I could either go quietly mad or use the loneliness I was experiencing and do something with it.”

Jerry Campbell, in his “ride a wild horse” article* speaks of setting time aside weekly, if not daily, for thinking – a deliberate respite away from the distractions of busy-ness (the “mosquitoes” of the voracious ordinary.)

Much of my writing and thinking comes about in solitude; walking in the woods or being in Maine, on a lake I’ve known for 50 years. But, even there the Internet intrudes if I let it. Far better, I believe, to click the off button and welcome the OTG quiet. Can you stand it? What happens when you do nothing, when you are idle?

I’ve advocated that managers should do “solos”. What’s a solo? You go off into the woods, find a quiet spot and stay in place 3 or 4 hours. No sight or sound of human interaction – no phone, no laptop, no watch. Other people are near but you cannot see or hear them. What do you do? Some sleep. Others sit and ache for distraction and action. We think of the next meal, of work or family and create mental to-do lists. Eventually, if we are open to it, that need “to do” fades and wood sounds surround us, the bird’s warble, the bee’s buzz, the rustle and tiny movement of leaves as something passes through. Our focus narrows to a square foot or so, we observe what is happening in that square, we look deeply and we wait, the mind stops its relentless scan for distraction. A calmness descends, time slows or so it seems. I wait, I see the unseen, I hear my heart beat, I stare at my shoelaces, I consider the tiny leaves, the buds, the new growth on a nearby bush, the sky above, the sun and clouds (or rain), the play of light around me, the air, the scent of the earth.
That calm lingers as I re-group with other soloists. We talk little; slowly, maybe reluctantly, we return to not being alone. But, it stays with me; the calm is always there for me to return to.

*Campbell, Jerry D., “Management Style: At Least Once Ride a Wild Horse into the Sun,” North Carolina Libraries, pp. 234-238, Winter, 1989.

For your eyes only, there are now 1,378 holding libraries for e- and print versions of Leading from the Middle. You can get your own print copy for half off from the publisher.

@Copyright John Lubans 2014
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