I know that that hardly begins to answer my friend’s question. One simple possibility at a time.
Recently a friend asked me why I love coming to the cottage so much. “What do you experience there that’s so special?” I don’t have a very adequate response but I’m working on one. When I arrived here today I had to shovel a little slush before I came out on the deck and to give myself a hug. Oh, there’s the view, with today’s wild waves and tomorrow’s anticipated sunrise. I love it all. But there’s another kind of delight that I can only express in the negative. I have no schedule, no possessions that need tending, no food to prepare, no conversations. There is an emptiness that feels positively peaceful. The love is in simplicity.
I know that that hardly begins to answer my friend’s question. One simple possibility at a time.
Yesterday I saw “The King’s Speech”, the film about King George VI of England and his life struggle as a stutterer. Although George never overcomes his affliction, through hard work and his friendship with speech therapist Lionel Logue, he manages to speak effectively to his countrymen over the BBC during the early days of radio. I was struck by all those silences between stutters. At the beginning, people listened with stressful anticipation to this not-yet-king, the Duke of York, . There was “noise” in the pauses. But at the end, when the king speaks to his countrymen and declares war, those pauses between utterances offered some kind of calm, some kind of hope. There was "quiet" in the pauses.
How much is silence defined by context?
Due to a snow storm I’m here for another day, my fifth day in a row at the cottage, the longest stretch of solitude this year. In spite of the visit from my friend and her daughters, I feel like I’ve had a full stretch of solitude. I haven’t gone anywhere in the car, and except for my walks, I have been right here, getting up at five, and going to bed at 9:30.
I ask myself how things are going. Today I’ve been reading Solitude: A Philosophical Encounter , by Philip Koch, so I might as well use some of his material to check in on myself. Koch associates the following features with solitude: physical isolation; social disengagement; and reflectiveness.
Physical isolation: It feels just to my liking. I like not bumping into anyone in the house; the space is mine. I don’t mind saying hello to the few people wandering the beach, and yet I feel no pressure to do so. I feel safe all the time. So, I’d say that the amount and kind of physical isolation that is available to me at this cottage by the sea is to my liking.
Social disengagement: Let’s face it, doing a blog creates quite a social network, but a different one than I’m used to. It is totally my responsibility, my choice, and up to me to control. Blogs are so new that I doubt they have been studied in any serious way. Needs more study and reflection, but for now it isn’t getting in my way.
Reflectiveness: Need I say more to you blog readers? I have plenty of time to just be, to reflect.
I don’t agree with Koch’s conclusion that “the most promising place to look for the core of solitude is in the realm of social disengagement.” For me, physical isolation is the heart of it. That being said, I’ll be more than ready to go home tomorrow. I’m not a recluse, nor do I have any desire to be a hermit. I love my home and I love my shoveling companion who sent me this cartoon.
I’ve been reading One Square Inch of Silence, by Gordon Hempton, founder/creator of just such an inch in the Hoh Rain Forest, part of Olympic National Forest. As a Sound Tracker Hempton monitors man made and natural sounds around the globe, but this one square inch of silence is his special project. Marked off in one of the more quiet locations in the United States, he returns periodically to monitor how the silence is doing there and finds that more and more noise, mainly in the form of aircraft sound, is creeping in.
This has me thinking about the noise here in the cottage. As usually it is pretty quiet here, and I certainly feel stillness and calm. But wait, what do I hear? Oh dear, the tapping of my computer keys. And then there is the steady hum of the heat, and just now I heard the furnace go on again. When I make my lunch I’ll hear the microwave heating up my soup.
On my walk today I listened for noises. Oh, a few crows, but mainly I heard cars and big machines that were cutting down trees, removing snow, and sawing boards for a new house. It occurred to me that the downside of being conscious, is that I am conscious. Next time I walk I’m going unconscious. I’m not going to let all those noises spoil my silence
Yesterday a friend and her two children came for lunch and a walk on the beach. We had a wonderful time and the gregarious me couldn’t have been happier. But after they left, and I stepped back into my solitary, cottage mode, it became clear to me that one of the criteria for solitude is the absence of other human beings. Oh, I know that we can sometimes grab what Anthony Storr calls “being alone in the presence of”, but another person stepping into our solitary space definitely shifts things. We start including them, if only in our minds. And then we are not alone.
Today for a while I was the only person on the beach. Later a woman appeared and began collecting things. My mind started asking itself questions: “What is she doing?” “Do I want to avoid her?” “Do I want to ask her my favorite question—‘Have you found any treasures?””
All at once I was not alone. The deeper solitude that I had experience earlier on the beach had vanished, and I was back in the social world in my role as “citizen of the beach”. It wasn’t until I entered the cottage that I got my solitude back.
Yes, I did ask the woman my treasure question. Her response: “No, I’ve just picked up some glass so the children won’t cut their feet.” Then her voice trailed of, “I guess I’m just a mother.”
Ah, school vacation, at least in New England. I’m speaking to the teachers, not the kids. If you’re home for the week, and not at some warm resort being waited upon, you have many choices. To clean the oven or let it wait for another year? To spend a day back at school organizing your classroom, or face the chaos on that first day back? To enjoy a novel or read yet another book on pedagogy? To be or not to be?
Only you know what you need to do to let a little extra silence, solitude and simplicity into your life this week. That’s what teachers do on vacation; clear away all the noise and debris so we (once a teacher always a teacher) can have a tad of solitude.
(Isn’t it amazing how everyone believes that vacations are only for the kids? In fact, teachers aren’t suppose to admit that they love the time off. Oh, well, there a lot that the world doesn’t know about teachers. Maybe just as well.)
My computer taking a nap in the sun.
About a week ago I came onto the deck to watch the sunrise and to experience my usually solitary routine. But that day something felt wonderfully different. My computer was in the kitchen, not on the deck. There was no artificial light reminding me that cyberspace power was waiting, no “bing” to indicate I had email, and no temptation to start checking to see if my life was still on line.
I’ve started putting my computer to sleep in the kitchen and then letting it sleep in in the morning. I don’t need it for the first hour and a half of my new day, and believe me, it has no interest in all those sunrises that I watch. No more do I feel that I have some whiny child nagging me to get going, when I’d like simply to sit in the silence and solitude and just be. And don’t tell, but I’m slowing changing it’s bedtime to an earlier hour. Only problem might arise if it notices that the sun is setting about a minute later each day.
How simple life becomes when I don’t let my computer run my life. No easy task.
Taken from inside.
I’ve been playing with the idea that our kitchen window feeder is a blog for all the birds around here. We have all kinds--gold and purple finches, tufted titmice, nuthatches, cardinals, chickadees, juncos, woodpeckers, sparrows. They seem to know how to share the seed, taking what they need, and I keep replenishing. It reminds me of how things work with this blog. You take what you need, there is no limit to the sharing of ideas, and I put out new thoughts on a regular basis.
Now what about the squirrel I discovered hanging from the feeder this morning? With all the snow piled up to clear the driveway, he has found easy access. But I don’t want him on the “blog” and I bet the birds would concur. I’m reminded of a comment left on my blog back in December. Very subtle, but careful reading revealed an advertisement for handbags. I deleted it, assuming that like the birds not welcoming a squirrel, my readers would not want advertising on a blog about silence, solitude and simplicity.
That little speck in the water is a lone surfer.
While on my walk on the beach today, three random questions joined me. 1) Where has all the seaweed gone? I haven’t seen any since that day back in November when that organic farmer was hauling it away for fertilizer-- and I know he didn’t take it all! 2) Are they still making wooden lobster traps? I’d love to see one washed up on the sand, but today all I came upon was a mangled metal one. 3) When my kids were toddlers, did I let them get their boots wet in the waves in February? A mom and her little guy were gleefully acting as if it were summer time. But get this, a grandmother was allowing her grandson to get his boots and snow pants utterly soaked. It was a good day for free spirits and free flowing questions.
In my February 13th post I wrote about Marsha Sinetar’s book, Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics, and promised that I would provide a few quotes from the book in the “Books” section of the blog. Well I’ve done just that. I really wanted to quote the entire book, but that doesn’t make any sense at all. My point is, however, that for any of you intrigued with the idea of creating a more intentionally solitary life, this book offers models of ways that others have gone about it.
As you can guess, the idea appeals to be, in fact it’s drawing me in. Right now I’m working on sorting out the difference between having a “cottage life”, which I have while I am here, and a “cottage day” (or hour or afternoon) , which I have when I’m home. I’ll write about it soon, but in the meantime I would love to hear any of your thoughts about it.
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