Humours of Idleness - On the Efficiency, Efficacy, and Edification of Being Alone
This past week has been the last vacation for the family and I this summer. My wife wanted to take my kids and go visit an old friend of hers (who is kinda like an aunt to my children) and so I told them to go. By all means go ahead and have fun. Which means that for a good part of this week I have been home alone (without anybody but my dogs and pups) and so I decided to use the time as productively as I could, getting a bunch of old catch-up work finished up, or at least making progress on it. At first it seemed like I was working as normal but as the time went by and I realized that I had no-one asking me to do anything other than what I wished, my attitude, and the feel of what I was doing totally changed. I became a kid again, setting my own hours, deciding what I would work on, or not work on, for how long, when, and in what way.
No one was making any request of me; there were no deadline or timeline demands, nothing to really control either my work schedule or my entertainment or recreation. I was completely in command of my own time, alone, and steeped in solitude. It had been so long since I had really been by myself that I had almost entirely forgotten what it was like to be in solitude, how different it is than having others around you, and how utterly beneficial it is from time to time to be alone. Completely alone and without the company of other people.
It took me awhile to adjust, but once I began to remember what solitude was like, and how much I could do (or not do as the case might be) I took as much advantage out of the situation as I possibly could. I think the best thing about solitude, in my case anyway, is that since I live so far out in the country, and since so much open land surrounds my home and estate, that aside from the occasional dog-bark, I could by simply killing the power to any form of distraction make it entirely silent. With children, clients calling me, the television, stereo, computer and video games running constantly, the piano being played - although I’m sure it is much more quiet and pleasant here than living in any city - my home can still be filled with noise and activity, despite the relative geographic isolation. But with everyone gone I could reduce my home to complete silence, could surround myself in silence. Could suppress the din until I could hear nothing but the wind, nothing but my own breathing and heartbeat, nothing but the crickets at night, or the thunder on the approaching storm. It is almost indescribable how good it is to be able to enforce silence whenever you wish.
But because I was alone I also got to do all kinds of other things, and I got to do them undisturbed and uninterrupted.
I made some scientific observations, worked on an experiment, I drew in my sketchbook, I took photographs, took a hike in the woods, played with my dogs, tended to my puppies, lifted weights, threw the discus, did some repair work and maintenance to the home, cleaned the gutters, went to the Home Depot and got some tools, saw a couple of movies, read a couple of books, listened to a lecture, worked a case and did some night surveillance, practiced the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, read in the Yoga Sutras, took care of a legal matter, meditated, prayed, wrote some new prayers, worked on a Mission’s Project, played my new piano, composed some music, worked on an invention, worked on my writing and art portfolios, went to the comic book store and got some comic books (Justice League and New Avengers), went to the airport and hung around the pilots, went to the new park, went to the book store and read some magazines, did some target shooting with my pistols and shotguns, went to the library and the art museum, went up to the Science Center and the old Naval telescope (but it was rainy and so got to view nothing), went out to eat and ate whatever I wanted, drank coffee and beer a’ lot, did some research for some books I’m writing, outlined part of a novel, got a story out to a publisher, listened to music, played some video and computer games, updated some computer and paper files, wrote some poetry, worked in my notebooks, worked on my newsletters, worked on my websites, reworked and redrew part of an old architectural sketch, cruised the internet, washed my car, cleaned my tackle box and went fishing for a few hours, read some intelligence reports and papers, thought about a business plan/venture I’m considering, worked on a series of essays I intend to write, watched Who Wants to be a Superhero, washed clothes, slept, and rested.
About the only thing I haven’t done is go Vadding, and camping, and if I could have found a new place to explore, and didn’t have to tend my litter of pups I certainly would have.
In short for the past few days I’ve been enjoying the hell outta myself.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my family, more than mere words can express, and enjoy their company; again more than speaking will tell. I have important obligations as both a husband and a father that I take very seriously and I would not exchange those obligations, that company, or that part of my life for any other gain. My family is important, in a way that other things wouldn’t be, not nearly so much, if I didn’t have my family to enhance them. My work is my legacy, but my family is my Living Legacy. They will carry on into the future long after this body is dust, and I am far away and the cares, concerns, and duties of this world mean nothing to me anymore.
That being said however it has been so many years since I was completely separated from them, that is, when no member of my family has been around me, and so many years since I have been in total solitude that I had almost forgotten what it was to be entirely by myself. Alone. And I had forgotten how good it is to be alone, how refreshing, how much one can achieve with no one else around and no distractions of any kind to interfere with whatever one wishes to do. I have remembered over the past few days why so many monks and hermits have sought solitude like a treasure-hoard and have spoken of it as a rare and precious gift of God, which is to be pursued when possible. It makes one efficient, relaxed, calm, and peaceful. It makes one unhurried and appreciative of life, it allows one to recreate, to organize one’s thoughts, to master the mind, attend the body, and to physic the soul. It reminds you that today is today, that hours can be long and fulfilling when not consumed with countless diversionary tasks and pointless distractions, that solitude helps to unmeasure the measure which compresses and shortens our lives by flooding them with minutiae.
Now next week I shall return to my normal schedule of activities and work, my family shall return from their trip and their absence will be remedied. And I shall be glad for that, for by that time I shall be missing their presence. It shall be good to have them home.
But this vacation, with them away and me here alone has reminded me of many valuable things which I had forgotten over the course of my marriage and my experiences as a father. God has made me remember, by arranging this time for me to be alone, truly alone, that time alone is good for a man, and for the first time in many, many years, that time alone is time very well spent. That there is much value, and much weal, in solitude well spent and in isolation well employed.
Solitude is a kind of leisure for the soul, and adds a peculiar and yet very wealthy kind of benefit to the man who can and does enjoy it, when he can. When I was young I could be alone whenever I wished, and often sought to be so, but as I aged and became consumed in so many worldly affairs I forgot that dream of dreamless deep which comes when men are best alone, and best at peace.
So in the future I intend to re-devote a certain period of my life, a certain time each year maybe, or even each month if it is possible - to solitude, to real and true and absolute solitude, and in that time alone to enjoy those timeless and eternal things of forgotten worth which make human life so much the better in all other ages and in all other circumstances.
This is my 300th post to this blog by the way. So I guess it’s some kinda marker or something.
Anyway, Happy Labor Day everyone.
Enjoy it peacefully.
© JWG, Jr. 2007