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Monday, September 8, 2014

Silence--Solitude--Creativity (extracts from Maria Popova's review of "How To Be Alone"

If you find the following extracts intriguing, I urge you to visit Maria Popova's amazing blog, "Brain Pickings" and read her article on Sara Maitland in its entirety. You may want to subscribe to Brain Pickings while you're there. We all deserve special treats in our inboxes at least once a week.

I look forward to reading both of Sara Maitland's books, "A Book of Silence" and "How To Be Alone" now that Brain Pickings has alerted me that they exist. (I don't get out much.)

In the introduction to her Brain Pickings review of "How To Be Alone" by Sara Maitland, Maria Popova writes,

"The choice of solitude, of active aloneness, has relevance not only to romance but to all human bonds – even Emerson, perhaps the most eloquent champion of friendship in the English language, lived a significant portion of his life in active solitude, the very state that enabled him to produce his enduring essays and journals. And yet that choice is one our culture treats with equal parts apprehension and contempt, particularly in our age of fetishistic connectivity. Hemingway's famous assertion that solitude is essential for creative work is perhaps so oft-cited precisely because it is so radical and unnerving in its proposition."

Ms Popova provides a quotation from Sara Maitland's previous "A Book of Silence",

"...what happens to the human spirit, to identity and personality when the talking stops, when you press the off button, when you venture out into that enormous emptiness. I was interested in silence as a lost cultural phenomenon, as a thing of beauty and as a space that had been explored and used over and over again by different individuals, for different reasons and with wildly differing results. I began to use my own life as a sort of laboratory to test some ideas and to find out what it felt like. Almost to my surprise, I found I loved silence."

 And from Maitland's new work, "How To Be Alone".

"How have we arrived, in the relatively prosperous developed world, at least, at a cultural moment which values autonomy, personal freedom, fulfillment and human rights, and above all individualism, more highly than they have ever been valued before in human history, but at the same time these autonomous, free, self-fulfilling individuals are terrified of being alone with themselves? ...we are frightened of anyone who goes away from the crowd and develops "eccentric" habits.
"...We believe that everyone has a singular personal "voice" and is, moreover, unquestionably creative, but we treat with dark suspicion (at best) anyone who uses one of the most clearly established methods of developing that creativity – solitude.

"Most people would still rather be described as sensitive, spiritual, reflective, having rich inner lives and being good listeners than the more extroverted opposites. ... But the kind of unexamined but mixed messages that society offers us in relation to being alone add to the confusion; and confusion strengthens fear."


Maria Popova offers a useful distinction between aloneness and loneliness,
"...while solitude may be essential for creativity and key to the mythology of genius, loneliness, scientists have found, has deadly physical consequences on our risk for everything from heart disease to dementia...  Paradoxically, Maitland points out, many of our most celebrated cultural icons had solitude embedded in their lifestyle and spirit, from great explorers and adventurers to famous 'geniuses'."

In our modern society, Popova adds,
"...we attempt to insulate ourselves from the risk of aloneness by obsessively accumulating a vast network of social ties as a kind of 'insurance policy'.
In one of her most quietly poignant asides, Maitland whispers..."

"There is no number of friends on Facebook, contacts, connections or financial provision that can guarantee to protect us [from aloneness].

Maitland offers us an alternative to these modern illusions of perpetual human contact. Her solution requires a personal investment in time and thought far greater than leaving the television on 24/7, or joining a dozen social groups on the internet.

But then the hoped for changes in our views of solitude, our comfort with it and eventually our conscious use of it may offer reassurance and skills some people have been seeking most of their lives.

"Even those who know that they are best and most fully themselves in relationships (of whatever kind) need a capacity to be alone, and probably at least some occasions to use that ability."

"She enumerates the five basic categories of rewards to be reaped from unlearning our culturally conditioned fear of aloneness and learning how to "do" solitude well..."

1.         A deeper consciousness of oneself
2.         A deeper attunement to nature
3.         A deeper relationship with the transcendent (the numinous, the divine, the spiritual)
4.         Increased creativity
5.         An increased sense of freedom

I look forward to strengthening my ability to "do" solitude well.

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