It’s been a while since I’ve gone on a good, long hike through the woods solo. Last weekend, I took my camera and hiking boots into the forest for an artist date with myself that turned into a six-hour retreat.
Had I been with my husband or anyone else, the hike probably would have taken half the time. For starters, we wouldn’t have spent an hour having a love-fest with a willow tree. I appreciated being able to stop and spend as much time as I wanted connecting with whatever drew my attention.
I have a meditation bell app set to sound once every 20 minutes throughout the day. When the bell sounds, I practice stopping, breathing, and being. It’s basically pausing to sip presence while taking three deep breaths, scanning my body for tension that could be released on the exhalation, and becoming aware of my environment. I love this life-enriching practice. However, I tend not to do it when I’m with another person, although it could be a lovely practice to do together.
There was always something to notice, to connect with when I stopped: subjects that otherwise would have remained unnoticed. I emerged from the forest with 300 images (many captured after taking mindful pauses) and a sense of empowered fulfillment. It was wonderfully restorative to spend that time in nature alone.
Need for Quiet Space
Yesterday in my Mindfulness with Children class for parents, the topic was mindfulness of emotions and feelings, which is one of my favorite topics of all. (As an Enneagram 4, you could say it’s an area of expertise.) I talked about the importance of tracing emotions to sensations in the body and how sensations linked with unpleasant emotions are signals to attend to some kind of need. I listed several examples, including the need for alone time and quiet space.
Then I seized the opportunity to speak up for the introverts of the world. Because parents and teachers and partners and friends and colleagues of introverts might not understand how important alone time is when you’re wired as we are. Or they might find it odd that one of the first things you want to do after emerging safely from a lengthy pandemic is not to attend a large or small gathering but to go on retreat.
Growing up, I liked to spend time alone in my room. This concerned my mom, who was the only extrovert in the family. There would be the knock on the door and the attempt to pull me “out of my shell”. Housemates would do the same when I was in my twenties. What those who lived with me didn’t understand was that I had a need for ample alone time. My room was my peaceful place. It’s where I recharged my batteries.
The same must have been true for my two younger siblings. Out of the three Meyer kids, I was the only one who wasn’t voted “Most Shy” in high school.
Time to Recharge
My basic definition of introverts and extroverts is that introverts recharge their batteries alone, whereas extroverts get energized when they are with others. This is why introverts might need to know how long a social engagement will last, how many people will be there, and who will be there. We need to pace our energy because it will get depleted if we are subjected to too much social stimulation. We’ll shut down.
When I was teaching kindergarten, after dropping my students off at lunch or a special class, I’d return to my classroom, turn off the lights, lock the door, and recharge my batteries in the peace and quiet. If sounds from neighboring classrooms drifted into earshot, I’d put on some kind of white noise to drown them out.
I needed these retreats during the day to get through the rest of the day. As much as I wished I had an aide assigned to my classroom to help with behavior management, I appreciated having the room to myself when the children were gone. I didn’t go to the teachers’ lounge for lunch, and colleagues probably thought I was anti-social, which is how introverts are often seen by others. However, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to get to know my colleagues but that I needed to recharge my batteries alone and integrate the day thus far. I needed it like oxygen.
I had a small tent set up in a quiet corner of my classroom, next to my desk. When a child needed some space, they could retreat to the tent for a little while. Because I was sensitive to the needs of introverts…because I’ve always been one.
My husband lives in an RV in the back yard. He’s an introvert, too, and has a YouTube channel, A Jack out of the Box (the “box” being a house). Everywhere we’ve lived, he’s built some kind of shelter outdoors – usually a tipi or a wigwam – to have his own space. It’s how we manage living in a small, 200-year-old house. We’re both artists and like our own space and probably wouldn’t still be together if we weren’t able to have it.
As Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet about marriage: Let there be spaces in your togetherness. At times, there’s been too much space, but it’s a balancing act. We try to take walks together as many days as we can. But some days we walk alone. Maybe because I want to be inspired or get clear about what to talk about in my next mindfulness meditation class. It’s not personal.
Finding A Healthy Balance
How much introversion is too much? When does it become unhealthy? That was an inquiry that came up in yesterday’s class, and it’s a good one.
This is where our emotional guidance system comes into play. If we can learn to be mindful of the emotions and accompanying body sensations that arise in us, they can key us in to what we need to be balanced and healthy. That means being able to stay with unpleasant sensations, to see what message they carry. Stay instead of push them away.
For example, if I find myself feeling envious of someone else’s large network of friends, it might mean I need to engage more. Or if I feel lonely, it might signal too much space in my marriage. Being mindful of emotions or even the presence of body sensations linked with emotions (because sometimes emotions are sneaky) provides an opportunity to rearrange our priorities.
There is so much wisdom in our body and conveyed through our emotions. Sometimes a good walk alone in the woods provides the space to hear more clearly what they have to say. And sometimes someone wanting to be alone isn’t personal or an indicator of how important you are to them. It’s just how they charge their batteries.
© 2021 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.