Tag Archives: retreat

Introvert time

It’s been a big issue for us as a household this year. Ironically, while I’ve done a really good job of talking to my son about how he needs to keep an eye on his need for introvert time, I have entirely failed to factor this in for myself.

Part of the problem is that none of us really fit the normal model for introverts. Not least because we all have varying needs for extrovert time as well. Of the three of us, I think I’m the most extrovert. I need time with people. Some days I need spaces with lots of people. I need stages and audience and performance opportunities and attention and I revel in all of that. If I don’t get a sufficient amount of out there and extroverted time, I get sad.

At the same time, if I don’t get enough introvert time, I get sad. Silence, or quiet. Not speaking for hours. Reading, crafting, disappearing into my own head. One of the great things about my household is that we’re all like this so we can be around each other, and still be having our needful introvert time. I can’t usually do this with other people.

Over the last year, my working life has been much more people orientated. I did quite a lot of office work – which was people-laden. I’ve been doing events work for a local venue, which is hours of full on people-orientated stuff. We’ve been going out and doing book events, and steampunk events, and poetry nights and that’s all full of people, too. I’ve not been thinking about how this balances out, or what I might need for me.

I don’t know what the necessary equation is here. I’m a perverse enough creature that it probably changes all the time anyway. At the moment, my need for silence and retreat is massive. I’m going with that.

If there are neat boxes for people to fit into, I invariably find I need to spend time in both boxes, and time dangling awkwardly in the middle. I struggle with how people are divided up and labelled. I’m rational and emotional. Logical and intuitive. Introvert and extrovert. From a certain perspective I may only be consistent in my inconsistency. It’s difficult to know how to ask anyone to work with this – especially when I’m in retreat mode and not really inclined to people. I need to turn inwards, to reflect, and be separate. And no doubt, even while that inclination dominates me, I will have days, or hours, or odd moments of being totally people-orientated and it will be confusing for me as much as for anyone trying to deal with all of that.

The biggest thing for me at the moment is a refusal to be tidy and convenient. I’ve done so much trying to fit in. I am the square peg for so many round holes, and I don’t want to pare myself down to fit anymore. I want the space for my own awkwardness, for my untidy emotions, for just how cold my reasoning can be, for my inability to do small talk, my lack of natural capacity for making empty, conciliatory noises, my inability to just go along with things. I can’t face trying to fit in any more, and I have pulled away from almost every place where I might have to do that. It gives me more room to breathe.

At some point, my inner tide will turn and I’ll come back in extravert mode, and I think I will still be awkward, over-emotional, uncooperative, untidy… and I have no idea how that will play out because it may be a good deal less quiet… unquiet even.

On retreat

Being at everyone’s beck and call wears us all out after a while. Some people, no doubt have a higher tolerance for it than others, and the scope we have to retreat varies a lot too. I spent years in a situation where the only place to retreat was into my work, or the odd, snatched few hours of walking. Other druids would announce that they were off on retreat and I would feel quietly envious and wonder how they got away with it. Quiet, peace and space are essential for having any kind of relationship with yourself, or any chance to hear your own thoughts. The continual running around feeling busy can become less and less productive and more unhappy without the space to step back and get some perspective. I spent a lot of years feeling threadbare and disorientated for just these reasons. What makes it difficult to step back is that there are always people who want you to be somewhere else, doing something else and who are not very sympathetic to demands for time out. Employers infamously being the worst culprits for this. Part of the price we pay for participating in modern life is that you can’t just sneak off into the woods when you feel like it. Even as I am now, with the ‘improper’ job can’t always hide, because there’s the child and the school run to honour. There are people who fear silence, peace and solitude and go to any length to avoid them. Standing on the outside, it sometimes feels like a lot of modern living is designed to do just that. The bright lights, the tiny boxes capable of making ever more sound, the ways of staying ‘connected’. Which means available, plugged in, on demand and never able to fall into any kind of peace. For some, that silence is apparently threatening. What do you find, within yourself, when there is no rush of stimulus, no distraction? There is often emptiness in silence, but the deeper, slower thoughts surface, profound ideas have the space to form. I suppose if that doesn’t happen, the silence is just an empty, scary place where you stop feeling like a person. Like everything else, much of it comes with practice, and the less habituated we are to being quietly with our own thoughts, the harder it is to do. I was 19 when I first found the space for proper solitude, and it was a revelation. One of the things I love about the boat is the ease of moving. There are lots of spots on the canal where you’re miles from the nearest bridge, foot traffic is right down, car traffic nonexistent. No one knows exactly where we are. Phones were mostly turned off, and on Saturday I didn’t even open the computer. I feel calmer and more myself. The more time I take for mindfulness and contemplation, the more simply and effectively I work when I get there. It cuts away all the faff and doubt. In the quiet spaces away from most people, I feel my druidry much more keenly. Now comes the challenge of gathering that into myself and bringing it back to the noisy places, where I need it most, and perhaps others do as well.