Getting better acquainted with Berry, and an ode to solitude.

This week is the annual customer visit for one of my largest clients, so time will be sparse to write, as well as the solitude and quiet that I require to do so.  But discipline is required to form habits, so…go easy on my content this week 🙂


I first read Wendell Berry several years ago through his Poetry Sabbaths.  While our respective religions differ, he brought beautiful elucidation to the time capsule of Shabbat which I admire.  I’m always casting about for new things to read in the used bookstores, so I availed myself of two of his other books – What Are People For? and Recollected Essays 1965-1980.  Rarely ever does a writer capture me within the first page or two of their writing.  It takes me a while to determine their flow.  But this  time I had a very different experience.  Inside of the first three pages of Healing, I came across a few lines that absolutely stunned me, made me feel as if someone had stepped inside of my own experience and captured it beautifully in words.  I quote from section V, paragraph three:

True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation.

I wrote several pieces about my own experience of true solitude earlier this year, referencing the rejuvenation, clarity and sense of deep wellness reaped, not only during my actual time there, but also infusing my life long afterwards.  It is that feeling which I asked of my readers to indulge me in when writing “The Birthday Hike – Finale” earlier this month. I would give that experience to every person I can, if I were able.  To be alone long enough to hear your inner voice is something too few of us get the opportunity for, and due to this, I think we struggle with who and what we are, where our true place is.   We are cut off from our dreams.  I can only speak from the experience of a woman fulfilling the roles of wife, mother, daughter, and the extreme demands of human obligation that we undertake in each of those roles.  The rewards are there, but holding on to, and defining who we are outside of those roles is difficult.  There is rarely any moment that is not filled with human obligation.  As we and our children mature, we are able to set boundaries that we are not able to establish when the guiding times are upon us.  Heck, we can barely go to the bathroom alone during those years! How much more we have to offer them from within boundaries.

Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone. Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves; that firm strand which will be the indispensable center of a whole web of human relationships.
Anne  Morrow Lindbergh in Gift from the Sea

But even more what we lack, in my personal opinion, is any kind of transition phase that encourages solitude and self-examination when moving from youth into adulthood.  Many cultures, African, Native American and Jewish, just to name a few, have those rituals to establish transitional times in life, many of which include solitude, reflection and self-analysis, in their original cultural forms.  Our children are thrust from high school, to college if able, to workforce if not, with no time in there for solitude.  We are continually passed along in groups, rarely engaging in quiet, searching times.  Some young people forge this for themselves, say taking a year to backpack through Europe, or hiking the Appalachian Trail, or seeing a list of National Parks.  But these individuals are rare, perhaps due to financial limitations or familial expectations.  And perhaps we are not mindful enough at that age period to even value solitude and analysis – we have so little of life under our belts at that time, no comparisons, limited experiences even to analyze.  Yet this is the time that dreams are most alive, available for encouragement, examination and acceptance.  At this point in life, we aren’t really aware of what failure is, and have little fear.  It is the prime time for possibility.

Cultivating healthy solitude in our children’s lives is undervalued within our culture today. It irks me to no end when someone goes on a murderous tangent and someone always seems to mention ‘loner’, ‘quiet’, ‘kept to themselves’, as if all people who value being alone and quiet are somehow in our places plotting against the rest of mankind.  Many of the most generous, loving and gentle people I know are retiring, solitude-loving, quiet types.  Maybe I am just lucky 🙂  I feel that we should encourage quiet time in our up and coming generations, just as we should encourage reading and artistic expression.  The mind needs the exercises of dreaming and imagination, just as the body needs movement and discipline.

Berry writes from a unique perspective of farmer, poet, activist – thoughts backed by action and experience. To connect with such a mind on a deep level of the renewing activity of engaging in solitude made me smile, inside and out.  But then again, writing is a solitary endeavor, like most creative pursuits.   As Berry aptly writes further on solitude in V Healing: 

One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources.

In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives.  The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.

One returns from solitude laden with the gifts of circumstance.

This is a point most often overlooked by most; that solitude done well actually opens up more to be given to others, improves our interaction with the world, be that inter-personally,  creatively through music, writing or art, or by accessing great ideas for solving problems.

Solitude shows us what should be; society shows us what we are.
~Robert Cecil

So go ahead and take some time for yourself, it’s healthy!  Let your mind wander, your imagination drift and most of all, perhaps keep a journal of your thoughts.  Most bloggers probably already do some form of this, but perhaps visitors have never though of it before.  Ideas often come when the mind is rested or engaged in free-form thought.  Jot them down.  If nothing else, over time you will have a record of your thinking progress, the growing of the internal you.  Fall in love with all that is what makes you uniquely you, all over again.


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