The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on September 30, 2010.
A friend of ours is an avid outdoorsman. He hunts, hikes, and takes several trips each year in which he goes off – way off – into the woods, the wilderness, or to a secluded island. Sometimes others go with him, and sometimes he goes alone, occasionally spending a few weeks at a time in total solitude with no other human contact. He is always in awe of how powerful and rejuvenating it is to be alone and silent for long periods of time.
He recently told me about a time when he once took a chair down to the water’s edge, brought a cooler with drinks and snacks, and spent the day there. Literally, the entire day.
“You can’t imagine what it’s like,” he said, “to see the sun come up, to watch it travel across the sky, and then to watch it set on the other side. I don’t think there are too many people who have ever done that.”
“I don’t think there are too many people who could,” I replied.
Actually, I don’t think there are too many people who could even comprehend something like that, let alone actually do it. For even a few hours, much less an entire day.
I’ve been thinking about it ever since, however. Not as in “I’m considering doing it,” but in terms of trying to imagine what it would be like. I know I’d have trouble sitting still for that long. But even more so, I’d have trouble getting my mind to sit still. It would be off racing and chasing the other things I should and could be doing, or that I knew would be waiting for me as soon as I went back to the “real world.” And although I totally recognize and understand the value and importance of downtime, I know that if I ever attempted something like this I’d be distracted constantly by the nagging feeling that I was wasting time.
I could try to quiet my mind and tell it that this was a special and sacred time, but I know it wouldn’t listen. It would keep interrupting me, sabotaging the total solitude – internal and external – that I was trying to create.
Most of us are aware of how necessary and important it is for our mental and physical health that we relax and unwind every so often. Still, many of us don’t do it nearly as much, as often, or as completely as we should. Our lives are too busy, and our schedules too overloaded. Even when we are able to take time off, whether it is going on a “real” vacation or just chilling out over a weekend or evening, we often stay connected to others by cell phone or laptop. We never really turn the sound off.
There’s a Spanish proverb that says, “How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterward.” Many people would consider that the height of laziness, but I’ll bet that those who follow its advice are actually the ones who are the most productive and get the most done. And they probably live longer and healthier lives than the rest of us. That may very well be the case for the friend who understands the value of his time alone, and who treasures the solitude, as well as the clarity and focus it gives him.
I don’t imagine I will ever spend an entire day, sunup to sundown, alone with my thoughts as I sit in a chair along the water’s edge – accompanied by nothing more than some snacks and sunscreen. But just thinking about it gives me a sense of peace, of calm, and of quiet power.
That’s probably a good place to start.
© Betty Liedtke, 2010