I work and live in the modern world but know that I need to spend more time in a different place.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I love the connected universe and I thrive in it. I’m in the information business, and connected laptops, smartphones, the web and all the rest exponentially increase my productivity and usefulness over what I could do before. I don’t want to return in time to the ancient world (let’s say, pre-1992).
But it’s important that I visit it once in a while, because that world had more of something precious that’s hard to find today. Let’s call it uninterrupted solitude.
Solitude is that quiet place, even in a crowd, where your mind wanders. It is the place where you can mentally make connections that aren’t apparent amid the stream of constant data, tasks and distractions. In solitude, you can sometimes separate what’s important from what is simply the latest or loudest.
Inspiration is not impossible in the Twittersphere, but I think it is more possible in moments of peace.
The problem is that you can’t quickly travel from the present to the past. I can close my office door, turn off the phone and close my laptop, but my brain is still going 80 mph with residual digital octane. It helps to take a deep breath, but my modern, wired brain knows the data and deadlines are piling up, and it sometimes waits impatiently for me to end this silly, outdated experience I call solitude. Even after a long day at work, after dinner I’m back on my laptop answering email and editing stories.
One problem with solitude is that it looks unproductive. If I put my feet up on my desk and stare into space, it looks like I’m loafing. My boss can’t tell the difference between my inspiration and indolence.
Here’s the worst part: Solitude is often unproductive. There’s no guarantee that turning off the world will generate any great ideas; in fact, it usually doesn’t.
But even if solitude is unproductive, it is never wasted, because it is part of regeneration. A brain that is firing on all cylinders all the time overheats and starts to make foolish choices.
Maybe more important, solitude is essential to the soul. (How often do we hear that term anymore, even in church?) For me, the soul is an unfathomable place where our morality and humanity reside. If we spend too little time tending to our soul, we can lose it. And our morality may disappear with it.
So live in the present but visit the past as often as possible. Our future depends on it.