As 2015 comes to a close, I’m going Lite for the final Blog this year. I simply want to address this time of year, a way I’ve found to avoid the hype of the “holidays”, and to encourage those who feel the need to slow down, be still, and who desire to truly enjoy the Spirit of Christmas. I love the Christmas Season, yet I detest the hype and excessive materialism that come with it. There’s a feel good in the air that comes with Christmas as well, but I think at times you have to cut through a lot of nonsense to get to and embrace it. I believe that’s getting more and more difficult to accomplish these days. Having been blessed with loving and wonderful parents, I’m old school because during the Christmas Season, we put on the hot chocolate, decorated the tree, and listened to Bing Crosby records. We put the gifts under the tree, dreading the day we would have to dismantle it and say good-bye to the Christmas Season for another year. While I enjoyed shopping with mom, I never felt like we got caught up in the hustle-and-bustle that can wipe out what the time of year is truly about. There are a multitude of good ways to avoid the crass materialism that can quite frankly make this time of year ugly – think of financial anxieties, keeping on top of every new gadget that comes available, not to mention the exponential increase in highway traffic. It may seem impossible, but there are a multitude of good ways to circumvent all the nonsense thrown at us during this time of year. Good budgeting, taking more time with family, avoid the rush hours of shopping madness, and finding ways to slow down, embrace simplicity, enjoy solitude and quietness are a few remedies that come to mind for me. It’s really not all that difficult to remain far from the madding crowd. Yet we simply tend not to search for ways to separate from the craziness. For this article, I want to focus on solitude and quiet.
Solitude & Quiet in a Fast-Paced Culture
Solitude and quiet have taken a hit to the chin these days in a politicized culture that has come to view relationship as the core of everything, has propagandized group think to the extent that it has become a new religion, and has diagnosed or caricatured those who are not so comfortable with sacrosanct group think as social phobics, bathed in snobbery, or just downright selfishness. If you like your alone time, then something is wrong with you. The task at hand, it seems, is to address what solitude is, as well as what it is not. I love my alone time. I value and guard it with extreme prejudice. To some degree, much more than other people I know, I consider myself a loner, thereby creating more solitude for myself than others might desire. Each person has to figure how much solitude he or she needs. Solitude does not mean, however, disliking other people or devaluing relationships. It simple means that one values what can be garnered during quiet and reflective times. Such contemplative times allow one to slow down, gear the pace of life down to a reasonable speed, and reflect on what is truly valuable. I’m not sure our culture places a value on solitude, yet I believe it’s an important remedy to counter the hectic way of living that can come with our fast-paced society in an age that must find ways to deal with rapid advances of technology, global connections, and exponential increases in new knowledge. All these advances can be something valuable to us all, yet they can also create a maddening pace of existence. Solitude and quiet come as part of a contemplative way of living. I believe time for contemplation in life is important, and it does not discount or negate the importance of being active toward life. Indeed, contemplation sets the foundation for me to engage living and all it involves, including work, colleagues, friendships, and loved ones. Rather than discounting relationships, our solitude and alone time can help us more fully engage them. Solitude and quiet does not mean that one turns into a monk, anchorite, or troglodyte. I’m not saying that the remedy of solitude and quiet entails isolation and becoming ensconced in the life of a hermit. Simply find some time that is right for you, that allows you to slow down the pace, reflect on what is important, get things aligned so that you can engage what life throws at you and all of us. Although some people love their solitude and alone time, others fear it for various reasons. Think of what it must be like to fear being alone with oneself.
When I get alone, sometimes I spend my time with a book. Other times, I might listen to some jazz, my John Coltrane station on Pandora, for instance. And then still other times, I want complete quiet. Early in the morning or late at night are good times for me. The traffic in Austin, Texas is already a nightmare, but at this time of year it is exponentially terrible. Sometimes I can see the hectic, crazed, and distorted looks on people’s faces as they drive and go about their business in places like grocery stores, restaurants or gift shops. My own take is that we turn this time of season into the madness it is, rather than the thankful time is should be, because of conformity and group think, rather than being centered in who we are and knowing what we truly value. My take on solitude and quiet is a thought. Solitude and quiet are part of what historically have been called the spiritual disciplines. These are disciplines that can help us more readily engage a time of year that celebrates spirituality. Hopefully it can be of encouragement to those of you who want to see this time disconnect from the insanity we create keeping in pace with the madding crowd.
That madding crowd is all around us. We can easily become part of it. Yet it’s not that difficult to disconnect from it if we put a little effort toward that goal. Some simple time alone can take the sting out of what the culture throws at us. Turn of the TV, block out the noise, and shut down the computer – after you have read this blog :). Get alone with yourself, reflect on what is truly important and valuable to you, and find more ways to build whatever that is into your day-to-day living.
I hope the year closes down in a good way for you. To those of you who have crossed the path of this blog, Merry Christmas to you all.
John V. Jones, Jr., PhD, LPC-S/December 14, 2015