Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Finding your balance: outward and inward

I've been talking with poet and blogger Janet Riehl about how to find a balance between an outwardly focused life and an inward one. It's a subject important to us personally, as we find our lives becoming more public and our work more in demand. But recognizing the relationship between connection and stimulation on the one hand and solitude on the other is a crucial issue for all of us. How do we nurture ourselves and still nurture the world? There is no one answer: we all need to find our equilibrium between inward-focused spiritual and emotional work and the outward focus involved in creating new connections and tending existing relationships.

In this ongoing exploration of where the balance lies and how to find it, Janet and I have decided to start what she calls a "blog duet": I'll post my initial thoughts and then turn the virtual mic over to Janet, who will respond, and so on. We hope our back and forth postings will prove inspiring and useful!

I'll start with an admission: I'm an introvert, although I seem extroverted to most people because I've learned that outward-extending behavior. But acting like an extrovert doesn't make me someone who thrives on constant contact. In fact, the question I struggle with is this: If I'm always connected, always tuned to other people, how can I hear my own inner voice? If I'm listening to the other voices around me, I can't listen to the quiet voice of my own creativity, my spirit. I find that especially when I'm traveling for work and have to be "on" all the time in interacting with others, I become exhausted and need the quiet time that being anonymous brings in order to rest, check in with myself, and restore my inner equilibrium.

The other morning, for instance, my husband and I were in the nearest Big City sitting at a neighborhood deli that we've been visiting for nearly three decades, separately and together. We feel at home there because we recognize many of the faces of the regulars. But no one really knows us, or expects more than a smile; the place gives us the comfort of the familiar without the demands of intense connection.

The night before I was the headliner at a fundraising dinner for donors at a university institute. From cocktail hour until when I finished my "charla" sometime past ten (a charla is a "chat" in Spanish, and I use it in the sense of an informal reading and talk about what's in my mind and heart), I worked with a crowd of donors who didn't know that they cared about a relationship to nature and the community of the land. In the end, most of them realized that they did: they were charmed and kept me talking because they hungered for more.

After a "performance" like that, where I and my ideas and beliefs are on stage and in a sense on trial, I seek a place that offers the comfort of community and contact, but allows me my solitude in the midst of the crowd. It's exhilarating to be "on" and the center of attention, to feel your work touching other's hearts, but after it's over, it's like coming down from a sugar rush or a serious dose of caffeine. There's awful thud" when the energy is gone and you just need to curl in on yourself to recover.

For me that means quiet time when I can let the stimulation of other's emotions and thoughts subside, my thoughts clear like a pond going still after a rainstorm stirs it up. I use the image of a storm deliberately: what connection and conversation and the stimulation of being around other humans does is very like what a rainstorm does for a pond: it stirs up the bottom sediments, redistributing nutrients, changing the patterns of habitation and flow, and adding fresh water and nutrients as well as other lives washed.

In very much the same way, interaction with other people stirs up our thoughts and our patterns, adding new insights and data and changing our habits of thought and routine so that we see things in new ways and turn over our accustomed patterns. That's all healthy, if not easy. And finding the quiet time to listen within to both head and heart helps us settle again, lets the water still and clear and the new information and insight be integrated into who we already are.

Over to you now, Janet. . . .

(I'm illustrating this post with a photo I've used before of the full moon rising over the Sangre de Cristo Range blanketed with snow and washed with the last light of the sun. That brief period when the full moon is up and sunlight still illuminates the landscape represents for me the kind of balance I seek in my life, a balance that isn't static, but shifts as conditions shift. I shot that image last month in the next valley south of the one where we live. As with all the words and images in this blog, please ask for permission before using it in any way. Thank you!)


Janet Grace Riehl said...

What a great opening chord for our Bog Duet! I've just posted my responding chord to resound with yours.

It's a good set of questions to connect in a group, I think. With complexity of modern life, these questions become increasingly important.

If we lose our subtlty of thinking and layering, then all is lost...from family life all the way through democratic process.

Your connection to the land is key in this...the sustenance you draw from it...the sustenance you give to it.

Janet Riehl

Donna said...

This is great, thanks for discussing this topic. I went overboard onthe outer direction last year and just about died of exhaustion (figuratively). This year I've slowed down a lot. I can be hugely busy but as long as most of it is internal, personal work, I don't get worn out the way I did last year.

Arletta Dawdy said...

"Outward-extending behavior" is a marvelously descriptive phrase for the introvert on stage, wherever and whatever kind of stage that is! Thanks for exposing it!

Susan J Tweit said...

Donna, and Arletta,

Thanks for chiming in on this blog duet. I think that it's difficult as creative people to recognize our boundaries. But it's crucial for nurturing the spirit that gives us voice! So keep on paying attention to your balance and listening to your inner voices (not, of course, the ones that make us crazy. . . .).


Deborah said...

Thanks, Susan and Janet, for starting this discussion. I'm also an introvert, as folks who know me might or might not guess.

In addition to being challenged by public life, I am, oddly challenged by family life. Even with well-intended living associates who understand introversion, it can be difficult to get time alone to recalibrate. There's always something that needs to be done and needs to be done *together.*

I often get up earlier than I'd like to and stay up later, too, just to have enough mental space to remain grounded.

Gwyn Ramsey said...


Thank you for for the comment on my blog and for visiting with me. It's always nice to have other writers leave comments. Your blog about Community of the Land is very interesting and I enjoyed reading it. Come visit again when you have time.