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Nancy Okerlund
Volume 1, Issue 4, 8/23/07

Learning the Easy Way

I'm on retreat in South Carolina on 500 acres of virgin forest. As I sit in the morning shade at an old picnic table on the edge of Long Lake, a little alligator swims by. Beyond the lake is the ocean. I'm here for a week, no schedule, and I'm watching myself.

I've brought 18 books on my retreat, and several magazines. And since arriving I bought a few books, so the total is up a little. (I love books.) I'm watching myself to see what I can notice about how I balance my need for rest and renewal with my love of learning. (Will it happen?!)

Introverts tend to love learning. New technology in brain scanning has let researchers watch the flow of blood in the brains of introverts and extroverts. The extrovert pathway flows to the areas where sensory processing happens. Extrovert brains welcome lots of stimulation from the outside world and they process it quickly.

The introvert path is longer, more complicated and focused internally. It goes to the parts of the brain involved with internal experiences like remembering and solving problems and planning. Introvert brains are busy. They're constantly comparing and contrasting what they're taking in with their own personal reactions.

Without enough input to fuel their thoughts, introverts can get bored, frustrated. But too much input too fast can be overwhelming - not enough time to do all that reflecting. Meanwhile, extroverts are out looking for more experiences.

I do love learning and one of my favorite ways is through books. The most exciting part of packing for the trip was choosing which books to bring, especially with a whole week of open-ended time ahead of me. But was my big book appetite setting me up for being over-stimulated, even on an unscheduled retreat?

Here's what I'm noticing: balance is happening! On the introvert/extrovert continuum I'd put myself quite a ways from center on the introvert side. For one thing, that means my need for peace-and-quiet recharging time is fairly high.

Early in the week the books sorted themselves out. A few came as references and they've been helpful. A few more quickly backed out of the picture - I could tell I didn't want to read them this week. Some became "dippers", and a couple got the job of "light bedtime". Five really grabbed my attention for new learning. Of the whole pile, I have the goal of finishing only one while I'm here, and it's short.

There's been lots of time for looking out on the lake from the screened porch, listening to the ocean in the background. Quiet walks in the forest. Unhurried cooking. Many rounds of my Aunt Annabelle's hardest version of solitaire interspersed with my old friend, the traveling electronic Yahtzee game. Trips to the beach to jump in the ocean. Leisurely conversations with my partner.

And even some extroverting sprinkled in - a few small concerts and films here at the retreat center, some afternoon tea times and one trip into town for lunch.

All in all, very satisfying - resting, learning, finding my own pace in a beautiful setting. An introvert's delight, I might say:-)

End of food for thought, on to practical ideas:

A Practical Idea for Introverts

Assume you're out of touch with your natural pace (the world runs on extrovert time) and spend a weekend being curious about it.

A Practical Idea for Extroverts

Compare notes with an introvert in your life on your idea of a great weekend.

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