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Nancy Okerlund
Volume 3, Issue 6, 04/09/09

Nowhere to Go, Nothing to Do

I'm on retreat, day five of seven in the middle of 500 acres of virgin forest on the coast of South Carolina. I hear the ocean in the background. I wrote an issue of The Introvert Energizer the last time I was here, over a year and a half ago. I'd brought eighteen books along and I was thinking about me and books.

This time I'm thinking about open-ended time. (And I brought only eight books, FYI.)

This is a spiritual retreat center but it has no program and no prescribed activities, so there's no shortage of open-ended time. On the sill of the window I'm sitting at, a lime greenish gecko about six inches long, counting three of tail, is sunning herself in the open-ended time.

The night I arrived I was preoccupied with getting settled, but by morning I noticed I was literally excited about not knowing what I was going to do. It was almost an activity in itself knowing there was nothing I had to do and not knowing what would happen next.

Besides the luxury of being in what I experience as a profoundly spiritual atmosphere 500 acres no less :-) I'd have to say this lifestyle of open-ended time is my favorite thing.

I don't know that it has anything to do with being an introvert. These days I'm reading about the brain and leadership a new field brain researchers are calling "the neuroscience of leadership."

One of its findings is that organisms (including people) like autonomy, "the sensation of having choices." The more we have, the less we feel threatened. I'd guess extroverts like autonomy as much as introverts, so we're probably all attracted to open-ended time it seems to assume autonomy.

This week, not only do I have lots of autonomy, it includes the choice of doing pretty much nothing, as often as I want.

That first morning, once I got into the flow of the open-endedness, I probably couldn't have been happier slowly making some breakfast, doing a little lunch prep on the side, reading a few pages here, a few pages there, figuring out what to put on after my pajamas, getting clear about the day right as it was happening, slowly.

The icing on my cake this week, by the way, is solitude. It isn't constant but it's abundant and I get to choose it.

If both introverts and extroverts like having open-ended time, we probably part company when it comes to how we use it. (And it certainly wouldn't surprise me if the concept of retreat comes from an introvert.)

So here I am, an introvert on retreat full permission to flaunt my introversion :-). Slower pace. Quieter presence. Natural absorption in my thoughts. Speaking only when I feel I have something to say or picking not to say anything, even if I do. Not getting drained, because I'm going at my more natural pace, plus getting plenty of down time. Having a real conversation with someone when the opportunity arises. And enjoying the complexity of my thought process without having to draw any major conclusions (for now :-). For an introvert, being on retreat could be a way of life!

Mostly I haven't been ruminating about this pleasurable experience of open-ended time. But if it's as universally appealing as I suspect, I do wonder what the world would look like if we ran on open-ended time.

In the meantime, Ms. Gecko and I are clocking up our hours. I think she's ahead.

End of food for thought on to a practical idea:

A Practical Idea for Introverts and Extroverts

In the next four weeks, carve out a period of open-ended time, from sunrise to sunset, and see what you notice.

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