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
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
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.