11.24.2007


I have, somewhat recently, come to the rather clear realization that I have a fairly textbook case of introversion. That is to say: I am an introvert. (I say that in the same manner I might had I just stood up in a big empty church basement with a group of 20 other people sitting in a circle holding styrofoam coffee cups - "Hi, my name is David…and I am an introvert.")

I have yet to conclude whether it is a good thing, a bad thing, or perhaps some of both. I think the most likely conclusion, however, is that it is in fact, none of the above. Its just a thing.

There is a day that I remember - a few years ago at most - that for me, is the best illustration I can possibly conjure to describe how I best relate to people. If a person (any person) could understand how and why I felt it was a such great day, I think they would, perhaps, "get" me a little better. And I think a lot of people do not "get" me - this is the typical claim of the introvert. We don't feel "got," and its usually not a good feeling.

It was while I was still living in the NYC area, a surprisingly warm weekend in the middle of winter. My friend Rebecca had come up from Virginia or Philly or wherever it was she was living at the time, and she had her aunt and sister with her. I don't remember where they were staying, but I do remember heading out for beers in Union Square with them on the Friday evening, at the Heartland Brewery. I got the coolest picture on my phone of Sarah, Rebecca's sister, drinking a beer (she was underage, so it screamed of scandal and I swore I would send it to her parents). It was just a really nice evening. It was right about the time that Rebecca and I were realizing what a great friendship we really had. We were friends - and only that - but just that, all the same.

The next morning, Saturday, Sarah and the aunt were off to do the touristy bits of the city, and Rebecca just wanted to hang out. Which is what I enjoy most and am most likely to be found doing on any lazy winter Saturday - just hanging out.

I remember it was warm enough that we had the door to the roof deck open and the sun was filling the apartment. I remember that Rebecca was reading something, likely a book, and I was busy cleaning up my messy desk and goofing around on the internet.

I wish I could remember the rest of the details, because it really is one of my favorite days that I can remember, but I can't - and I actually am glad, in a way, that I can't. The details don't matter here so much as the emotional memory I have of that day: I was at peace. I was busying myself with minor things, stumbling upon things forgotten, allowing the mind to mull over the week before or ahead. I was taking time for the brain to do an internal audit of sorts. A defrag. A disk cleanup.

It wasn't that either of us were doing nothing at all, although we both might very well have been, at some point. It was that regardless of what we were or were not doing, there was not the slightest perceived need for communication about the doing or lack thereof. There was just peaceful quiet.

But not the peaceful quiet that comes when you are totally alone. That can be a good (wonderful, even) peaceful quiet. I crave those peaceful quiets, from time to time. I crave them in small ways, daily - when the brain knows its time to shut down the computer and go forage for food. I crave them in big ways, often - when I've had wonderful weekend with friends, but its just time to go back to my home. These peaceful quiets are good, and necessary, and exactly what I am not talking about here.

We had the peaceful quiet of the presence of another person in that same state of repose.

Presence.

There's something about presence.

I am sure this occurs within marriages, and although I wouldn't know, I would hopefully speculate. But this, I do know, can happen amongst friends. Yet it hasn't happened to me much, which is why that day stands out. I have had other occasions, but I've found that very few people in my life can understand the unique pleasure that comes out of so many contiguous moments being shared, and perhaps even relished, in silence.

Silence.

There's something about that too.

Do you know those people who can't sit at home without having the television or stereo on - some form of background noise even if they aren't dedicating themselves fully to the medium at the moment? I don't intend to vilify - I've been that person myself at times, but you know what I'm intimating - that constant need for aural stimulation. The car radio must be on, even if low; the television providing some din of life in from the corner of the room, combined with the soothing high-pitched electronic buzz that our generation has come to accept as a very real and necessary part of life. It is noise for noise sake - it is the absence of silence.

We've been stimulated, as it were, to the point that we can't stand *not* to be stimulated. The lack of it causes us to seek it out - we turn on the internet or reach for our cell phone or even for the latest magazine - something to focus our brain on so that we don't have to face the horror of focusing it on nothing, and perhaps hearing the ripples what lies beneath the surface.

And this is how we cut ourselves off from our own spirit. As long as we can keep the brain occupied, there's no time for reflection or introspection, no time for self examination or perhaps critique, and thus no opportunity for spiritual and mental growth. Instead you just stay there in your perpetual state of placated dormancy (not altogether unlike the humans in The Matrix, if a pop-culture reference isn't too ironic at this point).

There is something about being able to return to silence - and we do so very much have to return to it. The world we live in is structured primarily around the absence of it, and so we must make the conscious journey to those times and places where things stop speaking to our brain and it can deal with itself on its own. There is something about those times that makes them so very peaceful - even in those times where the reflection might bring up some past hurt or wrong that needs to be dealt with - even then, there is the underlying peace that, finally, it is being acknowledged. There is peace in the silence.

Its that beautiful peace, when combined with the wonderful presence of another person sharing it - that is my perfect day. There is no need for words, just the implied trust and comfort in the mutual understanding of the relationship with the other person, regardless of its contexts. A "poignant form of intimacy," as a friend once put it.

I've had many moments of personal reflection on my own, over the years - some pleasant, and some not so enjoyable - but what have been fewer and further between are the instances in which I shared the experience with other persons. I had it with a friend on a long road trip to see my sister and a football game - time to just watch the scenery roll by and think. It happened with another while she cooked us a Sunday meal and I enjoyed my book in the sun. And with another in a canoe we shared floating through silent river valleys. I can think of a couple of friends who have, at the best of moments, looked at me with a smile that says more than words could, and yet is free from the need of them, at the same time.

This is how I best relate to people. When I can be with you and not feel a need for words, or at least very few of them, I am at peace.

I wouldn't argue on behalf of introverts - that they are able to more easily reach this state of quiet repose, or that they are better in some way because of their awareness of it. Rather, I'd simply offer that the typical introvert senses a need for this more deeply - perhaps not even consciously, but often we find ourselves longing for those environments where the quiet can be bathed in. In fact, sometimes, the situations that prevent the comfort of quiet very often can become stressful for us.

And, as much as I'd like it to be the answer, I don't think requiring everyone else to understand and pander to how I'm psychologically structured is the correct response here. While I do believe that society at large does need to be more sensitive to much of the aforementioned, the pessimistic part of me doesn't expect people to change much. So, here are a few things I've been trying to implement in my life in order to mitigate some of the challenges that introversion often fosters:

1. Eye contact. I've been trying to use it more frequently in conversations with people to help them feel acknowledged. Further, I've been playing around with this in the context of what I'll term "experimenting." Its interesting to hold a person's gaze until they look away. It changes the dynamics of a situation - be it the gas station attendant, a co-worker, or a girl at a bar. Its something that takes concerted effort, but I am making it, when I remember to.

2. Small talk. I have always, and likely always will, have a severe distaste for small talk. I do not feel the need to state the obvious, repeatedly, every day. To talk about the weather when every human with the basic functioning senses already knows what the freaking weather is like. BUT...many people find small talk to be the lubrication of conversation - the initial part of connecting with other people that will eventually allow you to open into the deeper things. And, so, I've been working on this too - voicing thoughts that I normally would have just let slip by without a word spoken. Trying to compliment things I admire. Trying to find interesting things to share in the monotony of the day. I am working on all these and more.

3. Being more up-front about who I am. Like this post for example.

4. Asking questions. Questions that I might not really be curious about, but trying to develop a genuine interest in the little things about other people. Questions that encourage other people to open up about who they are and what cooks their bacon. Questions that take the focus off of me and helps me to more genuinely care about others.

So, this is where I'm at. Its a growing, evolving thing, but at least now I'm beginning to see it for what it is. Take this post, itself, for example. I've had it mostly written for over a month now. I've been reading articles and writing in discussion forums and getting lots of good input on the topic from friends and strangers alike, but I haven't felt like the post was quite ready, because it feels I learn something new (even if its small) almost every day, that applies to this situation that I will refer to as "life."

I've been thinking of this as my "Introvert's Manifesto." But it just can't be that, because once I post this, I'm going to go out and spend an evening mostly alone, and then a day following with friends and co-workers, and I'm going to realize something else about how I and they approach the world, and how that's different, and how that's ok. This post can never be what I want it to be. I'll never really be able to communicate exactly what I'm trying to say here, at least not in this life. And that's fine.

Sometimes, when you're down in the count, its just a really comforting thing to stop and realize that you get to play in the game.

6 comments:

Bethany said...

Refreshing post, David. I was thinking about the whole comfortable silence just yesterday. Ironically, it says so much. I'm proud of you. Keep on discovering.

g.c. said...

i've been looking forward to this post...heh. i feel like i've read most of it already, though. still, good thoughts. and good on you for being intentional about seeking to improve in areas you feel stand to be improved. i appreciate intentionality in anyone and everyone i see it in. being actively engaged and not passive is pretty much the best way to live, i reckon.

anyway, my brother-in-law always comments when he's around my family...his family is super LOUD...always, with the noise. we all grab books and sit around reading or checking email...this thanksgiving has been more of the same. sudoku-ing, reading, napping on our awesome couches in front of the fireplace. bliss.

valb said...

Totally off the subject, David, I was looking for the Dunkirk quote on Google, and your blog came up! You had a link on it, but the link did no longer work. Do you know what it was, and can you comment on it for me?

David said...

I don't, unfortunately, recall much of that article that I linked to. I've updated that post with a comment however that might help you with your search.

valb said...

Oh, are you going to make me go back and find it again? I was on another computer in another state, but, OK, I'll google it again. . .

Christa said...

Wrote this in my journal last month:
“I’m beginning to realize that the one thing God has been continuously disciplining me to know is that he is real. I have been searching for those rare moments of inspiration where I cannot deny him and have been searching in vain. We were not built for the mountaintops, for ecstasy, for the dawning of new ages, and supernatural inspirations as much as for the valleys, the ordinary, the mundane, the bleak, silence…It is the only place where we are able to prove ourselves, and to build our character.” Perhaps our spirit is simply the place inside ourselves where mind and emotions touch. It’s amazing how many thoughts and feelings a person can have, yet the two never meet. It is enough to make a person insane, especially when you realize that it’s not the expression of them that counts as much as the never needing to…

thanks for writting that...