Not All Introverts Are Quiet

At a party, you will find me being gregarious and able to easily engage in conversation with others. At a conference, I have little problem discussing the points of the speaker or opening a dialog in the hallways with fellow attendees. When I was a student in class, I never had an issue with raising my hand and asserting my view when called upon. I even engage store clerks with friendly trivial banter about the quality of the day. “Quiet” is not the first word that would come to mind to describe me — even by those who know me well or have known me for a long time.

What they often don’t see at the party is that I have specifically chosen one or two people I know and singled them out. I engage them in a deep discussion so that I can focus only on them and try my hardest to tune out the rest of the surroundings. They probably don’t notice that, even then, I find an empty room or a space outside in which to disappear for twenty minutes at a time. So I can sit there, alone, and recharge my internal batteries enough to go back to the party. They likely don’t know that by the end of the night I feel as though I’ve ran a race, in the rain, all up hill. Every nerve in my body feels taxed and my emotions wrung out to dry.

Those at the conference could not possibly know that it has taken me years to muster up the energy to attend. That if not for some very important topic or unmissable speaker I would never have come. That until I run into someone I know or meet someone I can engage with one-on-one, my overwhelming instinct is to find the nearest exit and run out of it as fast as I can. That it will be another few years before I can face another event like this. That I need to block off a full week following this one with as little human contact as possible so I can rest my spirit enough to engage with anyone outside of my immediate family.

When I was in high school, I often skipped less important or uninteresting classes because I could just not be in a single room with thirty other people for a moment longer. I would walk back home or go to a nearby park, recharge, grab a quiet bite to eat, or read a book. Only then would I walk back to school for my next class. If I had an English or History class, both of which I participated in and loved, you could almost guarantee I would sometimes opt-out of whatever class followed those. How do you explain to a school counselor that, ideally, you need one class period unscheduled following every one you have scheduled? That time alone in a room with a good book is as important to your education and well being as any class you could take during that time? You don’t. I didn’t. So, I skipped. Let’s just say it made no one very happy and my grades in no way reflected my ability or intelligence.

My introversion was even a surprise to me initially when personality tests called it out. In fact, my first time taking a Meyers-Briggs Personality Assessment, I questioned my MBTI score enough that I decided to take many more, at different times, to see if they would come out the same. They all did. I’m an INFJ (Introversion, iNtuition, Feeling, Judging). Introversion in the MBTI does not always mean someone who can’t be social or behave in ways that the world would perceive as outgoing. In fact, many famous people and leaders would also fall in the Introversion spectrum. For instance, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela are all INFJs.

I’m friendly. I can assert my thought or opinion when asked (and many times when not). I like having good, meaningful, conversations with friends and strangers alike. I can get up in front of large audiences and speak without overwhelming anxiety. While if given the choice between going to a party or convention or staying home alone I will choose the latter, that does not mean I don’t generally find value in the former. I just know which one will give me energy and fuel my spirit and which interactions will deplete them. It is this difference, hidden to many, that defines my status as an Introvert.

Not all introverts are hidden in our extrovert biased world because we are quiet. In fact, some of us are hidden because we are not quiet. We are able to hide it or we have personalities that cause us to appear otherwise externally. So, when thinking of the word “quiet” in relation to introverts, think not about how we act in the world at large but, instead, how we need to react to it to survive.

Some Thoughts On Solitude

I have long wanted to take a private/personal retreat of some kind. Last Christmas, my best friend Dawn gave me the gift of one — telling me to simply choose what I wanted and she would take care of any needed details. I searched for through the many option in the area, but kept coming back to a Franciscan based hermitage retreat called Pacem in Terris (Latin for “Peace on Earth”). My Birthday fell at the end of last week and I felt it would be perfect timing to spend it there in solitude and reflection.

Like Thoreau’s Walden Pond cabin, each hermitage is a small, single room cabin with an attached screen porch. Each one is sparely appointed with just the essentials — a bed, a rocking chair, a small table, a couple of stations for washing and cooking, and a small altar for those who wish to pray. A delicious basket of food is supplied and refreshed daily — a couple of loaves of (oh-my-goodness-so-delicious!) homemade bread, some fruit, some local cheese, and some jugs of water. They have been doing this for years so every amenity is well thought out and centered around reducing any stress or desire.

A retreat into solitude like this is impossible to convey in mere words. One has to really experience it and come away with their own impressions. For me, it was lovely and peaceful and restful and I highly encourage everyone to seek out such a place near them and allow themselves such a gift. But I felt, at the least, I could share some of the thoughts I wrote down about it. What follows are all direct passages I wrote in my journal during and after, offered in no particular order other than flow…

In many ways a solitary journey into the wilderness is, in equal measure, a journey into the wilderness of self. Just as the path into the woods draws us further away from civilization until all one can see in any direction is nature, so too is the truth of our own nature revealed. We can finally see our thoughts without noise or hinderance of distractions and obligations.

One of the interesting things about being out in nature with nothing to do but listen, notice, and ponder, is that one’s attention becomes more acute. When the leaves are blown by the wind, after time one stops hearing a whoosh and rustle and begins to hear each leaf knocking against another. Instead of one great sound one hears a collection of individual ones. Acorns falling to the ground sound like heavy raindrops in rapid succession and not a short storm. So too it becomes with our own thoughts — no longer are they a fleeting cacophony bombarded by many outside inputs — here, in the stillness, we can see and examine each one for what it is without the fear of loosing it.

Thoreau knew the secret. His journals make so much more sense to me now! I can understand how focused and excited he gets over the smallest things. How the way the snow caps or the lake shimmers can be worth a thousand word ode. Because, it is the way one sees them when in wilderness (external/internal). One would notice both each sparkle of snowflake and whole of a storm all at once. Just as I, sitting in the middle of this field, am alive to each swaying blade of grass and the whole of the prairie at once. I could surely write a thousand word ode to this!

The reality of how much this is missed in our daily lives was when I began to realize how much of an incredible luxury this seemed. Almost as if to be able to have such time and to experience such a thing were to enjoy something far beyond the means of most. For a short time I dealt with almost feeling ashamed at enjoying such fortune. To have the time, however short or long, to ponder both that which is all around us and that which is deep inside. To not have to rush through it all. To watch grasses sway and dragonflies dance on a crisp Autumn breeze while I examine each thought before sending it along without care for a next action. To have such things be the only thing I do.

Ask yourself, when was the last time your were alone. Not just alone in the sense of not having another person around but alone in the completest sense of having no distractions, obligations, tasks, next steps, “should be doings”, or “have to be doings”? Like me before this, I bet the answer was “never”. I feel like I’m now a member of some small, secret, select club. One who not only holds a secret but knows what it means. The impact it could have if more in our modern society knew it. It may sound absurdly grandiose yet I feel it does not begin to touch the surface. This experience changed me. I went into the wilderness one way and returned from it another — better equipped and seeing clearer.

I implore to all who might read this one day — go out there, into the wilderness, into solitude. Find the world there. Find what matters there. Find yourself there.

home/ books/ dash/plus/ archives/ rss