The beauty of doing things alone may seem a misty and distant proposition. Why do you spend time alone when the company of others can be so enriching? Here’s why.
Now is a time of constant fear, where homeostasis is a flux of volatile internal mixtures that go up and down, driven by a nerve that’s perpetually plugged into the social sphere. It’s a thing of flicked attentions, senses heightened to a nervous jolt. We let exogenous sources superimpose opinions onto our own; we have to constantly cater to public correctness.
But this shiny flyishness is something that can be productively combated by a selfishness that is selfish in only the best of ways. Toni Morrison, in a speech upon acceptance of an award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, champions the idea of a “dancing mind.”
Morrison claims, “The peace I am thinking of (as opposed to just the absence of war) is the dance of the open mind when it engages with another equally open one.”
When I hear of minds engaging, I conjure an image of a platonic dialectic whose point is to reason through ideas and form an inscrutable consensus. But the mental calisthenics Morrison is espousing is of reading and writing, of spending considerable amounts of time in your own head.
It strikes me –as it strikes Morrison– that reading alone can produce a sort of volley with the author, a back-and-forth that is less, if not at all, socially conscious of backlash, shameability and other thought-altering perceptions.
Reading can incite a sort of synaptic enfilade akin to the occult beauty of watching the gut strings of a piano pluck up and down while someone plays.
It is when we unplug and step back that we unlock, because the constant nibble of exogenous opinion is not constantly causing us to tailor our thoughts, or be feverishly attuned to everyone else’s. This, of course, is a form of self-reflection but not in the pretzel-legged, Gautamatic way that tends to connote annoyance and ersatziness in a lot of people.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite. This sort of aloneness with your thoughts is not a meditation in pursuit of emptying but is more of an internal force that slides its hand in yours and begins to gesture towards doors that were obscured by the television, computer or joe blow’s political analysis. This mind’s slink allows your thoughts to flay like the fiber optics of a child’s Christmas tree, to wrestle free of their binds and strut.
All of this speaks to the mind as an instrument of passive absorption, consumed by a vortex that can in one gale mine the media landscape for every pickable opinion. The problem is most of them (the opinions) aren’t your own, and it’s because of latent insecurity, driven by a fear of missing out, that leads to muddled individuality. Morrison tells us we need “sustained surrender to the company of our own mind.” I agree.
It’s encouraging to think about the unmooring of our minds, the loosening of our clench on others, ending our white-knuckled wringing of interminable, opinioned washcloth. Writing and reading themselves are slick, smooth, ballroom waltzes with your mind. There are trips, there are hitches. They happen quite often.
But that’s the best part: ironing through a thought, rifling through a word. And there’s no pressure to concoct some synthetic, Machiavellian product that has just the right spice of faux-originality and public conformity. It’s just you and your thoughts, and it can be exhilarating.