For the last several weeks, I have been waking early, getting up before my husband and sitting quietly as the morning begins. I am blessed to live in a cozy house that feels to me more like a retreat in the woods than anything else. There is a long, gravelly path from the main road to our house that is surrounded on both sides by woods. There are woods in front of my house and woods behind. In the winter, when the rains have been their heaviest, you can hear the brook below gurgling in its swolleness. The house and its surroundings are quiet.
Since going through my breast cancer experience this summer, I have re-committed to living more authentically than ever before. One of the things that I have been cultivating in this commitment is a gentle acceptance of my deep introversion, my need for quiet, my need to sit in stillness. When I was a little girl, I was so shy, that I would literally cling to my mother in social situations. I refused to take off my coat when we visited friends or family almost as a way to implore us not to stay too long in that setting. I was often perceived by the other kids in school as being “snobbish” and distant because it was not in my nature to be outgoing and engaged. Speaking instilled fear; speech class threw me into anxiety attacks. I always preferred being much more of an observer.
I have struggled throughout my life in accepting this introverted part of me. It has been hard to communicate to others that I am just as happy to attend events, and participate in gatherings as my more extroverted companions, it is just that I express myself differently in these settings. I am happy to talk less about myself and be more focused on listening to others; I have a more limited capability to sustain my energy in social situations and when the events are over, I need spaces of quietness. I am content in going through an entire weekend, not talking on the phone or seeing anyone except my husband (who, by the way, is also an introvert; this common ground is one of the things that help us to truly understand each other). I prefer small, intimate gatherings with deeper conversation over large gatherings consisting of small talk.
As my life has unfolded, the demands of the world and my work life have required me to be more “extroverted”. A teaching position for 5 years, required me to stand up in front of critically conscious graduate students and talk for hours (not an introvert’s comfort zone). I love being a therapist. And a lot of my introversion has served me well in this role. My natural instinct and preference to observe and listen enables clients to grapple with their own challenges in a space of stillness and acceptance. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to help others understand their lives more authentically through deep reflection and conversation. I also love witnessing other people’s growth and healing. However, in order to do all of this, I need to be fully, emotionally and genuinely engaged with others, all day long. And so I have learned how to do these more extroverted things because it is an important and valuable part of my life. If I am to be the best therapist I can be, I also have to push myself out of my comfort zone, just like I ask clients to do. But when my day and week is over, I need to replenish and nourish myself with intentional quiet and stillness.
Having breast cancer has reminded me that life is too short to not live from your authentic self. And so, I have stepped more confidently into my introversion and have found in doing so, I am more gentle with myself. I am beginning to understand more clearly what enables me to be creative, productive and connected to my true spiritual nature. I am taking time to wake early. In those early morning hours, I practice opening my eyes, ears, heart and mind so I can see, hear and witness the quiet world awaken with me. I am finding that this time of quiet and stillness energizes me. I become more clearly connected to and aware of my true self. Because of this daily practice, my day goes much better. Starting my day in this most nourishing way inspires my work, my interactions, and my relationships. I am more intentional, aware, creative and authentic.
Life feels more satisfying when we take the opportunity to discover what feeds our truest selves. When we reflect on our own inner nature, and honor the way in which we feel most alive and are most responsive to our life, a thread of connection joins us genuinely and with open-heartedness to ourselves, to our relationships and to the rest of the world.
What is your truest nature? Whether you feel you are an introvert or an extrovert, how do you fully embrace who you are, respect your uniqueness and live most authentically? Write and let me know how you find that place within that honors your truest self.