Wednesday, March 21, 2007

NPR - Being and Alone

I took this photo by happenstance. I was walking around downtown Tacoma and walked past the building under refurbishing for the Tacoma School of the Arts. I took it putting the lens against the glass. I am always amazed at construction sites, they're almost always clean and organized, because they can't afford injuries, losing or leaving anything, like nails or tools, and dirt is the enemy of many things in construction. They're only slightly disorganized when they're working but they always have people to cleanup.

Anyway, I liked the image with the small cleanup pan against the wall. But it's an idea of emptiness and possibility, the emptiness of what was and is, and the possibility of what will be. It's now alive with young people who don't know its past, only their present and future. And the building ties them to history and the future. I hope they thing of it now and then, and give thanks.

But you say, the point? Well, I have moments where I just stop and stand where I'm at with an empty mind to just be, as they say, in the moment, where I just let the senses experience being. No thinking and no emotions, just feeling the space and environment around me, like I'm the center of the universe and I'm paying attention. Ok, it's not new or even new age for that matter, but just a sense of being. Do you do that? Stop and turn your mind off, to experience what's around you?

It's one of the neatest experiences. It's about consciousness of being. It's what makes us alive and how few times we realize and enjoy the sheer joy of being and being alive. We're always too busy with life and everything pushing and pulling on us, constanting thinking and feeling. Zen teaches to look within. Taoism teaches to look out, to see the whole and your being it in at the moment.

And? Well, today at the local nursery looking for some new plants to replace the ones who didn't survive the winter, I was walking around when I just stopped and stood there. The sky had high cirrus clouds against the clear blue, the wind swayed the trees in the forests around the nursery, people talking, staff working, feet against the rocky path, the cold air, the smell of March, and the whole sense of just being there. And then it was gone.

And the alone? Well, Anneli Rufus has an excellent book, "Party of One", about people who are totally comfortable being alone. We're not loners, just normal people getting through life and don't necessary need the consistent company of people to do what we want and be happy. There are far more of us than you think, writers, painters, photographers, scientists, and on and on. You might take a look and read.

Why? Because as Anneli writes, the media has misrepresented people who are alone. They portray anyone who appears abnormal as "loners" when they're not. If you read about their lives, they wanted friends, to be a part of a group and were rejected, and the rejection triggered their anger and later rage against people. It's an unfair misuse of the description of a loner, and labels the rest of us as abnormal when we're not.

And you might wonder isn't it normal to want to be with people, be social? No. It's almost the opposite, very few people want or need to be in a constant social environment, and suffer mental problems when they're alone. Alone people function quite nicely in the world with and around people. And we like the company of friends and be social. We just like to limit it where we have time to ourselves to pursue our interests in life. Almost all the creative people in history were loners.

Really? Yup. It's because no one thinks and writes in a crowd. Everyone to be creative can work in a group, as we all do, but eventually you have to sit alone and do. Alone people are best then and there. Something to think about when you read that next book, watch the news, listen to music, look at art, and so on. It was created by individual working alone in the world.

It's like the photo. If you had to stand there, what would you sense, feel and think? If you were alone there, would you be ok with yourself or fear being alone? I am quite comfortable, otherwise I couldn't do my photography or sit here writing this column.


  1. I'll accept that. It's easier to look, listen, and reflect when you don't have the distraction of conversation or maintaining agreement. As a case in point, I once took a trip through Mexico with a friend. After a month we parted ways and I continued on to Guatemala. Not surprisingly, my Guatemala portfolio is much deeper and varied than the one of Mexico. Although I spent more time in Mexico, I felt I really only scratched the surface. Still, as enjoyable as time alone is, it's often a guilty pleasure. It is a richer experience, I find. Interesting post. I'll look for the book.

  2. Let me know when you have a portfolio on-line with the images from both, I'd like to see them. While I rarely travel now, mostly because I spent too much time growing up and with work travelling, and have grown to hate motels and road food, I like to see where people have been, the geographer in me. Good luck and thanks for the comments.