A Choice of Mind
''There is a difference between loneliness and being alone;
there is a choice of mind in being alone, but loneliness comes up
through the heart and into the throat.'' --William Faulkner
''That inward eye which is the bliss of solitude.''--
When I think of all the advancements that have been made in
communication technology in recent years I am struck by the fact that
all of these faxing, emailing, paging, downloading, and calling devices
also serve to keep us from being in touch with ourselves. We are so busy
trying to communicate with one another that we have little time
remaining for solitude and self-reflection.
This technology serves to blind the ''inward eye'' that Wordsworth
declared ''the bliss of solitude.'' For those seeking a respite from
this chaos of communication the Boundary Waters Canoe Area offers an
ideal setting for solitude and introspection.
''What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being
alone can be.'' --Ellen Burstyn
My first trip to the BWCA was a two-week trip in June of 1987 with
the Outward Bound School based in Ely, Minnesota. I was a high school
sophomore and at a point of adolescent angst where I was not getting
along well with my parents, teachers, and coaches.
My parents had learned of the Outward Bound program and its emphasis
on leadership, group dynamic skills in a wilderness setting, and
personal introspection and growth. Knowing that I already possessed an
inherent love of wilderness, canoeing, and camping Mom and Dad decided
that such a program might be good for me.
''One can achieve everything in solitude.'' --Henri Beyle
So, off I went for two weeks in the Boundary Waters; the haven for
canoeing and camping that I had heard about for years. I remember not
knowing much about Outward Bound itself, and considered it more or less
as another summer camp. Little did I know that it would be so much more.
The highlight of that experience was a three day, two night ''solo''
in which I was dropped off by myself on the shore of a small lake with
no food, no tent, a sleeping bag, the clothes on my body, a 6' X 6' tarp
for shelter, and a pencil and paper. My trip leaders did not allow me to
bring anything to pass the time or serve as a distraction from the
primary goal of thinking about my life.
And think, I did. And I was the better kid for it.
''Solitude is as needful to the imagination as society is
wholesome for the character.''--James R. Lowell
Take a moment to consider how much time you take in a day, week, or
month to just sit and think. Without any distractions. Not very much, is
it? As I sat on a huge rock on the shore of my little lake for hours on
end, talking to nobody and eating nothing, I did some hard-core thinking
about myself, my life, and what I wanted that life to be like. I got to
a point where I could stare so deeply at the simplest things; the leaf
on a nearby plant, a fly landing and sitting on my arm, a rock beneath
the crystal clear water.
Having that sort of forced solitude afforded my mind the opportunity
to kick into overdrive and explore realms that I had never tapped into.
I got lost in my thoughts and would cease to be aware of my immediate
surroundings. When I came out of those thoughts it was like returning to
consciousness. Such deliberate, intense, and uninterrupted thought
brought clarity to the perception I held of myself and my life.
I emerged from that experience in the Boundary Waters with a clear
view of how I wanted my life to be. My parents, upon picking me up at
the Duluth bus station, told me that I was ''a different person.'' They
commented on the fact that I had matured, that I was more cooperative
and confident, and I seemed more at peace with myself and with those
around me. I attribute that remarkable personal growth to the solitude I
experienced on that small lake in the Boundary Waters.
''Solitude sometimes is the best society.''--John Milton
''The thoughtful soul to solitude retires.''--Edward
Years later, while in college, I spent a few summers working at a
canoe outfitter, near Grand Marais, Minnesota. There were so many
aspects of that experience that were wonderful for me, including the
wide array of people that I met as employers, co-workers, and customers.
However, I always cherished my time alone and enjoyed plenty of it
through short solo trips into surrounding lakes.
Of course, I enjoyed paddling and exploring new lakes, portaging, and
setting up camp. But what I really enjoyed was the solitude of it all.
Just as during my solo experience with Outward Bound those solo trips
heightened my senses to the details of my surroundings and I found that
I could focus intently on the small things that surrounded me. At the
same time my mind absolutely took off so that I could see the big
picture of my life with great clarity. Those trips, although brief, were
cathartic for me, and I always returned from them feeling mentally,
emotionally, and physically rejuvenated.
''The nurse of full-grown souls is solitude.''--James R.
In today's fast-paced world, where we are continually striving to
find faster ways to communicate with others, I think that most people
would benefit from taking some time to get back in touch with
themselves. This requires time, deliberate effort, and an appropriate
environment. The Boundary Waters offers such an environment.
As Faulkner wrote, ''...there is a choice of mind in being
alone.'' Is it time for you to make that choice?
''It is in solitude that we discover that being is more
important than having and that we are worth more than the results of our
efforts. In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be
defended, but a gift to be shared.''--William Faulkner