"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. 
In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to 
sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to 
their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."

Rabindranth Tagore

Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.

First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Alone Time

It was supposed to be a well-deserved retreat after ten days of teaching and lecturing at the Surface Design Association conference. My youngest sister and brother-in-law procured the cabin on the St. Croix River well in advance of our June dates, and we rallied – not the entire family, but seven of us, including a young niece and her husband. The three hour drive north of the Twin Cities was easy enough, fueled by Starbucks and a stop to acquire a major stash of micro-brews and hard cider.

Minnesota is gloriously green in June, especially when compared to my drought stricken back yard in San Antonio. We reveled in the cool temperatures and upon arriving, stocked the fridge and set off on a hike, spirits high; all bouncy conversation and good humor.

About a mile from the cabin, mist settled over the woods. Half a mile more and intermittent sprinkling couldn’t be denied. At the two mile mark we agreed unanimously to turn back, and just as we did so, the rain began in earnest. Fast walking was good. Running was better. The sky opened. We got soaked.

We skidded up to the cabin’s front door and began peeling off wet layers. And then, oddly in unison, we looked down. We were covered with ticks. Hundreds of ticks. It was as though we’d stepped into a huge pit of creepy, skittering deer ticks. At this point I think I went into shock because I don’t remember what we did to get them off. I just remember eventually getting my turn in the bathroom, where I stripped, and picked two dozen ticks off my legs, flicking each one into the toilet. Then I ran the hottest shower I could stand, and scrubbed myself from head to toe. I wrapped my clothing in a plastic bag, and tied it shut. I still felt creepy.

Everybody still felt creepy. We discussed the virtues of a hotel in Duluth and cracked open a few microbrews. Ann and Mary talked about getting dinner started. We ate and played cards and argued about politics for a while. My niece cried. I was reminded that sometimes families repeat scenarios from the past without even realizing it. Her tears jumpstarted instant memories of a long past vacation, during which I argued fiercely with my own father in a cabin in the woods, shattering the quiet of our family outing.

But this would all be ok. We were creeped-out and disappointed and tired, but morning would make it all right. I knew everyone would bounce back as soon as the sun came out and breakfast was served.

But it was time for me to go home.

So on Sunday morning I repacked the car and set out on the twenty-two hour drive to San Antonio. The morning was transparent and fresh. When I stopped for coffee I realized I was exhausted. Not bodily tired. Not too tired to drive. But mentally whipped. It was time to be alone.

I think it’s hard to admit you need time to be alone. Down time gets lip service, but there’s always that internal/external sideways glance - what’s wrong with you? We’re all in this together aren’t we? You must be awfully weak. Some people are affronted and consider it a rebuff. It’s hard to keep it from getting personal. They think you don’t want to be around them.

But it’s not usually about them.

And it doesn’t change the reality of needing alone time.

The drive was long, but it wasn’t hard. Fourteen hours later, in Oklahoma City, I parked in front of a Hampton Inn, got a room, and went to bed. Easy. The up side of living in a country plastered with hotel chains. I always know what to expect from a Hampton Inn.

But the interior life of the day was rich and still lingers. I listened to Bobby McFerrin twice, once in Iowa and once In Oklahoma. (The benefits of Public Radio) Interviewed by Krista Tippett, he was inspiring and delightful from start to finish; but what resonated was his description of rising in the morning and pacing, literally pacing, in his living room, alone. This is the precursor to his busy days. Alone time. Thought time. Pacing. Movement.

Which threaded back to a wonderful talk India Flint gave at the SDA conference. She described her practice of wandering and singing, simultaneously; no matter where she finds herself in the world. She admitted that she feels quite safe in this activity, since even muggers don’t want to deal with crazy ladies. At the end of a phrase or a verse, she stoops down and picks up whatever leaf or flower or weed that happens to be in her path. These become the dye stuffs used to color her magnificent cloth.

I was struck by how grounding such an activity must be. And now I see the connection. Pacing, driving, walking and singing – these are physical acts. I mentioned these similarities to my friend George and he told me that when his five children were small, the only alone time he had was at 3 a.m. He walked around his Austin neighborhood, composing poems in his head, and then went home and wrote them down.

So I am reconsidering movement in solitude. I can sit meditation. I can stay in the pew and pray. I can stitch or dye alone in my studio, but these activities are stationery. How to work in movement as part of my solitary time? Maybe that’s what my bike rides do. But I am contemplating slow, quiet walks. And singing.


  1. I know of which you speak. I must have my quiet time. I head down to the river and walk. The first 1/2 mile is brain clearing, empty out the list of chores, grocery lists, calls, etc. By the one mile mark I hear the birds, the river, the breeze in the grass. I return home changed. The lists, chores, etc are all still there, but I have changed. My spouse realizes this need and will suggest that "perhaps you need to go for a walk". I know then I have been snippy, or short. I do sitting meditation, I work alone, I do yoga, but none have the effect that the walk alone in nature does.

  2. Don't forget dancing. I put on my Ipod compelete with ear phones, tune in some music I got from Rosemary Claus-Gray with a caribbean-african sound, close my eyes and dance like to one is watching.
    And even if somebady was, I have my eyes closed and would not know it. It energizes by physical body, stimulates my mind and gives my muse a real boost.

  3. Since my dear husband died, I have lived alone. Certainly the house is quiet, but I have trouble beginning to work. Too quiet, too still. Indeed, music does help, but I am learning this new life and know it's a different life I've been given, not better, but changed. Sometimes I am able to work and sometimes not, but I go into the studio every day though forcing the issue doesn't help. There's a lot going on inside me that I don't understand yet, I need to learn who I am now, for I'm the same and yet not. I've always had ample solitude and company both, now one is gone, and loneliness has entered in, in spite of family, yoga, golf, walking, choir, my patient dog and my work. I'm working on it though, and I think I'll be able to work today. It's getting better.

  4. I must comment that "transferring" movement in solitude to cloth was the Ah Ha moment for me. ( as you know ) Check out Gabrielle Roth Ecstatic Dance, it's on video and she also has a collection of music. I think you are onto something!!!! Sometimes moving with solitude is so much better!

  5. Swimming is my meditating with movement. It is absolutely wonderful and totally necessary. Thank you for the reminder. Also Sufi "Turning" like the whirling dervish's is meditating with movement and we have a group here in New Zealand in my home town. I cannot "Turn" myself but love watching them.