Solitude vs. Isolation: An Introvert’s Invitation to Shift Perspective

This is an image of a bison inside a paddock, looking out into the world beyond the gate. I love this image because I think he looks contemplative, which is a good, gentle state of Being instead of Doing, an important aspect of living Gifted. We work with this concept as a basis for the work with Authentic Way Coaching.
“Untitled image of bison in solitude,” ©2021, Lauren Berley Studio

by Lauren Berley

The creative personality can be dichotomous, sometimes an even split between introvert and extrovert, and balancing those aspects is conducive to a general state of well-being.  But more common is the person whose personality is better defined as either introvert or extrovert.

To an extrovert, expression seems to fly out of every pore seamlessly, and the absence of an audience is a less effective work space. We all know them.  The life of the party, the one first to jump up in front of a group, the one who stands out.  They are magnetic, intoxicating, and, in the best of scenarios, walking their walk.  To an introvert, merely observing and coexisting with an extrovert is either energizing or draining, depending on the introvert’s relationship with himself.

To an introvert, the creative process occurs in solitude.  Because of this, in the best of circumstances, the space is nurturing, safe, and free from static.  In it, the magic happens.  In it, all is possible.  It is that space of no one and nothing, the unfettered relationship between human and creation.  This is the somewhat-elusive ideal.
What is the shadow side to the introvert’s creative process in solitude?  Isolation.  Isolation is different from solitude.  In solitude, we are still connected.  We are in a place where there is enough quiet to allow thoughts, senses, and our inner dialogue to form new ideas and imagery.  But in isolation, we are disconnected, uninspired, and resigned.  In isolation, blocks happen.  Then doubts.  Then all the offshoot emotions that come with doubt: sadness, fear, pain, worry, bitterness… all pointing back to disconnection.  Sometimes the work comes to a screeching halt.  Or it becomes stale, uninspired, outdated, or repetitive.
The spirit of isolation is infectious in the work, and in the soul of the artist.  Moreover, it gains traction, expanding and creating more of the same dark void.  The outlook is certainly not enlivened for change and possibility!   I personally believe that isolation is the creative kiss of death, and I have experienced or witnessed it time and again.  Here are some thoughts for addressing isolation and transforming introversion into productive solitude, comfortably.
You are always working on something.  A globally-acclaimed filmmaker/photographer friend focused on a concern of mine over a cup of coffee one Sunday in Central Park.  I told him I’d been having trouble enjoying being out because I felt it was a waste of my time, and that nothing was as important as doing my work.  Of course, what “doing my work” looked like at that time was making calls, stuffing envelopes, and being fearful of rejection.  He pointed out that what I was doing in that very moment, sitting with a cup of coffee and observing humanity passing, discussing the moment and seeing it from different perspectives, IS working.  He went on to explain that the smallest thing, a trend or tendency you notice, might launch me into a whole new exploration, breathe fresh life into what I’ve been doing (over and over again, perhaps?) and keep me current.  I looked at him with a furrowed brow.  There he sat at 80-something years of age, having photographed and directed some of the most artistic and memorable work in my field, bright orange Chucks on crossed feet, with his senses wide open, and judgment-free of humanity.  He went on to explain that his method for inspiration is to be around young people, and to lecture classes and take questions from young people.  He explained that what young people are doing and saying have kept him focused on staying fresh, open, and unstuck.  This got the dials turning.  How am I supposed to be out, observing people, if I am constantly wishing either I were somewhere else, or that someone, anyone in the room were from my same planet!?
The key to it is non-judgment.  The tendency to judge is more alluring than any other challenge we face, it seems.  It is, quite simply, human nature, and our biggest enemy.  It is tempting for an introvert to default into the following mantras:

“I can’t relate to any of this.”

“This doesn’t interest me.”

“Been there, done it.”

“This is a waste of my time when I need to be back to doing ______.”

Within each and every one of those statements is all judgment, the void of a creative environment.  Each one is an opportunity blocked by judgment, eliminating the experience of “reckless abandon,” where creativity is born.   When you stop judging, you make space for creative insights to pop, new thoughts to arise, and a sense of expansion. When we are open to whatever comes, we begin to look for the gems in everyday existence that feed our thoughts, spark creativity, inspire gratitude, or merely elicit a good laugh.
Not everyone is an anthropologist.  I was coaching a photographer a few weeks ago on the topic of isolation and how sometimes it seems that there is no one out there with the same values, beliefs, and curiosity.  I suggested to him that: “Not everyone is an anthropologist.  Not everyone wants to dig.”  We have to find solace in being our own anthropologists, perhaps digging into ourselves and humanity with the same enthusiasm and non-judgment.  We can turn the void into a trajectory when we are open to exploring what might look like the morbidly mundane.  In the most unexpected situations, there are kernels of research to be discovered, perspectives to challenge, and ideas to give birth to.  The secret is a shift in perspective.
Going into any situation open to the possibility of useful information, inspiration, or even a snippet of an overheard sound byte that might launch you into a new thought pattern will surely attract new experiences into your otherwise-boring and uninspired trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles.  If nothing else, you have an opportunity to observe others and how they address the same mundane task.  What is the level of urgency in each of the people in line?  How do they express it?  What body language do you see?  When the people beside you are speaking, what are they really saying?  How do people think and feel?  What resonates with you?  Do you feel something warm up or shift?
Perhaps you are obligated to a party you feel trapped in, and have little in common with the attendees.  What do you feel?  Maybe a little discomfort.  What is discomfort?  An opportunity to rub up against your comfort zone and stretch, to grow.  Get to know your discomfort zone intimately by challenging it and see what happens. 
I was at a kids’ swimming party for a friend’s 9-year-old, where I felt like a fish out of water. It was in Las Vegas, and all the adults were parents, enjoying the opportunity to unwind by drinking a great deal. I, however, was just passing through on my way from isolation in a small Colorado town to Los Angeles, and this pool party came with the stopover. I’m sure I applied these three of the four judgment statements mentioned earlier:

“I can’t relate to any of this.”

“This doesn’t interest me.”

“This is a waste of my time when I need to be back to doing ______.”

Because the party’s hostess was also with whom I was staying overnight, there was nowhere else to go, and nothing to do but find opportunity in the moment.
The interesting thing is that once I made the decision to shift into being present in the moment, textures, imagery, and movement began to flood my awareness. And I spent the rest of the day making some really interesting images.

“Untitled image from a boring party,”  ©2013 Lauren Berley Studio

It is possible to transform a tendency toward isolation into productive solitude.  But we do need to make our way outward to retrieve valuable pieces of information, inspiration, or perspective and bring them home to our solitude.  We can be a sponge.  Look, listen, and feel. Learn.  Grow.  Observe.  Sharpen.  Create.  If we’re so inclined, we can observe holes in the culture, in humanity, and contemplate how we might fill them.  So much can happen within us while the rest of the “boring world” is happening outside.  A simple shift of intention, of perspective, can help us navigate those situations that ordinarily throw us into the isolation zone and transform them into inspiring possibilities.

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