Carl Sandburg Was Right- We Need Loneliness and Wilderness

A  Visit to Sandburg’s Home Brought a Valuable Lesson

I have the good fortune of living not far from the booming (NOT) metropolis of Flat Rock, NC. Not a place on many bucket lists, but it should be. It is the rural home of the excellent State Theater and home to some exceptional BBQ.

But the real attraction is the country home of Carl and Lilian Sandburg. They lived here for many years, until his death in 1967. I feel an extra connection to Sandburg. He was America’s voice in so many ways (prose, poetry, music). When he died, my Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville NC supported his memorial service at the request of Lilian. Our community center is named Sandburg Hall.

So, I have visited the home site more than once. Always a pleasure, always something to learn. By the way, it continues to be a working goat farm. Lilian was a founding leader for about everything we know about goat farming in the US today.

On a recent trip back, I stopped by the gift shop and noticed a small desk plaque, carved into native area slate. It was a quote from Sandburg:

“It is necessary now and then for a man to go away by himself and experience loneliness; to sit on a rock in the forest and ask himself, ‘Who am I, and where have I been, and where am I going?’”

As soon as I read that, I picked it up. I wanted that reminder in front of me on a regular basis. It sits on my desk today. Truer words were never spoken, the gender specific text notwithstanding. We all need what Sandburg prescribed.

I will grant this is often easier said than done. I am at a time in my life wherein I can more easily set aside time to carry on this kind of reflection. When I was at the height of my working days, working 9 to 5 (or more often, 9 to 9), such time was much harder to come by. But even in small doses, this is tonic for the heart, mind, and soul. Make the time available, in whatever doses you can.

Allow me to offer examples on both ends of the time investment scale.

I recently was looking at changes in my life. Some were large, others not so much, but still important in the scheme of things. Before I committed to a course of options, I took a week off. I rented as isolated a cabin as I could find, and set about following Carl’s advice.

In the space of a week, I saw another human being only briefly one afternoon. I unplugged and disconnected almost completely for the duration. As I expected, it took the better part of two days for my head to clear and the bastopund noise to stop. The rest of the time was for reflection, relaxation, decision making, and planning. I returned recharged, reinvested in my priorities, and ready for the next chapter in life. That week was time and money well invested.

This also works on a smaller scale. Like everyone, some days I am mentally stuck on a problem or an opportunity. I may not have sorted out the pieces or not been imaginative. What to do?DSC00554

The best solution I have found is to pick up the leash, attach it to my good dog Lizzie, and
go for a walk in the woods. It never fails; I come back with something of a Eureka moment. Lizzie grants wise counsel and the woods give us the perfect place to commiserate.

What both of these examples illustrate is that we are swept up in life, motion, and the passage of time. The value of stepping aside, assessing the journey and the surroundings, is immeasurable. It not only improves the decisions we make, it allows us to appreciate life more. It allows us to appreciate the larger framework of existence.

The best leaders I have known knew how to do this on an operational level as well. While still leading and keeping the team on track, they knew how to step back and check their course. We all benefited when they did that. It’s a technique I used often as a leader and one I always passed on to up and coming leaders.

So, do yourself a favor. Get control of your sense of time and the passage of life. Set aside time and focus, in large and small doses, and pick up Carl’s question.

You will make no better investment.

Clontz-117tx225pix  Bill Clontz

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8 replies to Carl Sandburg Was Right- We Need Loneliness and Wilderness

  1. love this piece, Bill. Inspirational and great advice.

    • Glad you enjoyed it. Now take a break from that hard working S4Us team and follow Carl’s advice! 🙂

  2. Our nervous systems are bombared with noise on many fronts, ie, unpleasant music playing in stores and restaurants, local and global tragedy news, etc. Good advice to at least daily refresh/reboot our brains and spirits. Nature and pets are calming and healing. Quiet is golden. Getting away from it all is priceless.

    • It is interesting how rare quite is in our lives. I think that is why for most of us it takes awhile for it to settle in for us mentally – we keep generating background noise in our head, out of habit as much as anything else.

  3. In college, I was lucky enough to be part of a conversation with the late poet Robert Penn Warren. He said the best inspiration he had for writing came when he was doing something rhythmic and simple. Like taking a walk. Or helping his wife change sheets. I agree with you 100%. We underestimate how important it is to slow down, stop doing. Just be.

    • That is another, good variation on the theme. The idea of performing a simple task to help clear the mind does, in my experience, often work as well as a walk, etc. Must have been pretty neat meeting Robert Penn Warren.

      • You’re right – meeting Warren was one of the top 3 highlights of my college years. Your message to step back from the noise is so important. I’ve already shared it 2 times 🙂

  4. Finding solace in meditation cannot be over estimated. Take time each day to linger in the gaps between thoughts. Therein lies our wisdom. And peace.

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