her true center

Photo taken by me on one of my first solo trips, to Astoria beach in Oregon

Photo taken by me on one of my first solo trips, to Astoria beach in Oregon

Many of my last posts at Exponent before I took a sabbatical from writing, were about  being alone (see this one and this one)  It was a time of my life where I was re-imagining so many parts of myself and trying not to be too afraid of the long dark nights that I new were ahead.

Six years later, and I am used to the alone-ness now. But perhaps what has changed the most is that I rarely feel lonely, and I believe that’s because I enjoy my own company so very much.  While I am very much an extrovert still (I love hosting parties and co-working with colleagues), I can spend days at a time by myself and be totally content.

A book that I read in college and have re-read many times since, is Anne Morrow Lindbergh‘s Gift From the Sea.  This is a book of essays that compares the seasons of a woman’s life to shells from her long walks on the beach.  She says, for example, of life in the midst of the busy years of child-rearing (speaking to the “moon-shell” that she found while staying on an island by herself for a few days):

You will say to me ‘solitude.’  You will remind me that I must try to be along for a part of each year, even a week or a few days, and for part of each day, even for an hour or a few minutes in order to keep my core, my center, my island-quality.  You will remind me that unless I keep the island-quality intact somewhere within me, I will have little to give to my husband, my children, my friends or the world at large.  You will remind me that woman must be still as the axis of a wheel in the midst of her activities, that she must be the pioneer in achieving this stillness, not only for her own salvation, but the the salvation of family life, of society, perhaps even of our civilization.

And then at a later stage of her life when her children have left home and her husband has passed away, she writes:

All the inner and outer exploration that I woman has done earlier in life pays off when she reaches the abandoned shell.  One has to come to terms with onself not only in a new stage of life, but in a new role.  Life without children, living for oneself–the words at first ring with a hollow sound…[But] to quote my own words, “woman must come of age by herself–she must find her true center alone.”

It seems to me that Anne summarizes the most important lesson that I’ve learned from the past few years where I found myself divorced and an empty-nester in a short span of time, a lesson that I’d wished I’d understood earlier in life, but didn’t given that I went straight from natal home to college roommates to married to mother.

So my question to you, readers, is how do you maintain that “true center” at your current stage of life?  Is it something that comes naturally to you, or something that you have had to work hard to gain/maintain?




Jana is a university administrator and teaches History. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com

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5 Responses

  1. Spunky says:

    I have to work hard at keeping my true centre. I am a people – pleaser by nature and Mormon upbringing, and that is not limited to friend, husband. And children. But also acquaintances, teachers and so on.

    Keeping my core – as of late, means to focus on my health. Today I am going to a doctor – we live rurally, so I drove 2 hours to the nearest airport. Then I took a 90 minute flight. Now I am on a train. I have my laptop for writing, book I love, and the Exponent to keep me company before and after the doctor. It in an indulgence. One I do not do enough, but I am trying.

    Thank you for this beautiful post.

  2. wreddyornot says:

    May I just say that I’m delighted to see your post and have missed keeping up with you and your journey. I am unsure how to answer your questions, and perhaps they are meant just for women, although they seem just as important to me . I am 68, widowed, have a 36 year old daughter with CP and epilepsy and two sons about the same age who still need support and assistance. Still, I find time to be alone to write stories and read novels and to walk and think.

  3. Jess R says:

    I’m a graduate student, so there is always work I *could* be doing…always another manuscript to write, or article to read, or statistical analysis to run. So for me, it’s been a matter of scheduling time to do things that are not school related. I go to yoga (sporadically) and have weekly a game night with friends.

  4. Violadiva says:

    Most days, motherhood feels like a slog, with a million important and urgent things to do and no spare minutes. I think my husband feels the same about fatherhood. We agreed several years ago to give each other guilt-free days (and weekday evenings) off. I get Monday night for Yoga, he gets Wednesday night for choir, we alternate who gets a full Saturday to themselves. I especially love the “guilt-free” part of this arrangement. Even if the kids are not fed or anywhere near bed, on Yoga night, I kiss their little heads, yell “good luck!” and head out. These days don’t accumulate and are on a “use it or lose it” basis, so even if I don’t head to yoga, I’ll at least go out for a solo dinner and read a book to myself. It’s been a sanity saver for both of us. I wish every young mom and dad could have a guilt-free night off per week all to themselves with no kids, no church meetings, and no pressure to accomplish anything while they’re out.

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