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Solitary meditations

Dedicated to all of my friends

It is a rainy summer morning, the cat sleeps on the sofa, I drink coffee and think. I think about solitude, social life and group membership. This is a big theme which I've been thinking about for the most of my life. Also, I often get asked if I do feel lonely living alone in my tiny house, away from the bustling social life of a city. Well, I start with some general and theoretical background.

Yes, I think that we humans are herd animals just like horses and dogs. That social deprivation is likely to lead to emotional and behavioral problems just like malnourishion leads to physiological problems. And that a whole lot of problems in the modern Western culture might be related to problems in our social group membership. For example, there are articles suggesting that drug addiction is only 18% a chemical addiction, and the rest stems more from psycho-social aspects - a person who feels isolated or rejected is much more likely to become an addict than a person who is an accepted member of a group with meaningful common projects. And, more generally, it might be that a lot of depression, anxiety and apathy is due to lack of primitive group experience of sleeping in a same room with the other group members, being exposed to danger together, working together to ensure group survival, conducting patrols, eating and joking together.

But group membership seems to be a complex phenomenon. Just having a bunch of people physically located in a same space, and assigned a common project, doesn't automatically mean that the people develop a positive sense of group membership. To illustrate this, I'll go back to some memories of being a teenager at school. In the Finnish school system it is mostly each pupil working alone - but sometimes we were given projects to work with a group of 4 - 6 students, and each group was given free hands to complete the given task and then present the results for the rest of the class. I think that was supposed to help us learn about co-operation, but what we did learn is that in a random group of 6 persons it is 3 students trying to avoid all the work, or only contributing as little as they can, then one or two student talking a lot and having a lot of ideas - but actually contributing a very little of actual work to the common project, and then one or two students who work together or alone, doing the majority of the work. Then the results are presented, the teacher approves the work done, and each group member is given a mark of completing the task. And most of the students are left with a feeling that group work is problematic, unfair and a sad affair.

Or, on larger scale, in post-war years most of the Finnish population was living in countryside communities, with tightly knitted social networks. Everybody knew their neighbours, and constant gossip was a norm - what ever you did, soon everybody knew it and had an opinion about it. I think that is a very typical form of social control - you can't simply do random things, as you have to consider the social consequences of your actions. If you do bad things, you are sure to face ashaming and mockery, but if you do good things everybody will talk good of you - that kind of social feedback system is not perfect; sometimes somebody does a bad stuff - but mostly, on average, the social pressure keeps the group members behaving in a decent way. But it becomes a problem when one feels that the social norms of "decency" aren't right. Everybody understand that you get ashamed if you steal stuff, but should you be ashamed of having a wrong kind of haircut, or for listening to strange kind of music? I'd guess many people felt those traditional small communities as restrictive - some became hermits, many escaped into the anonymity of the cities, and some just endured or tried to develop an immunity to social mockery.

I mean, we can't simply say that a lack of group membership is a problem. Group membership in itself can be a problem, too. Prolonged negative group feedback is propably very destructive. Well, personally I always felt that I don't quite fit into the social expectations of my parents and the surrounding countryside community. I felt that in their eyes I'm otherwise okay, but I just have wrong kind of thoughts, wrong kind of emotions, and I'm interested in the wrong kind of things - ie. I had a wrong kind of personality. Instead of abandoning my personality I hid it, and in the presence of others I showed them an acceptable social role - kind of an acted character, a facade, a protective shell hiding my true personality. Even today this contributes a lot to the way I experience the social world - if I see somebody walking up the small road near my yard, my first instant reaction is "Oh, an another person - I hope (s)he is not coming here, so that I don't have to interact with anybody." For me it is an automatic reaction to hide my inner self in the presence of others - which means that the social interaction feels like superficial to me, doesn't touch my inner soul, and is somewhat exhausting. It takes a special effort to learn to being open and honest and fully present with the other people - and that effort is equally exhausting and I can do it only just step by step, little by little, moment by moment.

Since I saw the movie Dead Poets Society I have been dreaming of some kind of creative and uplifting group membership. Instead of the rather narrow-minded social control of a traditional countryside community, having such a group which not only accepts but encourages everybody to be true to their inner selves, enjoying arts and creativity, engaging in collective creative and ritualistic projects. Instead of just sticking to the tradtional concept of being "decent and normal", finding and creating a new kind of "being normal". When my son was smaller and we were living in a city, we spent a lot of time with the other families living in the same block. One night when it was a bedtime for the kids, I was thinking that why are our nuclear families so separated - why don't we do the parenting in more tribal way? Like, each family having their own homes, yes, but then also having some communal rooms, so that cooking, eating and the bedtime could be shared. Families would always have the option of staying in the privacy of their own homes, still having the tribal community always available; two or three skilled parents could surely handle the bedtime for all the kids of five or six families. As, parenting is both rewarding and demanding, and I felt that it could be more rewarding when shared in a good, supportative small group of six families or so. Reading ethnological studies I knew that some form of communal parenting is (or was) the standard model in most of the cultures around the world, and our European / Western culture is a strange kind of exception.

As said, a good and supportative small group doesn't get formed by itself if we just have random families living next to each other. It all depends of the social, emotional and behavioral models of the group members - the group can be more like a heaven or a hell, depending on the way the group members relate to each other (and to themselves). Personally, I prefer some sort of hermit lifestyle over a network of negative and restrictive social relations. And, at the same time, I do my best to accept people the way they are, I might welcome strangers to my house, and most of the time I have a friendly attitude towards strangers and neighbours. I do like my current neighbourhood, I'm not isolated as there is a healthy network of mutual aid and social relations - we don't have to agree on everything, we don't have to fit into the exact same social roles, but we can still respect each other and have pleasant social interaction. This is the way I like it - although at a times I miss some sort of "deeper" tribal experience.

Working together with Sami has become one of those "tribal" elements in my life. We have known each other for a long time, there is no need to prove nor to explain anything. And when we meet, it is not just about hanging and talking - but mostly about doing things together. I feel that this co-operation aspect is one of the key elements of positive group membership. I mean, the countryside community of my childhood mostly just sat there and did the gossip. I couldn't identify any sort of "big common project". Of course there were smaller groups formed around shared projects, like the theatre group, sport teams etc. Also, I'd guess the factory workers also shared some kind of tribal identity - every worker contributed to a project of running the factory which was so big that no worker could run it alone. And since the factory had been there for a long time, there were families where son and fathers and grandfathers all were workers at the same factory - that was part of the shared identity. But my problem always was that I couldn't identify with any of those projects - which sometimes led to funny and aburds situations. For example, I did participate in the local youth activities of the christian church, although I didn't believe in the central beliefs of the religion. So, once again, I just ended up working in a group because the adults asked me to do so and I was too confused to say "no" - and I was left with a bad memory of working in a group, contributing towards a project which I don't believe in, feeling that in their eyes my inner thoughts are "wrong" and "unacceptable". So, I'm very happy to have friends like Sami, to share a common project which doesn't feel alien to me.

Then, again, it is my own problems which are slowing me down. I feel that with a bit more of inner clarity I could better organize my life, having regularly more time to contribute to Enormous Elk work, possibly visiting Sami more often. In a way, in the early years of my life I learned so many negative patterns of unhealthy social relationships. and now it takes some time and energy to re-learn them in a good way. To me it seems that for this re-learning I need both solitude and actual social interaction. Too much social interaction and I become totally exhausted, unable to learn anything and unable to enjoy the moment. I need solitude to re-work and re-arrange some of my inner emotional patterns. But too much solitude and I start to feel uneasy and isolated. So, I need a balance, and I'm constantly learning to maintain that balance.

Sometimes, when I visit friends or they visit me, I realize how much I've been missing some aspects of social life. Discussing philosophy, literature, movies, psychology and personal stuff - all that I can do via the internet, but a virtual communication can't deliver all the aspects of physical presence. And I think some of those physical aspects have a profound meaning. Just hearing other people breathing gives a primitive herd feeling - and even better if there is collective physical work and eating together. This is the "Dead Poets Society" -kind of a group membership. A group which is not so much about gossip and social pressure, but more like mutual acceptance and inspiration. And, at least for me, the trick has been that it is not just a question of finding "the right people" - it has been more of a question of becoming "a right person" myself: getting over my inner fears, learning to be open, honest and realiable, and re-fidning my inner creativity and joy so that I have something to share with the others. Although, sharing pain and depression is necessary, and contributes a lot towards recovery.

Well, it is noon, my coffee mug has been empty for a good while now. So it is time to just post this entry and to cook some breakfast.

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EDIT: ps. when publishing this blog entry I again encountered a strange bug : when I hit "save"-button, the whole text disappeared and the site crashed back to the main screen. I really don't know why this happens, and there is nothing in any of the error logs. And sometimes weeks and months go without any problems, and sometimes it seems to be a day of two with this plague. So, if you'd like to comment on this while the entry is still fresh, please remember to copy-paste your text somewhere before submitting a comment. That way you can re-try without losing your text.

tags: 
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Comments

I agree with you completely about the dislike of social interaction. I think it's an introversion thing. Personally, I feel drained from social interaction, and need time to myself to recover afterwards. It is too much social interaction that contributes most to the tired and grumpy feelings that I have after particularly long/frustrating days. I mean, I can do manual labor alone from dawn until dusk and, despite being physically tired, I am still happy. But if I have to deal with a bunch of people for some reason, I get really tired and grumpy.

It isn't as bad in one-on-one situations with a single friend, but I still have to have my alone time after a while.

But despite being so antisocial, I still need a certain amount of social interaction. I like the internet for that. It seems to me like the social interaction on the internet can be broken down into small manageable chunks. I can talk to someone, or play a multiplayer game for an hour or so, but then when it ceases to be uplifting and instead becomes burdensome, I can more easily escape away from the internet and be alone again.

I am not sure what I think of your idea about the "Dead Poets Society" sort of group. I respect your idea, so please don't take this the wrong way or anything, but I sort of feel like it might be kind of a utopian ideal that may not be able to exist in reality. But I am not sure, maybe I am just too antisocial, lol. I just think that any time you have a group of more than two or maybe three people, the social structures that are rooted down in our deepest subconscious through evolution start to take hold, and we start to establish a pecking order or whatever, and the social group ceases to be uplifting for those of us who are introverted to the extent that we do not wish to lead, but do not wish to follow a leader either.

For me at least, I think it is far more uplifting and constructive to only have a handful of close friends, rather than a larger social group. And to interact with them one at a time instead of as a group. I guess it is harder to do "big" things like that, which disappoints me sometimes. But then I sit and think and decide that happiness is more important to me than being able to accomplish big things.

I think the most dangerous thing is when the large mainstream social group starts to push out those who don't conform to their particular way of being. Whispers about that guy, how he is so quiet, and has those strange hobbies and ideas. Why so different?!? STRANGER DANGER! And then that further pushes people on the edges of society away from that society. Which is a shame, because someone has to think and act outside of the box, or society becomes stuck inside of itself, right? Mainstream bullying, I guess is what I'd call it. And I think that the larger a social group becomes, the more likely it is for such things to happen.

I am fortunate, I think, to live and have been raised within the weird little Appalachian culture that I consider myself a part of. We're all ridiculed by the mainstream American culture, so I think that helps everyone within my particular Appalachian subculture know what it's like when the blind masses act uncool towards a people. And so here, I can be a little quiet and a little odd and just do my own thing, and nobody really cares. To an acceptable extent, anyway. Lol.

And I think it's good to force myself to be social sometimes too, even when I don't want to. It keeps the members of my community feeling a little closer and more accepting of me, and seems like every now and then I'll accidentally meet someone who I actually might want to spend some time with, which is cool. XD

Ok, hmmm. I am not sure what the point of all my yammering was. Maybe I am just talking a lot and saying nothing. Hehe.

Ah, your comment is pure gold =)

When I started following your blog, I got the impression that you Appalachian people share some sort of cultural identity. And that you can go hunting together - sharing one of the most traditional tribal experiences - yet there is enough private space for everyone. To me that seems like a pretty good way of combining introvesion and group membership =)

The thing with Dead Poets Society was that it somehow made me realize that I don't want to be a complete hermit - that there could be some non-restrictive ways of social sharing. So, it made me dream of something like that, but of course I was in doubt if it is just an impossible dream, an illusional utopia which can never happen.

Nowadays I'm not thinking about any ideal, perfect model of a social group. I'm more focused on smaller steps and some aspects of social life. Like, if a group of my friends visit couple of times a year, and we can talk, eat, dance and have a sauna together - then that kind of a is my tribal life. Just one aspect of social interaction, which doesn't have to be present in my everyday life, but which still is regular and long-term enough to give me some sort of feeling of belonging to an accepting and uplifting group.

I guess I have to write another entry about the leadership stuff, and all that. As it is a big theme which has been simmering in my mind for a long time.

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