In Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s classic Gift from the Sea the author, using the leisure and recollection of a summer vacation at the ocean, reflects on the art of living a balanced life: “a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return.” Writing as a wife and mother of five children, she compares the many obligations and demands of life to the radii of a circle “raying out in all directions from the central mother-core, like spokes from the hub of a wheel.”
Spokes of the Wheel
All these spokes–acting like centrifugal forces—have the effect of distractions that lead to multiplicity and fragmentation. Instead of achieving the simplicity and unity that order a person’s life from living at the center, “the inner inviolable core, the single eye”—a person feels divided into many parts when ruled by distractions and does not experience the serenity and peace of soul that a balanced life creates—the “inner and outer harmony” that follow from living at the center or heart of one’s life instead of being pulled in too many directions.
Various forces divert a person from being in touch with the true center of one’s life. As Lindbergh explains, homemaking demands, social obligations, and involvement in school and parish activities all tend to make the mind “reel” and to experience a sense of “balancing a pile of books on the head.” This myriad of duties to family, friends, and the community make a person feel “stretched out, exposed, sensitive like a spider’s web to each breeze that blows, to each call that comes.”
The art of living, then, is, in Lindbergh’s words, “the art of shedding” or the practice of simplicity that avoids the multiplication of endless distractions and excessive busyness that interfere with the cultivation of an interior life nourished by living at the center. One cannot give without replenishment or give bountifully without nourishing this inner core or the center: “Suddenly the spring is dry; the well is empty.”
Refilling the Pitcher
The art of living is the ability to resist the multiplicity of distractions or centrifugal forces that pull a person from the center lest a person lose a sense of identity, the virtue of self-knowledge, an understanding of his vocation, and his own special individuality. The danger of endless distractions without the constant nourishment of the heart and soul lead a person to become “a stranger to oneself.” The pitcher is emptied and needs to be refilled in order to give again to others.
While the art of living involves the love of giving, one cannot give without nurturing this deep center from which the source of love and goodness flows and fills the whole person: “The milk in the breast must be replenished by food taken into the body. If it is woman’s function to give, she must be replenished too.” Simplicity, silence, solitude, prayer, and creative work replenish the empty soul: “certain springs are tapped only when we are alone.”
Replenishment and Renewal
The art of living distinguishes between purposeless and purposeful giving. While purposeless giving depletes one’s mental, emotional, and spiritual resources, purposeful giving “seems to renew itself even in the act of depletion” because “The more one gives, the more one has to give—like milk in the breast.” This replenishment of the soul that comes from true giving depends on “a feeling of indispensability” that reassures a person of the meaningfulness of his work as mother or father and validates all a person’s efforts and sacrifices for his family.
The gratitude and appreciation one receives fills the depleted heart with more love to give. Without this sense of purposeful giving that others need and value, it is easy to let the distractions dissipate one’s energies and let the secondary business of life fill the void: “We throw ourselves indiscriminately into committees and causes. Not knowing how to feed the spirit, we try to muffle its demands in distractions… we add more centrifugal activities to our lives—which tend to throw us off balance.”
Tempting as it is for both men and women to be busy and engaged in many good causes, this active life should never rob a person of one of the special gifts of the sea—silence and solitude. As Lindbergh explains, every person—but especially women—needs to be alone during some part of each day, week, and year. Like the artist, writer, musician, and saint, each person requires this time of recollection “to still the soul in the midst of its activities” and “to feed the soul.” This human need for contemplation always breathes new life into the spirit and revitalizes its energy.
Feeding the Center
The common man or woman who does creative work like baking bread, sewing, painting, or wood-working in these moments of quiet recollection encounters the depths of the soul that artists, musicians, and writers plumb in their solitude. Instead of being “shattered into a thousand pieces,” these labors of love in the moments of leisure make a person feel whole and complete instead of “split into a thousand functions.” They combat the centrifugal forces that divide human beings and lead them back to their center, for “Nothing feeds the center so much as creative work.”
If one never makes time to be alone in order to think, to pray, to be still, to listen, and to do the creative work of the hand or the mind that one loves, then he will always feel depleted and empty instead of replenished and overflowing.
Header Image CC paul bica