What Role Does Outside Stimulation Have in Our Lives?
Updated: Dec 9, 2018
I’m reading War and Peace by Tolstoy for the first time and it living up to its hype! It has such a huge reputation that it’s almost a joke but the way that Tolstoy paints his characters and reveals the changes happening to them and inside of them over the years is absolutely awesome. I’m just about a third in so I have lot to read and enjoy yet but I’ve been struck by one man, the war hero Prince Andrey, and his gradual change in character. I’ll try not to share spoilers because if you haven’t read it, get thee to a copy post haste. It is not over-rated.
At the point where I’m at (about page 455) Prince Andrey has spent two years working in the country withdrawn from the busy-ness of high society in 1800ish Russia, recovering from active duty and other events which I will not mention here. I’ve pulled out some long quotes which will hopefully be helpful to the point of this article. The first one finds him reflecting on his time in the country:
“In spite of the indifference to all the external events of the world that he had shown to [his friend], he studiously followed them, received many books, and, to his own surprise, when people coming fresh from Petersburg, the very vortex of life, visited him or his father, he noticed that these people, in knowledge of all that was passing in home and foreign politics, were far behind him, though he had never left the country.”
Prince Andrey eventually decides to again partake in a more active life and moves to Petersburg. He’s got some plans and hopes. But he notices how different life is in the city:
“During the first part of his stay in Petersburg, Prince Andrey found all the habits of thought he had formed in his solitary life completely obscured by the trifling cares which engrossed him in Petersburg.
In the evening on returning home he noted down in his memorandum-book four or five unavoidable visits or appointments for fixed hours. The mechanism of life, the arrangements of his day, so as to be in time everywhere, absorbed the greater part of his vital energy. He did nothing, thought of nothing even, and had no time to think, but only talked, and talked successfully, of what he had had time to think about in the past in the country.
He sometimes noticed with dissatisfaction that it happened to him to repeat the same remarks on the same day to different audiences. But he was so busy for whole days together that he had no time to reflect that he was thinking of nothing.”
So far I do not think Tolstoy is drawing a clear line between, say Life in the Country and Life in the City, and making a case for country-life as the better way. There’s too much complexity in all this and that’s why he’s considered a great author. But these lines have me thinking, especially because I have been wondering what role outside stimulation has in my life. How important is it to me? And also, how important is quiet, thoughtful time removed from hustle and bustle?
My husband travels quite a bit for work and as we were talking recently about an upcoming work trip of his that will last about 8 days, I was telling him of my plans to help pass the time while he’s away. The weekends are especially long without husband and daddy! The conversation went something like:
Me: “What do you think of the idea of us traveling to see friends [some hours away] over the weekend while you are gone?”
Him: “Well, it sounds like the opposite of what I’d do. I think what I’d need is a break so I’d be looking for a way to get that as opposed to traveling and being even more tired once home.”
That really got me thinking, he’s right – I will need a break but I also know that I will need outside stimulation (and so will our children). There’s actually such a thing as too much downtime and while I’m a homebody I also know that some key moments of interaction with others and going somewhere other than our usual rounds of library, park, grocery store and walks are important.
But how important? Important enough to be exhausted after driving 8 hours total and having lots of fun with friends? (Which, let’s be honest, is a different kind of fun when toddlers are involved.)
Another factor that I need to consider is that when my husband comes home after traveling across (literally) the U.S., he’s tired and definitely ready for home. So, if we’ve been home the entire time he’s been gone, we will have a clash of “needs” once he’s back. It’s really in our best interest as a family to be gone a bit while he’s gone. And by calling it a “need” I realize as I write this that’s how I classify outside stimulation: it may not be even completely pleasant the entire time but having a change of scenery is a need, at least for me.
The short answer to my main question in all this is: it’s personal. But perhaps it’s worth looking at in each season because there are times where we need more and where we need less stimulation. And I wonder if there are times to “hibernate” like Prince Andrey was basically doing, or like I was able to last summer after the birth of our baby boy. Time to heal, time to rest and build up energy for the next things. Because there are definitely busy times as well. I am very curious what Prince Andrey will do as his life changes in Petersburg.
What do you think the role of outside stimulation is for you these days? Are you ready to hibernate each weekend because of long work hours away from home? Are you wishing to get out of town because you have been home with the kids all week? Or are you somewhere in between?