I am currently reading the book Reaching Out by Henri J. M. Nouwen. In this book, Nouwen describes three type of movements or spectrums.
Nouwen views our spiritual “ascent” as evolving in three movements. The first movement, loneliness to solitude, focuses on the spiritual life as it relates to the experience of our own selves. The second, from hostility to hospitality, deals with our spiritual life as a life for others. The third movement, from illusion to prayer, offers penetrating thoughts on the most mysterious relationship of all: our relationship to God. Throughout, [the book] emphasizes that the more we understand (and not simply deny) our inner struggles, the more fully we will be able to embrace a prayful and geniune life that is also open to others’ needs.
The loneliness vs. solitude movement reminded of one my earlier journal entries, Levels of Friendship. When I feel lonely, it is a kind of frustrated energy that I do not have anyone in the inner circles in which to share some of my feelings, be them sad, joyous, or everyday kind of feelings. Loneliness becomes a searching for something outside of myself that is never really satisfied. There are a lot of things in our society to cover up this feeling of loneliness, from the heavy stuff like alcohol and drugs, to the lighter stuff like television, shopping, video games, surfing the Internet. All of these things pre-occupy our minds so that we do not have to deal with the real, inner problems.
On the other hand, solitude is an inward searching. Energy is directed within ourselves to find peace, to think openly, honestly, and deliberately. Energy is not wasted externally, but is used to build you up on the inside. I am at a loss for what else to say about solitude except that “peace” is the word that keeps popping into my mind. When I feel at peace within myself, I feel confident to tackle the external problems of life. And I find it very comforting to realize that God is there with me. Through only Him, can I find true peace.