“Solitude is frightening for some and simply baffling for others.”
“There is a big loneliness at the center of every person. It is universal. There’s a reason for the loneliness. It is meant to lead you somewhere. Even if you are unconscious of it, the big lonely is driving you homeward.”
Fr. Daniel Homan and Lonni Collins Pratt, in Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way to Love wrote a wonderful, insightful piece on moving into solitude. They describe it better than anything I could write, and so it warrants its own post separate from the other quotes I have been posting from their book. From chapter 4:
…Silence and solitude are related, and we are terrified of them both.
When we are alone, we have cut off our normal routes to self-escape. Not only that, solitude hacks off most of the usual ways we feel affirmed. In solitude we cease being competent workers. We do not serve and nurture others in solitude, and we seldom talk. Once amputated from these normal support systems, we discover a throbbing restlessness begins to surface.
Thomas Keating, monk and author, calls this the “unloading of the unconscious.” What’s happening? Ancient wounds to the psyche begin ascending into the conscious region of the mind, they float up like long-dead bodies. Illusions shatter around us and wisdom gets a chance to get hold of us. If we stick with the process we will know the truth about ourselves. All the glorious truth.
But the bountiful good of the truth does not come until we’ve danced with a few demons long hidden in the psyche. This is when most people turn on the radio, get in the car, or hustle home to the safety of people, noise, and activity. the purpose of spirituality is not keep this moment from happening; rather, spirituality will eventually bring it on.
Some people find that in their first experiences of solitude and silence they wrestle with frightful emotions and fantasies. Some dark void in them beckons them to jump over the edge. It does not take long to realize why we avoid ourselves.
If you stay with solitude, you discover that this inner void is your friend. It is your true hunger. It has God’s name on it. It tells you the truth about yourself, once you are able to push aside all the garbage that initially erupts out it.
The first stirrings of loneliness, when you are alone, emerge from a vast inner emptiness that can rattle us beyond what we expected. It is then you’ll understand what it means to refer to solitude as a state of the mind, rather than a place and time.
We possess inward solitude at a very high cost. It does not come easily. In solitude, we feel helpless and almost out of control. We have grown dependent on others and the noises we make at each other. We do not even know how to imagine our lives without the entire bustle.
This sense of being “helpless and almost out of control” is the beginning of losing oneself into God’s hands. It is realizing your poverty, that you are a mere creature and cannot do anything of value for yourself. Everything ultimately belongs to God. “Your life is not personal property; you belong to God.”
…Solitude is as much a state of mind as it is a place. This state of mind developes through the practice of solitude. With an inner solitude in place, you do not mind being alone, because you know you are never alone. You do not resist and fear others, because you know they are not a threat, they can’t control you. They do not determine your worth as a human being. you have nothing you must prove to them.
Solitude, rather than driving us into ourselves and away from others, propels us outward and opens us up. It is from the hours spent alone that [we will] come to cherish relationships. It is from the silence that [we] learn to listen. It is in the deep, empty place inside [us] that [we] find God.
No one can practice genuine Benedictine hospitality unless they have come through solitude. We can go through the motions, but the inner opening up does not happen until we have spent a good deal of time alone and a genuine self-love is born. …
Look for solitude in the snatches of time that hurry past unnoticed. While you wait for a friend to arrive, while the kids are playing, while your spouse watches television, before the household is awake, or after everyone is in bed. Find a quiet place to sit still. Shut the door. Turn off the lights if this will help and light a candle.
Solitude is where you learn to love yourself so that you can love others more fully, more wholely. It is where you can learn to really love God. Solitude and silence is were you can find God’s unending spring of love, peace, and energy so that you can infect the world around you with it.
In the evening of our life, we shall be judged by love, namely, by the sincerity of our love for God, for our neighbor, for our soul. — St. John of the Cross