Do you need a better reason than that to give yourself the gift of a little silence and solitude? That quote is from Oswald Chambers ... the Oswald Chambers - the author of the classic daily devotional book - My Utmost for His Highest" and who saw solitude as key. If you've ever had trouble shutting your thoughts off - or didn't even know you could - then this practice is for you. This is how you can begin to not only think when you want - but on what you want.
Solitude is not at all forcing yourself to be lonely. Loneliness is feeling disconnected from people - and can feel uncomfortable - or even painful. Solitude on the other hand is a welcome experience for someone who wants to know who they really are. Solitude isn't an extroverted or introverted thing. Just like worship is good for us - so is this. The theologian Paul Tillich saw solitude as good. So did John Milton - the 17th century English Poet. Creatives and thinkers have always been turning to this practice.
Moses did it. David did it. Others did it too. Jesus is recording doing it too - more than anyone else. "It" of course is spending some time in solitude. If the Son of God need it solitude - even as fully God and fully man - then how much more valuable might it be for us? I believe in solitude and silence we can most easily lay our burdens down - and take up Jesus' yoke (Matt 11)
Solitude is one of those practices that can often get lost in unnecessary complexity. It's really no harder than it sounds. Go somewhere you can be alone. There's no minimum or maximum amount of time. If you're new to this - then especially I'd recommend that less is more. There's nothing in particular that you have to do in solitude. You can enjoy solitude in your room, or in a public space - although it might be easier on you to at least to go somewhere you can maybe avoid interruptions and distractions. Eventually - silence and solitude will at least in part be a state of mind for you and you'll be able to enjoy it nearly anywhere.
A word on silence.
There is a connection between our obsession with busy-ness and our lack of clarity about who we are and what we want. We don't know why we exist at least in part because we've so rarely walked away from our digital devices and become familiar with our own soul. Solitude supports regaining this clarity. Silence does too. This kind of silence isn't refusing to talk when you're around others - but rather - like solitude - seeking out space where you can naturally enjoy silence. Solitude isn't solitude if it's shared with Netflix. Nor is silence. Ditto for Facebook or whatever other social media. There's nothing wrong with those - they just can't really help you learn this practice. Silence isn't about not making sound. Silence is about embracing stillness.
The first time I spent some significant time in solitude - was after my friends Lance and Julie were married. I was about to embark on my first full-time ministry job. I wanted to be quiet, alone - and fast and pray. I wanted to be useful to God in my new job. So - not really knowing what else to do with myself - I drove into the middle of the Upper Pennisula (aka: "The U.P.") - parked my car. And felt immediately overwhelmed by the enormity of the silence. It was May - weeks before Memorial Day. It was cold. It felt like I was the only person on earth - or at least the only person along the National Pictured Rocks Lakeshore. Even though I'd comfortably spent hours and hours alone before - this was the first time I'd planned an over-night of silence and solitude. But - in a little while - this feeling came over me ... of immense freedom. Since then I've frequently returned to nature as a way to enjoy long stretches of both solitude and silence.
You sure don't have to drive into the middle of the U.P. to enjoy some silence and solitude (though it's available in such abundance up there it's like a national resource!). And you sure don't have to go away over night - though once you get the hang of silence and solitude - you might like a week or two of it - or more.
Think this is impossible? John Francis quit speaking as a teen ... and didn't speak another word for 17 years. He said it took a full month of not saying a thing for the constant voice in his head to quiet down. (You can watch his TED talk here) Believe it or not he even taught university courses - while not speaking. Interesting guy. I'm not advocating that - just saying that you'd be surprised how good a teacher silence is.
If you've ever spent some time alone with God - in prayer, or reading your Bible - you're already learning how to enjoy solitude and silence - especially if you do so quietly - without loads of music, media, interruption and moving around.
Many people are unnerved by silence - they find themselves not in blissful stillness - but weighed down with a sudden lack of sensory input. We don't even realize the impact it has on us to be surrounded by noise 24/7. Even if you live alone and never play music/watch shows ... you're still surrounded by noise - neighbors, motors, fans, cars, appliances, pets, ... there seems no end. Sometimes in the absence of all this racket - or even just the absence of some of it - we can find our minds flitting from thought to thought - sometimes even thoughts we don't want to think. This is completely normal in the beginning. The truth is - those thoughts were already there but were buried under the noise. The easiest way to make the thoughts you don't want go away - is to focus on what's going on right now around you - what you see - hear and feel. It will also support future times of silence and solitude if you can learn in general to not run from thoughts - but address them head on. In time in that silence and solitude - you can hone your skills of learning to speak truthfully and kindly to yourself. It's also just fine to start off with your experiments with silence and solitude with a walk, a bike-ride, a swim, or hike. Silence and solitude are far easier to do while moving than when being still - at least for most people this is true. You can enjoy it while engaging in any sort of repetitive physical activity. Initially - a nice quiet walk is probably simplest and safest. Even a 5 or 10 minute walk is enough to benefit. There's more benefit to ending your practice wanting more - than hating it because it seems endless. If you don't want to try it - then by all means - please don't. It is an excellent way to grow and deepen your walk immensely - but it's a way for the willing - not the coerced.
Dr. Dallas Willard - a Baptist preacher, seminary professor and philosophy professor - began his list of 14 spiritual disciplines with solitude. The rest are silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice, study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, submission. The first seven disciplines he calls disciplines of abstinence - meaning they are disciplines we practice by intentionally not doing something; not being with others, not talking/making noise, not eating etc. The second seven disciplines he calls disciplines of engagement - meaning that they are disciplines we practice by intentionally doing something; studying scripture, engaging in worship, participating in service etc. About solitude Willard - on Page 160 of his book The Spirit of the Disciplines" says "The normal course of day-to-day human interactions locks us into patterns of feeling, thought, and action that are geared to a world set against God. Nothing but solitude can allow the development of a freedom the ingrained behaviors that hinder our integration into God's order." A little later he writes, "In solitude we find the psychic distance, the perspective from which we can see, in the light of eternity, the created things that trap, worry, and oppress us."
Silence combined with solitude can bring great strength to our souls. On the night before His death - it was silence and solitude Jesus sought in the garden - that tells us quite a bit regarding the power of those two practices. Putting our outer-selves in a place where we can experience physical solitude - is a prelude to the inner solitude that is commonly referred to as "being at peace with oneself". Putting our outer-selves in a place where we can experience physical silence - is a prelude to the inner solitude that is commonly referred to as "being at peace in one's own mind." Just that development from our experience of physical silence and solitude is a significant gift. If you should choose to experience even more of this gift - you may even discover deeper truths and richer gifts. Comfort with silence and solitude makes praying more natural.
Though I have before this summer's study on Salty Speech spent plenty of time - days even - in silence and solitude - it'd been a number of years since I'd last done this - and I'd never had had quite the same focus on speech before. This summer's practice in silence and solitude also came after three years of experience with the Grace Habit - and after more than a year of daily meditation. Perhaps for these reasons - or others I can't presently identify - this year's experiences with silence and solitude left me feeling more powerfully engaged with the person God's called me to be. And I now know more than ever that that person wants no part of any form of ungodly speech. Ungodly speech is simply too disruptive to the silence and solitude. Gushing forth ungodly speech at some other point in my day - to me - seems to have the same effect on silence and solitude as a disastrously over-flowed filthy toilet - on the top floor of an immaculate and beautiful home. No thanks. Scripture is living and active - and good for teaching and correction - and so is being still before the Lord. Over the course of this summer - the more I engaged in practicing silence and solitude - the more I realized that there was nothing that any ungodly form of speech could offer me that I wanted more than that inner peace experienced in those moments of silence and solitude.
If you want to try some silence and solitude - pick a quiet place to walk ... around here - that could be in Hixon, or Myrick which can be accessed with a short walk, bike ride or drive from any campus in town.
- Once on the trail - shut off your phone (or at least silence it)
- If you want you can set a timer for some desired amount of time (set it for a short period of time. If your time ends too soon - go again.)
- Next - take a few deep breaths.
- Notice the scenery around you.
- Pick a direction and start off.
- Thoughts might pop into mind - don't sweat it. Thoughts don't negate silence and solitude.
- If you want fewer thoughts to occur - focus on how where you are, what you see, how you feel. Remember - this was how Adam and Eve spent time with God - walking in the garden in the cool of the day (Genesis 3)
- You might feel like it's strange to be in silence and solitude at first - that's not a symptom of doing anything wrong - but rather just your soul enjoying some real freedom.