I started thinking about this topic during the holiday season. The holidays are all about folks gathering and celebrating together. Ironically, I think that’s why it can make people more aware of being alone. In this social media age, “being alone” gets a bad reputation. I see many books and conferences about how to develop and find community, but not many books that explore the other side of reality – of being alone. Being alone and feeling alone are different. One can be physically alone, and still feel content. On the other hand, even when surrounded by family and friends, one can still feel isolated and disconnected.
In my late twenties, I started hearing about the benefit of having purposeful alone time – the practice of solitude. Both my spiritual mentors and my counselor recommended it. My counselor even suggested that I regularly schedule these sessions as “dates” on my calendar. They gave me some exercises to try. After a few sessions, I was hooked. Spiritually, I experienced a deeper peace and clarity that I haven’t experienced before. Emotionally, I was finally able to see my emotional triggers objectively in the absence of others. Ever since then, I’ve turned to solitude exercises to keep my spiritual focus and a better perspective.
~ Preparation: Internal Housekeeping ~
Now, whenever I have an evening or afternoon for myself, I have a few routines to address my thoughts. Weather permits, I’ll take a short walk. The key here is to walk at a leisurely pace. Finally, I get to walk to my own rhythm and not worry about catching up or slowing down to match others. I sometimes listen to music, but mostly, I just let my heart unfurl. I speak out my frustrations, feelings and tell God about my fears and concerns. I’ll even stop and enjoy a rose on my path. Yes, sometimes, it looks like I’m talking to myself. But as an only child, I’m pretty used to that. 😉 The focus is to simply allow the heart to purge the burdens it’s carrying. Surprisingly, this doesn’t take too long. Usually, at the end of a 20 minute walk, I find myself refreshed and my heart is restful.
More often than not, instead of walking, I’ll do a similar exercise by writing in my journal. I simply pour out my thoughts and feelings on paper, and I don’t analyze. Most of the time, that’s all I need to do – just to be a “good listener” to my inner self. Most of the frustrations are simply my reactions to life, and they just need to be vented. What’s great is I don’t need anyone to be available to listen to me… All I need is pen and paper to help clear up my own emotional clutter.
~ Entering the Wonderland of Solitude ~
After doing some internal housekeeping, we’re now ready to explore the wonderful world of Solitude. When we’ve calmed down our internal clamor, we can finally experience the quiet and relaxing peace of being alone. This is a place of safety. It’s a place where expectations and demands are shed off. It’s a place where we can dream, explore and be who we are without the fear of judgement or rejection.
Peace is powerful. Solitude cultivates an atmosphere for peace. When I started practicing solitude, I was pleasantly surprised at the deep peace I experienced. This truly is a peace that surpassed all understanding. My external circumstances remained the same, but my fears were replaced by a sense of peace. After a while, I see that this peace is not an end in itself, but rather it opens the door for God to show me deeper insights.
Solitude fosters spiritual clarity. It is an ancient Christian spiritual practice for good reasons. It’s ironic that God chooses to interact with us in a “still small voice.” In my life, I see that God often shares insights with me throughout the day. However, my own task-orientedness and anxieties drown them out. When I’m alone, I can wash off the worries of the world, and allow the Spirit to bring to mind different perspectives. My discernment process is simple… God’s voice is encouraging, edifying and comforting. It isn’t fearful nor judgemental. Above all things, I chose to remain in peace for Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
~ Embracing the Adventure of Solitude ~
Recently, I had an opportunity to have a week long personal “retreat.” I went with my husband on his business trip. While he’s busy with work, I was on my own for most of the day. I tried to contact friends in the area, but things didn’t work out. Then I knew God intended for this to be a time of solitude. It’s a time to simply be with God. I journaled and explored local scenes. I talked with God about my fears, concerns about my family, and the future. As my heart poured out, peace and comfort replaced my fears. Psalm 91 came to mind during a journaling session: “Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place – the Most High, who is my refuge – no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.” (Ps. 91:9-10, ESV) God reminded me to continue to abide in Him as my refuge in a time of uncertainty.
Towards the end of the week, I found out there was an art show happening within walking distance! I had been feeling rather discouraged about my creative pursuits; feeling lost and uninspired. This event came at the perfect time. I went to visit on my own. At the end of my visit, I felt encouraged and renewed with vision and possibilities. Even as I soaked in the beauty, I felt God affirming me of how far I’ve come in my creative journey. It’s a less traveled road, but it is the right path to take. Continue to press forward and not give up.
I finished my trip feeling refreshed, encouraged and ready to tackle the new year. My “solitude” practices have rarely left me feeling lonely. Without the outward distractions, God can connect with us in even more tangible ways. We are made for something deeper. And we can only connect to those deeper things when we are alone. Next time you have some alone time, try not to fill it up with more appointments or projects. Take that time to connect with your inner thoughts or take a walk with God. You may find yourself more at peace and perhaps even go on your own divine adventure.