Better Uses of Solitude
ON MY OWN AT HOME THIS WEEK is sharp contrast to recent days and months of people time— family reunion, airports, traffic, teaching… then intense caregiving through a family emergency (now resolved). The focus has been outward, the fullness of my attention and energy directed toward others. And all of me was given freely and with love.
And then, like being cast up on a warm, deserted beach, I’m home again. Alone for most of the time, unless I reach out to others, or go to the dentist. It took me two days to remember any gifts of solitude. Everything felt like a hole to fill. Then I began to notice how often I’d rather call someone, eat something, read something, watch something, clean something, do anything… rather than simply be with myself in the quiet.
So I turned to pondering solitude. I’ve remembered that “alone” isn’t the same as “lonely.” Solitude can be lonely, and through the pandemic we’ve learned far too much about suffering through loneliness. But this week, I’m engaging solitude more as intentional seclusion, a retreat, a withdrawal for re-collection.
“Solitude” has more choice or agency for me than “alone.” I was out of practice in handling my own time. Now I’m recognizing what I want to do again — even if it’s knitting for two hours. So much of “me” has been on the back burner, by choice and necessity. Things won’t be this luxurious for long.
Nothing is “missing” in this quiet lull at home. I have space to think my own thoughts. At first, I realized was not enjoying my own company much. The inner dialogue was oddly both frantic and foggy. Walks in the forest near my home have helped. The tall trees, rich smell of growing things, and cool morning air have grounded me. “Here” is where I am, present and aware of this moment, instead of traveling back or forward in time with my mind, heart, or spirit. I’ve slowed down. The inner weather has cleared.
In quiet, in inward silence, I’ve also had hours to reflect and pray with what’s been really meaningful this summer. It’s been an invitation to gratitude and awe. I’ve returned to regular contemplative practice that rarely seemed to fit a more hectic schedule. I’ve begun to look ahead with calmer spiritual attentiveness. Free of shoulds and oughts, there’s inner freedom to notice how the Spirit guides and energizes my next steps.
Early Quaker Isaac Penington wrote in the 1660’s of the better uses of solitude:
Turn in, turn in. Mind what stirs in your hearts…If ye could come to a true sense of this, and come to a true inward silence, and waiting, and turning at the reproofs of heavenly wisdom, and know the heavenly drawings into that which is holy and living, ye would soon find [God] working in your hearts.
- How does solitude nurture your soul?
- How do/could you make space in your life for intentional, soul-nurturing, solitude?
- Holden Village, North Cascades, WA: Over the past year, I’ve served as guest faculty and spiritual director to staff through five visits. My term is officially complete, and my attention is returning to Way of the Spirit.
- Individual Retreats on Whidbey Island, WA, available once a month—three nights with two spiritual direction sessions. Enjoy our peaceful, forested acres. Choose Barred Owl Cottage with hot tub, $450, or my hubby’s hand-crafted masterpiece, a tiny house trailer, $350. Email me directly to reserve: email@example.com
- Open: August 19-21, September 19-21, or October 20-22.
- Writing: I’m drafting material on forgiveness for submission this fall
- Way of the Spirit Programs: Plans are underway for online offerings and residential retreats in the coming year. I’ll be visiting a potential retreat center in August.
- Please write if you have program ideas, wishes, or questions: firstname.lastname@example.org