During the month of August, some friends and I are experimenting with the spiritual discipline of solitude. One friend who has been extremely encouraging with regard to the disciplines wrote the following on the practice.
We are communal creatures. Our bent towards human relations is seen in many of our desires and vices. A lack of human interaction at infancy can be developmentally devastating and even fatal. Our need for people is not unlike our need for food. We were made to eat and we are built to commune.
Paradoxically, periods of abstaining from food can be beneficial to our development. Likewise, periods of solitude are important in our growth as human beings. Solitude can facilitate improved mindfulness of ourselves and the richness of nature, and allows for focused communion with God. I can testify to the fact that, while being with my children is important and enriching, having time alone with my wife is critical to the health of our relationship. In much the same way having time alone with God, alone with nature, alone with yourself is important to a healthy, balanced lifestyle.
Solitude is a discipline that, according to the gospels, Jesus clearly valued. In addition to the familiar forty days in the wilderness that preceded Jesus’ mission, the gospels make a point of noting several other occasions that he sought out “a lonely place”. I would encourage you to look at Matt 14:23, 17:1-9, 26:36-46; Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12, 5:16.
Solitude as a spiritual discipline is not an exercise in being antisocial. Rather, it equips us for life in community and helps us to savor and value people.
Enjoy your time alone.
I invite you to incorporate solitude into your life this month and share your experiences in the comments of this post. As with most disciplines, this will be easier for some than others. I, for one, have to be very deliberate to incorporate time alone.
My plan this month is to commit to a half-hour of emptying meditation each day, set aside at least one hour per week to be alone at a local chapel, and also set aside one full day at Canterbury for a personal silent retreat. I’ll let you know how it goes.