Solitude and Silence
With our quickly ageing population, there is much talk these days of loneliness
and in the process we can easily forget that loneliness can happen at any age.
I recall in my early twenties I moved to live and work in Germany and loneliness
seldom featured. I lived in an officer’s Mess and there were always people around.
In my late twenties I moved to London and found the first year of acclimatising
extremely lonely. I was both alone and lonely, living in solitude until I built up a
network of friends and colleagues.
In Germany, with friends, we would often head out to the mountains at the
weekend to enjoy the views and savour the silence. In London, such was the
freneticism and noise that I craved silence.
To many, solitude, aloneness, and loneliness seem all very similar. Each, after all,
is characterised by a state of solitariness. But there endeth the similarities.
Loneliness is a negative state, a feeling of being disconnected from the world,
experiencing marked isolation. In this state we feel something is missing and
we likely crave connection, love, recognition… even if we are surrounded by others.
Solitude, on the other and, means being in a state of being alone but without being lonely. It is a comfortable place to be and can be helpful to spend such solitary time being with oneself, the world, the divine – or just being. No need for external fulfillment.
Jesus’ solitude and silence is a major theme in the Gospels; he continually withdrew from people, daily life activities, and the demands of his ministry to be alone with the Father and pray.
"In the fourth century A.D. the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, Arabia and Persia (now Iran) were peopled by a race of men.... They sought a way to God that was uncharted and freely chosen, not inherited from others who had mapped it out beforehand. They sought a God whom they alone could find, not one who was 'given' in a set stereotyped form by somebody else." ...Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert about the Desert Fathers.
Today, more and more people are taking time out, on retreat, to be with themselves, sometimes in solitude, sometimes with others, to draw to their inner life.
Such a time that can be used for reflection, thinking and creativity, an inner searching, a time for learning and growing. Some use the time for a deep reading of sacred texts others for immersing themselves in the beauty of nature. usually do too.
Solitude is time for renewal, refreshing and healing; it is not simply sitting and doing nothing. It is a time to enter and cultivate a state of inner richness.
Solitude is something you choose. Loneliness is imposed on you by life, by others or by a seeming inability to connect with the world such as when one is depressed and withdraws or is elderly and loses friends and family members.
In these days when the march of technology makes it easier to communicate but lessen the meaning of our communication, when the stresses and strains of life weigh heavily down upon us, where we are burning the candle at both ends and melting in the middle, we shall need to very consciously take time out to heal, replenish, and renew. If we don’t our health will have a way of making us slow down and if we do not heed its messages, stop!