Resources part 1
I have definitely paused before beginning this exploration of solitude because of all the difficulties raised by lockdown. Some of us locked in with more contact than we can sustain without nurturing ‘alone time’; some of us locked in without the company we need to energise us; some of us experiencing real hardship and increased anxiety which the level and quality of contact may alleviate or aggravate.
I’ve paused because this feels like a sensitive issue in these times and, depending on your circumstances, it might be easy to dismiss as too hard or too much already.
And I have paused because it’s the final S of contemplative practice (Stillness, Silence, Solitude) and I don’t want it to get lost in the melee of post-covid/mid-covid recovery.
Loneliness is an experience of the pain that arises from the belief in our separateness; it is an experience of deficiency. We feel we are not sufficiently cared for or cared about, we aren’t supported enough, connected enough – we feel ‘not enough’.
Loneliness appears choiceless, vast and empty.
Aloneness is the same solitude experienced with gratitude and openness. Solitude, when entered into as choice, is rich and transformative, full and complete. Solitude offers us this gift as we release our attachments to our thought patterns, our habitual seeing, relating and reacting, our selfing stories.
As a contemplative practice, solitude allows us to create space, to disengage from the pace and noise of interaction and allow our awareness and sense of presence to deepen and mature. In solitude, we can more clearly see what we are attached to, since we will notice the loss of it, feel the longing for it…the busyness, the doing, the helping, the fixing, the othering, the shopping…
In solitude, silence and inner stillness, there is no one to blame; no one to prop us up, entertain us or be entertained by us. We are left to sit in the naked now.
I know this sounds like a chore – another reason to be careful about silence and solitude. This is the heavy lifting of spiritual practice, but at the same time, think of the freedom! Think of how light you would feel without the burden of always living in someone else’s eyes! Think of the liberating delight of dropping the narrative of justifying or defending, of letting go of the labels and protective shield! Think of the joy of simply being wholly, shamelessly, truly your self and finding that you are enough and that Love has known this all along.
Resources part 2
You know what to do with this! Read slowly, preferably out loud so you hear it and feel the words too. Pause with the word or phrase that resonates and savour it, let it sink deep into the pool of your heart and be attentive to the ripples it causes. Notice where it settles and what shifts to make room for it…pause some more and let the stillness do its work.
28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’Matthew 11 ~NRSV
Questions for your journal
There is lots to process here and insights may rise as you bring these questions into focus, or they may come to you sideways as you are walking the dog, digging in the garden, soaking in the bath, sewing/knitting/crafting or engaging in your active contemplative practice. Keep coming back to them and notice what changes in your approach or your responses.
What am I doing to protect myself from life? What do I believe about me…I am like this, I am not like this…? Who am I if I don’t get what I want? Who am I without the stories I tell about myself? Who am I without the fears?
It is wise to dwell with compassion at the places where we notice fear and what we are afraid of; those things we feel we are inadequate to handle. These are the corners where we hide our sense of neediness and our fears of insufficiency. Where are you finding and what are you noticing about your sense of inadequacy?
Solitude offers us the opportunity to be fully present with our sense of insufficiency, of not enoughness, and to begin to see where we might peel up the edges of the story of lack, the burden of always being found wanting.
A guided encounter
We’ll be engaging with this guided prayer when we meet together next, so you may want to save it for then, but you may want to journey with this practice several times as we explore solitude and liberation – so follow your intuition and energy here.
Praying the beads with Julian of Norwich
God, of your goodness give me yourself, for you are enough to me; and I can ask for nothing less that is to your glory. And if I should ask for less, I would always be in want, for only in you have I all.
This prayer lends itself beautifully to praying with a rosary or other prayer beads. I like to combine it with God’s response to Julian’s questions about the state of the world and the hunger, violence, uncertainty, plagues, religious wars and general suffering she observed from her anchorage:
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
In a catholic rosary, there are five leader beads from the cross into the circle, then five sets of ten beads (decades), separated by another leader bead. I use ‘All shall be well’ as the prayer for the decades and ‘God of your goodness’ for the leaders, but you will find your own rhythm with your beads.
Rest, engage, consent
Your response to the challenge of solitude may depend on where your energy is centered – head, heart or body, and it may depend on how you approach attempts to bring harmony to life: as idealist, pragmatist or relationalist.
Generally speaking, those in the body centre can tend towards inertia or be constantly active; busy with something or not, but above all needing to be the one who chooses: full on action; total inaction; some action. Stillness is a real challenge but also solitude – no one to fix; no one to calm; no one to react to.
The body centered among us may find consent to solitude is their best path.
Consent to God’s love and goodness without the pressure to earn it or resist it because you aren’t worthy of it.
What might that look like for you?
Those in the heart centre can tend to look to others for validation and affirmation – without an other to give a frame of reference, heart centred folks can feel adrift and without a solid sense of who they are. How can you maintain connection in solitude? Solitude is a special spiritual catalyst when the heart centered learn how to rest in it.
Rest in God’s love and goodness and receive it as sufficient.
What might that look like for you?
Those in the head centre have a lot of internal chatter around problems, options, possibilities, risks, worries, schemes and strategies.
Engaging in solitude may open the path for head energy types, choosing to trust God’s love and goodness, fully present, abundant and enough.
What might that look like for you?