It is okay, in fact, more than okay to spend time in solitude. In this society where we are in constant touch – either physically or virtually, we are inundated by what others think, what others feel, and by the shoulds of our culture. We seldom if ever move inside to center ourselves. Instead we speed up, often complicating our lives more than before. We think that we must be constantly social, that we must be constantly ‘productive’ and that we must be occupied with something other than our own thoughts for fear that we might actually think or feel something of our own. As strongly as that is stated, I do not think it is overstated.
I am an introvert by nature although many would not think that when they meet me. As you get to know me, it is more apparent. I have adapted during my life becoming less introverted on the Meyers Briggs scale of introversion / extroversion. This has been largely a functional adaptation. I still find that I must have time alone, time for solitude. There have been many judgmental people in my life who told me that I was maladjusted because I seemed to prefer time alone to partying. I truly love people – just in small batches. I also like to have fun, just not in huge, loud, confusing groups. I become enervated when I spend time in groups where there is no individual interchange.
I am not alone in being introverted and having the need for quiet solitude. Believe it or not, even the most extroverted of us also need time to slow down and center ourselves. In a culture that values extroversion, we need some balance; we need time to disconnect and become ourselves again versus what others believe we are or should be. I think this is essential to a spiritual life. If we are always external in our approach, we never can find our soulful self, nor for that matter can we become our soulful self.
How do we find solitude in our oh-so-busy lives? How do we disconnect from our laptops, smart phones, social media? How do we feel comfortable being by ourselves when we rationalize our busyness with the resulting productivity and the essentiality of that productivity and activity? For so many of us, being busy is our reason for being.
I think back to a couple of leaders – busy leaders – in my faith tradition: Moses and Jesus. Both spent time alone in the desert or on mountain tops finding their core strengths and message. In both of their cases they found their strength in God and their message in him as well. They prayed, they questioned, they argued, they dealt with doubts, and ultimately took 40 days or more in solitude with no other human beings. They resumed their lives stronger, more committed, and more centered on who they were and what they were meant to do.
Obviously I am not proposing that we each spend 40 days in solitude although if we could it would probably be beneficial. Instead, I suggest that we seek some solitude in our lives knowing that we can all use more spiritual centering. I have spoken in my pulpit about the need for a spiritual practice – something that centers us. Not all spiritual practices are solitary, but some are. Often meditation and prayer are done in the silence and peace of our homes – alone. Create a space, a small getaway, for prayer or meditation. There are many ways to meditate or pray. There is only one right way – the one that works for you. For some meditation requires emptying the mind; for others it requires filling it with the Spirit. For some prayer is an off-the cuff dialog with God or the Mystery; for some prayer is a set of words that are always the same, repetition being a part of the process of prayer. It honestly does not matter what form you use – just use one. Take the time each day or each week to be alone with the holy in your life. In doing so you not only allow the holy into your life, you become more focused on what is good and right in your life. You can not stay in the negative while meditating or praying – because both require you by definition to move into ‘that which is greater’ which by definition, at least mine, is good and light and loving.
And, while prayer or meditation can be done in groups and done well and beneficially, I also think that prayer in solitude does it somewhat differently and augments the public / group process.
There are many ways of being alone and centering oneself. It need not be prayer or meditation. For years I drew mandalas as a practice of solitude in silence or with calming music. For years I wrote in journals the result being a shelf filled with thoughts – some ‘profound’, most mundane. For years I walked the paths in forests or even public walkways, but alone, chanting under my breath. Whatever you choose to create your solitude, I truly believe that it is essential to your soul, to your spiritual self. Consider what you might do to decrease your connection with virtual reality, and instead increase your connection with Reality.