Solitude is the garden for our hearts, which yearn for love. It is the place where our aloneness can bear fruit. It is the home for our restless bodies and anxious minds. Solitude, whether it is connected with a physical space or not, is essential for our spiritual lives. It is not an easy place to be, since we are so insecure and fearful that we are easily distracted by whatever promises immediate satisfaction. Solitude is not immediately satisfying, because in solitude we meet our demons, our addictions, our feelings of lust and anger, and our immense need for recognition and approval. But if we do not run away, we will meet there also the One who says, "Do not be afraid. I am with you, and I will guide you through the valley of darkness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey. P. Jan. 21.
Love solitude and prefer to remain in that state as long as possible. Free yourself by placing all your mental tension and depression at the lotus feet of the Master and tread the path of spirituality with ease. Shanti Vachan Bhandar, 29.
Daily in solitude, speak up and open your heart to the Lord. Importune the Lord to bestow upon you the strength to tread the path of devotion. Shanti Vachan Bhandar, 1663.
He alone can become wealthy whose expenditure is less than his income. Thus if you want to increase your power which is depleting day by day, observe silence and practice ardent meditation punctually in solitude. Shanti Vachan Bhandar, 1671.
Search out for yourself some out-of-the-way spot, and make it your delight to live there alone by yourself. Don't be looking for neighbours to pass the time of day with, but talk to God in prayerful entreaty, if you want to remain sorry for your sins and keep conscience clean. Count the whole world as nothing; put your waiting on God before all outward things ... Thomas A Kempis, Imitation of Christ, III.53.1
There are many who live in the mountains and behave as if they were in the town, and they are wasting their time. It is possible to be a solitary in one's mind while living in a crowd and it is possible for one who is solitary to live in the crowds of his own thoughts. Amma Syncletica, sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Alphabetical Collection, 19. Found in: Mysticism in World Religions
Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims
of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false
self. Jesus himself entered into this furnace. There he was tempted with
the three compulsions of the world. Solitude is the place of the great
struggle and the great encounter, the struggle against the compulsions
of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself
as the substance of the new self.
In solitude I get rid of the scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to
entertain, no books to distract, just me - naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken-nothing. It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something. But that is not all. As soon as I decide to stay in my solitude, confusing ideas, disturbing images, wild fantasies, and weird associations jump about in my mind like monkeys in a banana tree. Anger and greed begin to show their ugly faces. I give long, hostile speeches to my enemies and dream lustful dreams in which I am wealthy, influential, and very attractive, or poor, ugly, and in need of
immediate consolation. Thus I try again to run from the dark abyss of my nothingness and restore my false self in all its vainglory.
The task is to persevere in my solitude, to stay in my cell until all my seductive visitors get tired of pounding on my door and leave me alone. The struggle is real because the danger is real. It is the danger of living the whole of our life as one long defense against the reality of our condition, one restless effort to convince us of our virtuousness. Yet Jesus "did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners" (Mt.9:13).
The struggle is to die to the false self. But this struggle is far, far beyond our own strength. Anyone who wants to fight his/her demons with his own weapons is a fool. The wisdom of the desert is that the confrontation with our own frightening nothingness forces us to surrender ourselves totally and unconditionally to the Lord Jesus Christ. Only in and through him can we survive the trials of our solitude.
We enter into solitude first of all to meet our Lord and to be with him and him alone. Our primary task in solitude, therefore, is not to pay undue attention to the many faces, which assail us, but to keep the eyes of our mind and heart on him who is our divine savior. Only in the context of grace can we face our sin: only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature. As we come to realize that it is not we who live, but Christ who lives in us, that he is our true self, we can slowly let our compulsions melt away and begin to experience the freedom of the children of God. And then we can look back with a smile and realize that we aren't even angry or greedy any more.
What does all of this mean for us in our daily life? We are responsible for our own solitude. We need to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw every day, shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of the Lord. Solitude is thus the place of purification and transformation. It is the place where Christ remodels us in his own image and frees us from the victimizing compulsions of the world. Solitude is the place of our salvation. Hence, it is the place where we want to lead all that are seeking the light in this dark world.
St. Anthony of the Desert spent twenty years in isolation. When he left it he took his solitude with him and shared it with all that came to him. Those who saw him described him as balanced, gentle, and caring. He had become so Christ-like, so radiant with God's love, that his entire being was ministry. Taken from "The Way of the Heart" by Henri J.M. Nouwen
(condensed for L-Center Discussion Group by Steve Michaelson.)
A Blessing of Solitude
May you recognize in your life the presence, power, and light of your soul. May you realize that you are never alone; that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe. May you have respect for your own individuality and difference. May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that you have a special destiny here that behind the facade of your life there is something beautiful, good and eternal happening. May you learn to see yourself with the same delight, pride and expectation with which God sees you in every moment. O'Donohue, John. Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom.
Very few men are sanctified in isolation. Very few become perfect in absolute solitude. Living with other people and learning to lose ourselves in the understanding of their weakness and deficiencies can help us to become true contemplatives. For there is no better means of getting rid of the rigidity and harshness and coarseness of our ingrained egoism, which is the one insuperable obstacle to the infused light and action of the Spirit of God. Merton, Thomas. New Seeds Of Contemplation. P. 191. Submitted to L-Center Discussion Group by Gary Horn email@example.com
Then how can we become aware of that inner kingdom? *How* do we seek it? Again, we turn to Christ for our answer. We know that, throughout His earthly life, Jesus withdrew periodically from the multitudes and even from his disciples, going off by Himself to meditate. This is our supreme example. This is our key for seeking heaven while we are still on earth. We, too, need time by ourselves. We need to withdraw our attention, temporarily, from external distractions and learn to focus it ever more deeply inward, until we stand, literally, in the presence of God. Helleberg, Marilyn Morgan. A Guide to Christian Meditation. PP.33-34.
The life of every man is a mystery of solitude and communion: solitude
in the secrecy of his own soul, where he is alone with God; communion with
his brethren, who share the same nature, who reproduce in themselves his
solitude, who are his "other selves" isolated from him and yet one with
him. On the natural level, man's life is more of a solitude than a communion.
Man fears solitude, yet the society in which he seeks refuge from his aloneness
does not protect him adequately from his own insufficiency.With the coming
of Christ, man's solitude has become more perfect and more pure, in the
sense that man has become more of a person; but he has become more of a
person by virtue of his deeper union with other men in the charity
of Christ. Merton, Thomas. The Living Bread. P. 141. Submitted to L-Center Group by Gary Horn firstname.lastname@example.org
The body is in the soul. Your soul reaches out farther than your
body, and it simultaneously suffuses your body and your mind. Your
soul has more refined antennae than your mind or ego. Trusting this
more penumbral dimension brings us to new places in the human adventure.
But we have to let go in order to be; we have to stop forcing ourselves,
or we will never enter our own belonging. There is something ancient
at work in us creating novelty. In fact, you need very little
in order to develop a real
sense of your own spiritual individuality. One of the things that is absolutely essential is silence, the other is solitude." O'Donohue, John. Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom. P.98
(...) Swim peacefully through clear waters of solitude, illuminated by the sunlight of Truth. Then you can return compassionately to the denser, more obscure realms of social responsibility, without becoming disoriented by them. Ramakrishna, quoted after Novak Philip, The World's Wisdom, P.44.
If a traveller does not meet with one who is his better or his equal, let him keep firmly to his solitary journey; there is no companionship with a fool. Dhammapada, a collection of sayings attributed to Buddha, quoted after Novak Philip, The World's Wisdom, P.105.
These monks insisted on remaining human and "ordinary." This may
seem to be a paradox, but it is very important. If we reflect a moment,
we will see that to fly into the desert in order to be extra-ordinary is
only to carry the world with you as an implicit standard of comparison.
The result would be nothing but self-contemplation, and self-comparison
with the negative
standard of the world one had abandoned. Some of the monks of the Desert did this, as a matter of fact: and the only fruit of their trouble was that they went out of their heads. The simple men who lived their lives out to a good old age among the rocks and sands did so because they had come into the desert to be themselves, their ORDINARY selves, and to forget a world that
divided them from themselves. There can be no other valid reason for seeking solitude or for leaving the world. And thus to leave the world, is, in fact, to help save it in saving oneself. This is the final point, and it is an important one. The Coptic hermits who left the world as though escaping from a wreck, did not merely intend to save themselves. They knew that they were helpless to do any good for others as long as they floundered about in the wreckage. But once they got a foothold on solid ground, things were different. Then they had not only the power but even the obligation to pull the whole world to safety after them. Merton, Thomas. The Wisdom of the Desert. PP 22, 23. Submitted to L-Center Discussion Group by Gary Horn <email@example.com>
You should learn to concentrate your thoughts. Therefore it is important to have time to be alone. Avoid the constant company of other people. Most of them are like sponges; they draw everything out of you, and you seldom receive anything in return. Paramahansa Yogananda, Man's Eternal Quest, P.
Seclusion is the price of greatness. Be alone within. Paramahansa Yogananda, Man's Eternal Quest, P.79.
Enjoy solitude, but when you want to mix with others, do so with all your love and friendship, so that those persons cannot forget you, but remember always that they met someone who inspired them and turned their minds toward God. Paramahansa Yogananda, Man's Eternal Quest, P.80.
Those who love solitude have a special claim on Providence and must rely on God's love for them even more blindly than anyone else. Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, P.151.
How absolutely central is the truth that we are first of all part of nature, though we are a very special part, that which is conscious of God. In solitude, one is entirely surrounded by beings which perfectly obey God. This leaves only one place open for me, anf if I occupy that place then I, too, am fulfilling His will. The place nature "leaves open" belongs to the conscious one, the one who is aware, who sees all this as a unity, who offers it all to God in praise, joy, thanks. Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, P.294.
One has to be alone, under the sky, before everything falls into place and finds his own place in the midst of it all. Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, P.294.
Abbot Anthony said: Just as fish die if they remain on dry land so monks, remaining away from their cells, or dwelling with men of the world, lose their determination to persevere in solitary prayer. Therefore, just as the fish should go back to the sea, so we must return to our cells, lest remaining outside we forget to watch over ourselves interiorly. Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert, P.29.
The purpose of undertaking a retreat is to enable a person to concentrate fully on inner development. (...) A week is not long enough to make any actual progress or to develop in any way, but it is just sufficient to allow me to recharge myself. (...) Freedom in Exile. The Autobiography of Dalai Lama. P.208.
So seek out places that are free from distraction, and solitary. Do not be afraid of the noises you may hear. (...) Endure fearlessly, and you will see the great things of God (...) St. Evagrios the Solitary (345-399 C.E.), quoted in: The Philokalia, Vol. I., P.34.
If you have friends, avoid constant meetings with them. For if you meet only on rare occasions, you will be of more help to them. And if you find that harm comes through meeting them, do not see them at all. the friends that you have should be of benefit to you and contribute to your way of life. St. Evagrios the Solitary (345-399 C.E.), quoted in: The Philokalia, Vol. I., P.34.
If possible, never sleep outside your cell, so that the gift of stillness may always be with you. (...) For continual absence from your cell is harmful. It deprives you of the grace of stillness, darkens your mind, withers your longing for God. If a jar of wine is left in the same place for a long time, the wine in it becomes clear, settled and flagrant. But if it is moved about, the wine becomes turbid and dull, tainted throughout by the lees. So you, too, should stay in the same place and you will find how greatly this benefits you. St. Evagrios the Solitary (345-399 C.E.), quoted in: The Philokalia, Vol. I., P.35.
When we are angry with others we should not seek solitude on the grounds that there, at least, no one will provoke us to anger, and that in solitude the virtue of long-suffering can easily be acquired. Our desire to leave our brethren is because of our pride, and because we do not wish to blame ourselves and ascribe to our own laxity the cause of our unruliness. So long as we assign the causes for our weakness to others, we cannot attain perfection in long-suffering. St. John Cassian (360-435), quoted in: The Philokalia, Vol. I., P.85.
For if with God's help we make progress daily by means of our watchfulness, we should not behave indiscriminately and damage ourselves through a host of random meetings and conversations. On the contrary, we should scorn all vanities for the sake of the beauty and blessings of holiness. St. Hesyhios the Priest (8th or 9th Century), quoted in: The Philokalia, Vol. I., P.184.
Let us avoid staying in towns and villages; it is better for their inhabitants to come and visit us. Let us seek the wilderness and so draw after us the people who shun us. For Scripture praises those who 'leave the cities and dwell in the rocks, and are like the dove' (cf. Jer. 48:28). St. Neilos the Ascetic (died around the year 430 CE), quoted in: The Philokalia, Vol. I., P.214.
Silence and solitude are the supreme luxuries of life. Thomas Merton, quoted in: Pennington, Basil. (1978). O Holy Mountain! Journal of a Retreat on Mount Athos. P.37.
From time to time the silence is broken by the braying of the donkey pasturing somewhere down the mountainside. He seems in his aloneness and lostness to want to affirm to the world his existence. But quickly the sound dies in the hills and is forgotten. (I wonder if my writing is not just so much the same type of braying.) Pennington, Basil. (1978). O Holy Mountain! Journal of a Retreat on Mount Athos. P.150.
Looking up at the summit of the Holy Mountain I have been speculating about ascending to it for the Feast of the Transfiguration. There is a small chapel there, visible as w white speck on clear days, where a hearty group of monks and pilgrims celebrate an All-Night Vigil for the Feast. It is usually quite cold even though very warm down below. I do not know if I am up to the climb. Nor am I sure of the value of it. The Imitation of Christ says that those who go on pilgrimages rarely become saints. We – I am prone to escape from inner solitude, the face of my own pretty wretched mess and the Face of the living God, by changing the exterior scene. (…) Pennington, Basil. (1978). O Holy Mountain! Journal of a Retreat on Mount Athos. P.187.
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Last updated: 2008/03/25