“I felt in need of a great pilgrimage so I sat still for three days.” ~ Kabir
I am not sure there are many words strung together out there in our world that are so direct and so perfect for these times as these by the mystical poet Kabir.
When I was younger, I regularly went on spiritual retreats. Many of them were silent retreats, which ruffled the feathers of some of the other retreatants, while offering a great respite to others. I haven’t gone in a number of years, not because I don’t enjoy them and get a great deal out of them. The time has just never been right.
However, when I was in my 20s and early 30s, I lived by myself in Bloomington-Normal. During those years, God blessed me with an immense appreciation of the power and gift that solitude and silence can bear in a person’s life.
At the time, I had a busy life, just like most people. But my temperament is such that I soon found I needed an antidote to that busyness, something to balance it out.
One day when I was in Barnes and Noble, I was browsing through books and came across one by Dale Salwak called “The Wonders of Solitude.” Honestly, looking back it was one of those moments of feeling like God himself was hiding behind the bookstacks and placed the book in my hand.
Full of quotations from writers, peacemakers, and spiritual leaders, the book describes how solitude, practiced regularly, can ground people, make them more comfortable with themselves, and most importantly, be quiet and undisturbed enough to hear the still, small voice of God in their lives.
I devoured that book again and again, and often carried it with me like a child with a security blanket. I needed that wisdom in my life, and the more I read from it, the deeper that wisdom worked itself into my being.
I find now when I am home alone for a few days or more, I take as full advantage of the opportunity for silence and solitude as I can. In fact, as I write this today, I am home alone. Even the dog is gone at daycare, and it is amazing how quiet and serene it is inside my heart.
I guess I feel and act most myself when I am alone, which to some might seem an enigma. (Most writers will get it, though). But I know I am not the only one. I see and read dozens of posts on social media (ironically) in groups of people who feel and see the world the same way I do. We need that silence and solitude regularly to regroup and re-energize.
I know many of you are not as in need of times of silence and solitude as some of the rest of us. Call it the whole extrovert versus introvert thing, if you want. And honestly, most people start to get restless when there is more than 30 seconds of silence in public.
But I suggest and encourage you to still make time every day – even if it is only 15 or 20 minutes, an hour is better – to be by yourself with all electronics and other distractions put away. For those of you out there with children and the accompanying caregiving and carpooling that you are responsible for, I would suggest that as difficult as it might be to take this time, you might need it more than anyone.
Initially, you might find your “monkey mind” tossing around a slew of competing thoughts. That’s OK and normal. Stick with your practice and you will soon find a balance, a grounding, and inner spaciousness that you never knew possible.
SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines spirituality in The Times' readership area. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at firstname.lastname@example.org to share how you engage your spirit in your life and in your community