The How and Why of Solitude The How and Why of Solitude

Consider the following quote:

“There is something very liberating for people about being on their own. They’re able to establish some control over the way they spend their time. They’re able to decompress at the end of a busy day in a city . . . and experience a feeling of freedom.”  - Eric Klinenberg, N.Y. University sociologist

Lately I have been considering the benefits of solitude. Today it seems most people have little to no solitude in their lives. I think part of the reason for this is that solitude has become a sort of negative idea. When many think of solitude, then they think of isolation, and therefore alienation. Both isolation and alienation have many negative connotations. But does solitude necessarily have this negative connotation? Is solitude a bad thing, or can it sometimes be a good thing?

Personally, I think solitude can be very beneficial, and I know I need much more of it in my life. Why? Because it is only through true solitude that we are able to find God. And I don’t mean simply physical solitude. I am referring to more of a spiritual solitude, which can sometimes be aided by physical solitude. However, physical solitude by itself will only provide minimal benefit unless there is also a solitude of the spirit that accompanies it. In the words of St. Gregory, “Of what use is solitude of the body without solitude of the spirit?” That is an excellent question.

What exactly is 'solitude of the spirit'?  St. Peter Chrysologus defines it as “a soul that is free from earthly attachments.”  That is certainly the goal of practicing spiritual solitude, to be free of loving what is of the world so that you can give that love to God.  According to St. Teresa, spiritual solitude is the prime method by which to find God in our lives; she states, “Tear your heart away from everything else; then seek God and you will surely find Him.” For beginners, like myself, coming to a state of spiritual solitude often requires physical solitude as well, and here are some tips for both:

1. Find a peaceful, comfortable place - This tip is probably one of the most important as well as the hardest to accomplish.  Finding a peaceful and comfortable place in your home might not be easy if you have five kids or a hectic lifestyle. But perhaps you can still carve out a few minutes each week for spiritual solitude by doing something as simple as a prayer shrine with a crucifix in your closet, or finding a place nearby which is usually quiet and calming.  Achieving spiritual solitude is not easy, and trying to achieve it without physical solitude, at least from time to time, will probably not make it any easier.

2. Pray the rosary or divine mercy chaplet -  If you’re just beginning to practice spiritual solitude, then it is probably best to try some classic mental prayer during that time as well.  This way your mind will not be bouncing from thought to thought, or on your to-do list, but rather focused away from earthly matters and towards heavenly ones. The rosary and divine mercy chaplet are both great prayers which are designed to make meditation and contemplation easy.  Plus there are a great many rosary books, such as a scriptural rosary book, which make praying the rosary even more fruitful as you also meditate on Sacred Scripture.

3. Cut yourself off from the outside world -  Today, unlike never before, we have the issue of being constantly connected to the world.  We constantly have our phones on us, we check Facebook regularly, and we are frequently checking our emails.  For solitude to be effective, you need to pry that cell phone off of you, or at least turn it off.  Not only could that phone potentially distract you, but it will serve as a reminder of all those earthly attachments that you are trying to distance yourself from.

These tips are pretty simple and I think that anyone can do them.  Remember that these tips are just for beginners. As you become more comfortable with solitude of the spirit, then you will be able to pray and meditate in new, more powerful ways that are way above my expertise.

Do you take time away in solitude?  What tips would you add to this list?  Is solitude important to you?

Copyright 2012 Kathleen Wellman