Solitude for Beginners
By: Susan Browning
I was always reaching out, always finding something new to take on, always engaged with ministry, always in peoples lives, always over-booking my schedule, then feeling like my brain would burst and my heart felt heavy.
It got me thinking something was wrong with me when this pace the world had set for me was faster than my heart could carry me. And if I wasn’t careful I’d hit burnout. That was ten years ago.
Much like almost every human I’ve ever met, I’m guessing I didn’t like being on my own – maybe I didn’t like my own company, or this moment would never somehow end and I would die alone… I didn’t know what to do when I wasn’t busy doing or perhaps it was simply the world around me kept a pace I felt obligated to maintain. So I learnt to get faster, neglecting the slow I recall in my youth, the space I automatically created after full days of socialising and brainwork combined that adulting didn’t deem as busy as this new world of career. I remember coming home from a particularly busy week and looking at the beautiful sky and loosing time in watching the clouds go by, then instantly feel guilty for ‘wasting my life’ on such frivolous moments. But I felt restored a tiny bit, so I tried it again. Then again. I listened to this restoring.
Then, every Friday I would find another outdoor space and sit and stare at the sky, the harbour, the bush. Over those months this grew my craving soul, I yearned to see how long I could do it for before my brain would break. The thing with spiritual disciplines, is they are in fact just that. They are a discipline. Silence and stillness along with solitude are things we need to practice. Not just in self isolation, but in our day to day living. When you lean in to the initial discomfort you begin to find: the silence less deafening, the stillness less jolting and the solitude less lonely.
The issue with solitude is often it’s confronting because it taps into a deep loneliness our soul feels because we grieve time with ourselves and with God. In our current life climate many of us are being thrown into a form of solitude through enforced self isolation, which perhaps has highlighted solitude deprivation in our society. Also on a side note, how creativity has been abandoned to technology in our day to day, and how we in fact were craving something to fill a void we didn’t know it existed. Or maybe did and kept up our busy doing things from having to face it. But thrown full thrust into it – solitude is daunting. Self isolation is tricky for the more extroverted at heart, but also introverts alike will struggle with the amount of alone time eventually in this season.
Understanding what solitude is might be helpful. Solitude is not just aloneness. It’s embracing space in your life, it’s not embracing loneliness. Henry Nouwan has a great book on this… “solitude and loneliness quote”. There’s a few good books I’d recommend: The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer, Spiritual Disciplines by Dallas Willard.
So to ease you into feeling the benefits of solitude and finding peace in this space I’d encourage you to seek out ways you can continue this practice later down the track when life returns to the new normal. Here are some things I have found helpful to get time to myself…
1 – Journaling
There is no right or wrong way to do journaling. But find what way you like the best through trial and error.
- Free-flow: start writing and let it flow into your unconscious mind. This isn’t about writing it to become something any one else would see. This is purely the thoughts in your mind being placed outward so they have little room to circle.
- Bullet journaling: Pinterest has a bunch of options here – this can be inclusive of tacking moods, thoughts, goals. It’s creatively structured to work your life into your flow.
- Write a letter to yourself or to someone you need to work through an issue with or write to God. Openly work through things you might not say aloud, again its not to be perfected, no one else is going to read this unless you want them to. So write out what you need to.
- Find a scripture and write it out, unpack it and then ask through writing to reveal to you what is standing out the most and why.
- Reflection spaces: I use this practice a lot. Some prompters might be: Current thoughts in my head; Things I’ve learnt this year and why they schooled me; what’s working and what is not; List the things I am committed to and re-evaluate or perhaps this is just a good space to map out future goals and inviting yourself into the process of how to get there.
2 – Porch Time
Silence took me by surprise – I wasn’t expecting this to be the hardest one to lean into. Journaling comes quite easy to me, I’ve been experimenting with styles and writing since I was a teenager. But silence meant not having input, but allowing me to take what was internal and give it air to breathe. At first this was confronting, now it is my go-to. In the quietness my soul comes to truly rest.
- Porch time is simply finding a place in nature – for me it is my porch, I look at my garden and I let my head unwind. If this is new you might like to start with 5-10 minutes, until its just uncomfortable enough that you can push through the wall and find Selah. In this silence there is NO noise – so you don’t take your phone, you find a space away from people or you practice it mutually without conversation.
- Here in your quiet place, you begin to breathe and focus on your breath and your surroundings. You can ask God to get into your space with you and bring to the surface anything that needs to be let go of. I often find once I am here I am definitely in my head and it can feel a bit full at first, possibly even loud. Sit in the discomfort of this moment, when a thought arises, give it the space it needs – form the thought and let go of it, instead of pushing it away.
3 – Embracing Slow
- Take longer to eat, or drink your hot beverage of choice – in simply bringing acknowledgement to how we rush our body to finish functioning so we can catch up to life we see how much we could enjoy the brew we’ve made or the meal we’ve taken time to cook. Chew slowly, pause between mouth fills, engage a thankfulness for a slower moment.
- Make space in your day – I feel like we are always hurrying, and I was noticing my kids couldn’t keep up. So I started operating at their pace – I find this infuriating some days, but also very liberating as I realised I was missing little things and opportunities to grow and attend to them (and myself).
“I feel like we are always hurrying, and I was noticing my kids couldn’t keep up. So I started operating at their pace.”
4 – Gratitude Practice
- We simply can not grumble and be grateful at the same time. It doesn’t take much to find 3, or 5, or even 10 things as you get better at the practice, to be grateful for. There is always something. I think the Big Pillars of our life we already know we are thankful to have. So this practice really is finding it in the small places, the mini moments, the twinkling of an eye, the light crisp air, the exchange of looks, the unprompted cuddle. I try to make a list in my journal practice in the morning – 3 things I’ve been grateful for in the past 24 hours. It has to be current. And daily.
- We also close our day with “grace and grateful” around the table. I get our kids to start with just one thing, they’re finding more these days. It paves a way for harder times, times like these, when we practice gratitude you will begin to find it anywhere and everywhere, and in the moment you can say thank you, I’m glad I was present enough to observe this, in your heart. Gratitude places us in the present moment – we remain in a posture of praise which helps us come out of the darker spaces of our mind. It helps us centre our thoughts to find hope. To be the light.
With all of these ideas in mind you might find some of them helpful to your personality style and you may already be a pro at it. But if not, just start with 5-10 minutes, small steps to make it feel comfortable. Give yourself grace as well, this isn’t a normal season, and it will pass like any other. We will gain something from this spaciousness we have been forced into.
Solitude has been a practice I’ve embraced for many years now, and naturally more so when I was younger. I think it is easy to get caught up in the pace of the world. We get to choose. And that’s the beauty – choose space, choose openness.
Article supplied with thanks to Susan Browning.
About the Author: Susan is a worship leader, vocal coach and mentor encouraging you to be all you can be in fulfilling your purpose.
Feature image: By Milan Popovic on Unsplash