The first post in this series talked about finding quiet, beautiful places to escape to, for a few minutes or a few days. This post begins to explore how to make the most of the time there.
Being silent and alone can be creepy for some people. Some of us freak out without our phones on. Some of us are so used to an Ipod or some other device making noise, it’s hard to concentrate without it. I knew a kid, who had lived through a lot of trauma, who couldn’t sleep without the white noise of a fan.
Even so, we really need silence. There are important things we’ll never know about ourselves and wonderful experiences of God we’ll never have if we avoid being silent and alone.
Turning off all devices and going alone to a place we won’t be interrupted opens the door into our own souls, and makes us much more deeply aware of God’s presence. It may not be instant, but someone who makes a regular habit of solitude will be rewarded.
The first time I tried it, I took too much time. I walked to an empty art studio a few miles away and sat alone among the canvases, trying to feel some kind of connection with God. Nothing happened. By the end of the day, I felt worse than before I started. I wish I’d known a few things:
- Start small. If you don’t mind being alone, shoot for a few hours. If you hate being alone, a half hour is probably enough to start with. Add more time as you get comfortable.
- Say a prayer at the beginning of the time. Don’t expect some epic spiritual awakening, just ask God to protect your thoughts, to help you focus, to give you peace and anything else you need.
- Slow down. If you want to be still, get comfortable. If you want to walk, take slow steps. Pay attention to how you feel physically and emotionally. Acknowledge everything, negative and positive. You can’t take care of yourself if you don’t know how you’re doing, so this is your time to climb inside your own skin and pay attention. This self-awareness is necessary before we can really meditate, pray, reflect or study – subjects for future blogs.
- Then, focus on your surroundings. Make sure you’re sitting in front of something that you want to look at – flowers, a view of the sky, a picture if you’re inside. This will help you shut out the hundreds of random thoughts about the past and the future that grab for your attention. As much as you are able, stay in the moment, resting in the silence, enjoying the beauty. When negative thoughts do crash in, try to let them go and refocus on now. If you’re plagued by negative thoughts or memories, ask God to help you. Wait it out for a few minutes. For most people, this will work. But if you try solitude a few times and it’s just haunting and hard, find a pastor or a counselor to talk with before you try it again.
The vast majority of us will leave a time of solitude feeling stronger and more peaceful. Letting our minds and bodies rest from work, people and noise, focusing our senses on where we are right now and becoming conscious of how we are feeling, is healing in itself.
For further reading, try Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline,” a classic.