Silence and solitude are the disciplines that bring you to the place of realizing, ironically, that you are never alone (in the good way) and removes the terrible burdens of comparing yourself with others and the need to impress.
These are two of the most important spiritual disciplines because they instill a “be” attitude instead of a focus on the “do” or ought to do, allowing you to be present with yourself and others, truly engaged instead of always distracted.
Walking in a “be” attitude is impossible in your own strength, which is why getting all interactions with others out of your mind via a commitment to improving in silence and solitude is critical.
Always remember, the goal of every discipline is not to become proficient or an expert of that discipline, the goal is the fruit, the life of character that discipline yields.
What are Solitude and Silence?
Solitude is simply being alone for an extended time, and not just physically.
It means a state of being entirely unencumbered by any outside force or person or duty (when attached to our need to receive from others) in mind, body, and soul.
Silence is experiencing clearness in your mind: to hear yourself, hear God, and embody a depth of character that removes feelings of loneliness, comparing and performing with and for anyone.
Silence is the ultimate discipline for taming that beast that lives in your mouth, the tongue.
It is the place where you develop your ability to interact with and know God, which then seeps into any and every moment of your life. But this is where it starts.
Solitude and silence are fundamental keys to deepening this profound ongoing relationship with God.
These are the blessings that await you when you become proficient in the disciplines of solitude and silence.
But how hard is it to get to this place? What are some of the things you must be aware of that will pull you away from having “successful” silence and solitude blocks of time?
Why You’re Not Successful in Solitude and Silence… Yet!
You know the “don’t think about a pink elephant” thing. When you see or hear those words, a pink elephant immediately enters your mind.
- When you try to not be with people
- When you decide not to perform
- When you try to eradicate noise in your mind
Your thoughts then shift to the thing you are trying not to do.
That is one of the reasons solitude is one of the most challenging things to accomplish.
The other reason is,
The Effects of Human Interaction Last Longer than You Realize
In solitude and silence, there is a quiet that is typically not present in the majority of daily life.
Experiencing this newfound quietness immediately and forcefully drives all the thoughts, fears, worries, longings, obsessions, etc. that are below the surface to the forefront of your mind like a raging army.
The impact of interaction at a party, a conversation on the phone, random engagement on social media, publishing of a piece of content on the internet, or watching a show linger long after they’re over.
Physical participation with persons or digital interactions (or potential encounters), even when only in dreams or your imagination, remain in your mind much longer than you are currently aware.
Comparing failures or accomplishments of yesterday with others, the lists of things you need to do today, the worries of tomorrow, and more.
You have a habit of thinking about everyone else, and the quieter you get, the louder these thoughts of others in your mind become, you then increase in awareness of these thoughts for possibly the first time,
You realize how difficult it is to break away.
“The normal course of day-to-day human interactions locks us into patterns of feeling, thought, and action that are geared to a world set against God. Nothing but solitude can allow the development of a freedom from the ingrained behaviors that hinder our integration into God’s order” Dallas Willard – Spirit of the Disciplines
Mental and Physical Wars Against Silence and Solitude
Our lives and minds are full of memories, both beautiful and painful, and expectations of the future. All of life is a gift. All of life is a struggle. It is being human.
The problem occurs when these memories or expectations consume our thoughts, and we cannot be in the present. You will often find how much is going on in your mind by simply being silent for even 5 minutes.
This list is to help you begin or remember to recognize some of the warring thoughts happening to draw you away from this deep life of solitude. We hope you will see you are not alone in your experiences, and there is a way of escape.
1. What you hope will happen, “Next.”
There are many “nexts” that we involve ourselves in,
- next show in a series
- next post from a YouTuber
- next book by an author
- next board game night
- next girls night out
- next date night
- next release in a movie series
- next role of an actor
- project by a musician
- and many more.
The anticipation of things to come creates worries or excitements of a possibility in the future, stealing away what God is working on in your head and heart right now.
2. A physical experience or encounter with another
Dinner, park, movie, sex, deck conversation, skiing, checking out at the grocery store.
These and hundreds more “bodily” experiences replay in your mind and distract you from being in this solitude and silence moment.
3. Shame, Misses and Mess Ups
How did your diet go the last time you tried? How did that consistent journaling attempt pan out? The weekly fasting discipline? How did you control your tongue when you committed not to yell, not talk about the negative, not to demean others?
Shame, misses, and mess-ups in ourselves consume our thoughts, and because of our – “have anything in 2-days” mentality – when these failures occur, a failure mindset takes root in our minds and keeps us from entering into solitude.
Misses and Failures of Others
How did your spouses, a friend, or partners diet, journaling discipline, commitment to more sex, attempt to tame their tongue, or chase their higher calling go?
The failures, in some way hinder a goal or dream you have for your life or the relationship. These mess-ups and they should have, or I wish they… consume your mind and deviate you away from working on you, the only person you should try to fix ever, but especially in episodes of silence and solitude.
4. A Digital or Imaginative Experience
Social media friends and family status updates, political posts, comments left by others, or comments you have made replay in your mind, frequently for years.
Places like movies, books, videos, dreams, images, shows, or porn are all experiences in your mind and play over and over long after the actual interaction with the piece of content.
Desirous images of either what I would like to be like, or who I would like to be with; these digital and imaginative fantasies rule, ruin, and distract.
5. Childhood Experiences
Dreams, things you did, something that was done to you, negative experiences. These childhood experiences creep into our thoughts and become a hindrance or excuse or cause shame.
They are inducing you to shy away from the present work of being healed for good.
6. Thinking about your words
How often have you thought about something that was not the best thing to say, or something that could have been said better, or something you should have said, after a conversation was had, even years after that conversation?
And those “embarrassments,” or “missed opportunities,” or even times you “killed it” with your words, come clearly to mind because of the feelings that they evoke.
7. Dreams and Desires for Yourself and Others
How often do dreams for your life enter your account and cause fantasies to be role-played for a future, greener grass scenario?
Life after kids, an opportunity, relationship, these and hundreds more pull you away from blossoming in the now, from drinking from the fountain of life that is today.
How Doing Nothing and Everything all at once is the Cure
“We must reemphasize, the ‘desert’ or ‘closet’ is the primary place of strength for the beginner, as it was for Christ and Paul. They show us by their example what we must do. In stark aloneness it is possible to have silence, to be still, and to know that Jehovah indeed is God (Ps. 46:10), to set the Lord before our minds with sufficient intensity and duration that we stay centered upon him – our hearts fixed, established in trust (Ps. 112:7-8) – even when back in the office, shop, or home.”
“As with all disciplines, we should approach the practice of silence in a prayerful, experimental attitude, confident that we shall be led into its right use for us.”
Dallas Willard – Spirit of the Disciplines, one of my favorite spiritual disciplines books.
Redeem the time by committing to begin practicing silence and solitude, and God will meet you there, holding your hand, leading you into the place of just you and Him so that you can be fully present, a full cup that overflows to all that you encounter.