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Spiritual Discipline of the Month: Solitude

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --

The fear of being left alone petrifies most people. In hopes of avoiding loneliness, we are driven to uninterrupted noise and crowds of people hoping to avoid what many identify as “the condemnation of silence.”

In response, we keep up a constant stream of words even if they are monotonous. Countless social network sites allow us to reach out and communicate anywhere at any time. Phone calls, texts, tweets, message boards and video chats all keep us endlessly entertained because when we are entertained, we feel less lonely.

One healthy response is to consider the spiritual discipline of solitude.

It is easy to confuse “loneliness” with “solitude.” Loneliness is an inner emptiness, while solitude is an inner fulfillment; a state of the heart which can be maintained at all times. Crowds, or the lack of them, have little to do with this inward watchfulness.

In this age, the life around us is preeminently one of rush and effort. Years are crowded into months, and weeks into days. Noise has become such a big part of our life that we crave it when it is absent.

This feverish haste threatens the spiritual life. But in the midst of noise and confusion, there can be a deep inner silence which brings peace into our turbulent lives. This is the effect of a spiritually attentive life, though there is a catch. “Without silence, there is no solitude.”

The connection between inner solitude and inner silence is inseparable, for silence is an energy like no other source. It has the power to help us to reflect, act or slow down. It is a powerful ally.

Take advantage of “little solitudes” in each day, such as the early moments in bed before the family awakens, the morning cup of coffee before the work day begins or the drive to and from work. Instead of a prayer before a meal, consider a moment of silent reflection.

These tiny periods of time are often lost to us. They can and should be redeemed. Like a compass needle, these are moments for reorienting our lives.

For a challenge, try a waking hour without any words or audible entertainment. For a true challenge, consider doing it for one day. Use it as an experiment, noting you will likely feel helpless and dependent upon words. A growing amount of research points to the high price we pay for constant stimulation.

Silence brings solitude – an inner fulfillment which creates inner peace and a deeper connection both with self and others.