There was a time, many years ago, when I had the secret desire to become a monk. I have always loved nature, walking—usually at night, with undistracting silhouettes and moon shadows the only things capturing my eyes—and finding quiet places to still my soul and brain. It seemed monks had a corner on this, so to speak. Perhaps you can identify. It points to something necessary for the development and nurture of us as human beings.
Ours is a time of frenetic energy and busyness. Things to do and not enough time, so the fiction goes, to get them done. As a result, we are often harried and all out of sorts. One of the first casualties of such a lifestyle, unless assiduously guarded against, is quiet. Stillness. Reflection. Prayer.
People like Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, have made significant contributions to literature and life simply because they made room for the kind of thought and prayer that come as a result of intentional reclusion.
Most of us are not called to a monastic vocation. What we can do is take control of our lives and make times of aloneness and stillness, even silence, a daily part of our lives. Someone has said, “Hurry isn’t of the Devil; hurry is the Devil.” Kind of humorous but it illustrates that endless activity and company, without recourse to the kind of soul repair that comes from pulling away from society and technology, will wreak havoc on the inner person. There are some people in our world almost pathologically afraid of being alone, away from noise, just themselves and their thoughts, their hearts and consciences. It is a weakness, but it can be mastered.
Here are some things that have helped me as I’ve made solitude a part of my life:
- Place. Woods are excellent for this as well as mountains or water. Forests fill me with wonder and being near water calms me. The lapping of waves on a shore and the rhythm of a lake, a river or an ocean has a hypnotic effect that is hard to beat.
- Reading. I usually like to take something to read to help me focus my thoughts and give fodder for my mind and spirit. A Bible, sacred literature or poetry are excellent companions.
- Music. If I choose technology, it is usually music of a more meditative nature. Instrumentals of all sorts, especially film scores, are excellent choices. It has a profound way of setting the mood for reflection.
- Writing. It is often helpful to have a journal, a composition book or just a legal pad to jot down insights that emerge during your time apart.
I encourage you to make time for reflection, away from the hustle and bustle. You will find yourself more centered and see an increase in the fruitfulness of your efforts in the marketplace as you return.