Friday, December 05, 2008

rhythming into silence & solitude: leaving addictions, busyness, and consumerism behind

We are all given an extraordinary & beautiful invitation to deeper meaning, to greater living, and to a more intentional loving of ourselves, the people around us, God's presence, and the earth we live with. What Robert Inchausti rightly formulates as pure gift, pure presence, pure love, absolute relationship. Yet it is doubtful that we will ever act upon this invitation unless we make room for these deeper and greater mysteries to unfold within us & around us. And to do so we must simply and profoundly walk away from our cluttered thoughts & agendas on a regular basis in order to listen to God's presence that is somehow always mysteriously present to us - despite our religious or non-religious affiliations & lifestyles.

However . . .

Silence & solitude are perhaps the most difficult faith formation practices for people living in western contexts. That is, people existing with certain ideological paradigms that assume that the absolute nexus of living is to obtain money or purchase power in order to consume goods & services in order to cause ego driven forms of happiness. In such contexts 'busyness' is fundamental & central to life rather than being a symptom of an addiction-prone culture.

Indeed we are apt to think to ourselves; 'Without busyness one can't work a job & make money. Without busyness one can't parent a toddler & manage a household. Without busyness one will never properly help the poor & the suffering in our world.' And on and on the list grows. But what if 'busyness' is not so much a cosmic reality for humanity but is something we unconsciously or even consciously thrust upon ourselves? That being frantic, hurried, & harried are not fundamental conditions of living in the 21st century but are lifestyle addictions we have inherited from a larger culture addicted to constant movement, incessant media exposure, talk, chatter, travel, consumption, waste, and violence?

Try telling someone who is always busy that you are not busy. 'What, is there something wrong with you? Are you on vacation? Sick? Lazy?' Immediately suspicions begin to surface and you become an outsider to the larger community of those invested & integrated into the labyrinth of 'busyness'. You now become a heretic or a radical. You now become a shady stranger in the neighborhood called 'Keep Moving, Keep Distracted.'

And yet.. .

And yet because you have perhaps tasted and discovered a bit of intentional silence & solitude you do not feel angry or castigated at being different. Rather, you feel somewhat hopeful for a different future and reality for humanity. Instead of feeling superior to your addicted & embattled neighbor or colleague you offer prayer & peace & shalom instead. This never comes perfectly or systematically but always in fits and starts. And you realize you are okay with that tension.

And that is certainly something to hold onto. Because in that process you discover the deeper wellspring of who you are and what moves you and what creates in you thirst for change in this world; what makes you truly weep, and also what causes you great laughter - so great it can move mountains.

So here are some simple notes on rhythming into silence & solitude whether you are 'religious,' 'spiritual,' or not:

  • It is best to be in a sitting position for this time but can also be accomplished while on a walk. Find a place where you will not be interrupted. Get away from or turn off all phones and instant email alerts; do your best to get away from your computer or TV and take off your wireless components.

  • Find a place where you can be alone; this can be inside a room, on a walk, on the beach, and even in a crowd of people whom you don’t know. But again, alone is best.

  • If you can sit this is also best. If you can close your eyes without falling asleep this too is best though not necessary.

  • It is better to be in solitude for fifteen minutes at a time as opposed to breaking it up into increments. But of course there are some who are pre-disposed to solitude and others who are not. For the naturally restless and extroverted, try not to break up the fifteen minutes but if need be give yourself permission to do two different sessions of seven to eight minutes each. Anything less than seven minutes of solitude tends not to accomplish much.

  • Surface worries usually predominate during the first five minutes of silent solitude – phrases like, “This is a waste of time. I have so much to do. I am so stupid. I feel like a loser. You forgot to return that call yesterday. And what about those emails? And that paper? You are so behind. This is utterly ridiculous. You’re not a freakin’ monk or guru. Get up and get on with your life. Time is money and you’re ripping up wads of it. Get going and do what you’re supposed to be doing;” tend to speed through one’s thoughts at a rapid rate alongside all of your agenda items for the day and the week and the month. Don’t panic. And don’t give up. This is entirely natural.

  • And yet . . . begin to learn to unmask those voices as the destructive voices of worry, anxiety, pressure, and fear uninviting you to the presence of all hope, love, and renewal. As you begin to learn to see them in this light the better off this practice becomes. Of course, the more stressed you are the more anxiety tends to fling itself at you which increases the likelihood of putting this off for another week until your “schedule frees up.” Don’t. This is the exact time you need silent solitude the most.

  • Often a single word such as peace, or love, or rest, or enter, or hope can become simple invitations to hold onto as your breathing becomes more centered and your mind becomes more relaxed and even if you are feeling anxious and fearful. Allow yourself to be graciously surprised that if deep inside of your spirit you begin to 'hear' those words being echoed back to you in ways that words cannot be expressed. Perhaps in images, perhaps in visions or deep-seated memories. The love of God is pervasive and as you accept God's invitation into presence you will begin to feel & sense overtime a deep & healing & vibrant energy & spirit enliven you into newer and grander places of your very being & existence.

  • Dan Rather in an interview with Mother Theresa: “What do you say to God when you pray?” Her answer was, “I don’t say anything; I just listen.” After Rather cleared his throat, he asked, “Well, what does Jesus say to you?” And Mother Theresa answered, “Oh, He doesn’t say anything, either. He just listens.”

  • We are creatures of habit and so it is best to find a regular weekly rhythm in this practice. If you have a fifteen minute break during the day and find this is a good time for you to practice solitude stick to that same time each week. If you have twenty minutes between classes use that time, if you can wake up earlier use that time, be creative – find what best works with you.

  • If participants are already in the habit of solitude they should look to increasing their solitude incrementally to an eventual fifteen minutes a day.

  • However, do not think too much of yourself and attempt to bite off too much solitude time in the beginning – it is best to acclimate oneself to solitude and silence in natural increments of an extra fifteen minutes every 2-5 months.

  • Solitude is very much like exercise. Thinking you can run a marathon is a good thing. Entering a marathon without any training is foolish and dangerous to your health. Good runners build their running distances incrementally. Therefore, after two or three months of fifteen minutes of weekly solitude allow yourself the permission to increase that time to thirty minutes every week – eventually getting to the point of fifteen minutes of silent solitude every day.

  • Remember, this is an invitation; not a mandate. Once this becomes a mere mandate all is lost. It is the hope of ever becoming more of who you are created to be that is the driving force behind this practice.