I meet a lot of people who want to run away to the woods and leave society and all its complications behind like Thoreau. Living away from everyone is the way to get closer to God. There is a truth to the power of solitude and its relationship with God and ourselves.
I also meet a lot of people who run away from solitude. The thought of sitting alone for 20 minutes with nothing else but themselves sounds horrifying. They will do whatever it takes not to be left alone with the thoughts in their heads, let alone an Omnipresent God. Often they are wonderful doers of good works.
As always in the contemplative life, there is a need for both solitude (love it or not) and community (love it or not). There is no running to whatever corner we feel comfortable and staying there. Did you know that Thoreau had three chairs in that cabin? One for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society. In Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, Sherry Turkle states “These three chairs plot the point on a virtuous circle that links conversation to the capacity for empathy and for self-reflection. In solitude we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to conversation with something to assay that is authentically, ours. When we are secure in ourselves we are able to listen to other people and really hear what they have to say. And then in conversation with other people we become better at inner dialogue. Solitude reinforces a secure sense of self and with that the capacity for empathy. Then conversation with others provides rich material for self reflection just as alone we prepare to talk together, together we learn how to engage in a more productive solitude.”
Now, Turkle’s focus is conversation, yet isn’t the spiritual life fueled by our real connections? Whether with self, others, or the world, it is all grounded in the Source that is our being. Living a life that finds a place for all three with the intention of drawing closer to Love is a very rich life that sees beyond the complications of circumstances or voices that make one want to run and hide. The contemplative life is one that honors the self, relationships, and society. Take a look at your life. Are you exclusive in one area? Is it time to balance your life with solitude, relationships, or service? Let me know your thoughts.
Over the next three weeks, I will look at those chairs individually in the upcoming newsletters.
In fact, I’d love to have a conversation about it. Come join us for one of the Dinner and Conversation Nights: June 17 or July 15 from 6 – 7:30 pm.