by Amanda Petersen
Last week I mentioned Thoreau’s three chairs. Over the next few newsletters, let’s explore them more closely. The first chair is solitude.
I remember the first time I went on a silent retreat. The first 3 days didn’t feel like a silent retreat because there was so much chatter in my mind. The conversation never stopped. This is the reality of our lives. There is an unending dialogue happening every minute in our heads. Like most consistent chatter there is the gift of tuning it out. Yet the chatter is there influencing our sense of self and the world.
When the idea of silence is mentioned for some it is a welcomed with a sigh of a longing. For others, it is a look of panic. “I could never be quiet for any length of time.” The thought of being left to ourselves is frightening. When our inner life is ignored, then what are we bring to the world, to our connection with God? Where is the depth of understanding? Who is truly dictating our days?
It is in taking the time to still ourselves and become aware of all the conversations that are flowing in our minds and hearts that we begin to really understand our walk in this world.
“Look not outward but within. Self-knowledge is at the root of all real religious knowledge. And this is why the beginning of true religion cannot lie in a book, or in science, or in arguing or in listening to sermons. To look into the soul is to begin to find God. However able the sermon, however sacred the book, it will teach nothing to the person who has not started to look inward.” Owen Chadwick, Newman: A Short Introduction.
No matter what is found as one sits in solitude, they are welcomed by the Divine with open arms. Whether one feels totally at peace and in the flow of grace, or sees themselves as a total failure with no hope, or somewhere in between, they are welcomed into Love’s embrace. That is the gift of solitude. To realize that Love into one’s bones and then to move out into the world around them.
Try it this week. Spend some time in solitude. What do you notice as you pull up this first chair? After you time in solitude, write a love letter to yourself from God.
by Amanda Petersen
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.