Posts Tagged With: solitude

The Silence

Why do we fear solitude and silence?

We appear to be apprehensive about spending scarcely twenty minutes just sitting down, doing nothing, listening to nothing, thinking of nothing in particular, simply allowing ourselves to exist in the moment. Every technological advance, everything mass media and advertising throws at us is aimed at ensuring that we do not have to stop and contemplate, but instead move and do things quicker. A recent advertisement for a well-known mobile phone company recently summed up modern thinking very well when it half-jokingly claimed that impatience was a virtue. Such is the very real need for communication to be faster.

I would argue that we fear solitude because there is something at the very heart of ourselves that we fear. Shall we call it a soul? It is seemingly unknown. If we had the time and space to reflect then we may be forced to confront our own mortality, discover more about who we are and ask ourselves real, deeper questions, possibly disquieting questions. Everything modern society creates is therefore perfectly suited to combatting this fear and (thankfully) allows us neither the time nor the desire to have to find out.

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Into the desert

“We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them; we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them, but to find out the way to do them the most good. But this is only a secondary end. The one end that includes all others is the love of God.”

Thomas Merton. New Seeds of Contemplation.

I am not very good at any kind of purposeful meditation or contemplation. To spend long periods of time in solitude attempting to be still or ‘look within myself’ feels too hard, too anxiety ridden. I have tried many times but invariably end up surrendering after about three minutes, congratulate myself on a job half done and resolve to try again another time.

For this reason, reading Thomas Merton’s book about contemplation has been very insightful and quite exciting. He accepts that physical solitude and interior silence are important for a contemplative life, but forcefully rejects the idea that we need to ‘go into the desert’ simply because we like or need to be alone. As highlighted in the above quote, for Merton, contemplation is important so that we can learn how we can best be of service to our neighbour, friend, brother, or stranger. I very much like this idea, because I believe in a relational God. I believe that a life is at its most fulfilled when we are fully invested in the lives of others, those who are our natural friends, and those who are suffering.

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