A Week in Solitary

I vowed to spend the week in solitary when my husband left for business.  I spent a week by myself not a week in silence. Baby steps here. A week alone with complete silence seems insurmountable.

Solitary has never been my thing. How can it be? I was raised in a family of 11 with hundreds of cousins. I lived in dorms. I worked in offices and on Capitol Hill. There was always noise and movement around me. I thrived in these settings, or at least I thought I did as a social creature.

As the week in solitary progressed and my “to-do” list rapidly dwindled, I grew somewhat contemplative. I thought about those devoted to monastic silence by choice and those placed in solitary confinement in prisons. Monks seeking calm, serenity and peace of mind conflicted with prisoners in confined spaces filled with angst, rage and contempt. Such contrasting routes and approaches to solitude.

Little noise and distraction unlocked solitary moments warehoused in my memory. I relived my wedding day before driving downtown Charleston, SC to get dressed for the ceremony. The calmness I felt as I lazily completed piddly tasks alone around my house came back. I recalled sitting on the porch marveling how I was living my last minutes as a single woman while feeling the excitement of our forthcoming ceremony and reception. Insisting I be alone that morning was the right decision. It kept me focused and in the moment. Solitude prepared me for commitment.

Later I recalled overnight feedings of our infant son. Holding him in the crook of my left arm propped up with a pillow while rocking him in the night’s darkness: the intimacy of those silent irreplaceable moments. In the stillness I listened to him, though he could not yet speak. Solitude naturally bonded mother and son.

Not all unlocked memories of solitude were blissful. Sometimes being all alone in thought and presence is scary. I shivered recalling how solitude paralyzed me as I sat next to a friend dying of AIDS. Though together, I felt completely alone. The room was eerily quiet, except for the surrounding machines and medical staff moving in and out of the room. None made eye contact. An unspoken understanding existed that these were our last moments together. I grasped his limp hand and didn’t dare cry, trumping his pain with mine. Crying would ruin the silence needed for his ending. Solitude readied me for grieving.

As I worked through one memory after another, testifying that I’d previously not only endured but sometimes thrived in solitary, it became clear that a very distinct difference exists between loneliness and solitude. One is painful, the other meditative. While I advocate for meditation and solitude, I understand that many are lonely and suffer deeply from disconnection and loneliness. Loneliness feels like punishment while voluntarily placing oneself in solitary is a priceless gift.

And when the garage door opened signaling my husband’s return, my week in solitary ended. My unlocked memories remained as did faith in myself that I could endure and appreciate future weeks in solitary.

If you are feeling overwhelmed or confused by the busyness of daily life, force yourself to a period of solitary. Be quiet. Recall the past. Relive the joy. Understand the pain. Appreciate the moment. A week in solitary is worth the initial discomfort. It offers perspective. It adds depth to your life.

“We need to find God. And he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature-trees, flowers, grass grows in silence. See the starts, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls.- Mother Teresa-

Retreat Centers:

Cloisters on the Platte in Nebraska http://www.cloistersontheplatte.com

Benedictine Peace Center in Yankton, SD http://yanktonbenedictines.org

Creighton University Retreat Center in Griswold, Iowa http://creighton.edu/ministry/retreatcenter

St. Benedict Center in Schuyler Nebraska http://www.stbenedictcenter.com

Website of Retreat Centers http://www.retreatfinder.com

Have you been on a silent retreat or forced yourself into a week of solitary? Comment. How did the experience work for  you?

Copyright. October 2015. Linda Leier Thomason.

All Rights Reserved.

What do you think? Let me hear from you.