Silence is not always easy.
Sometimes we think we want silence, but when that silence becomes available we get disoriented. We feel lost and lonely, and we’re a bit scared. So, boom! It’s off to the refrigerator, or the internet, or a pub, or a friend to babble to, or a mate to grab onto.
True silence is like going into the wilderness. It can be scary, and the road is unfamiliar.
Companionship is a good thing, a necessary thing. Whether from friends, lovers, or mates, we need companionship to grow just as much as we need time to ourselves. When we’ve been locked in loneliness for too long, there are diminishing returns. There are times when warmth and humanity, whether hanging with a friend or having an espresso amidst the chatter of the café, are necessary to our well-being and help make the day better. But there are also times when solitude is of great value. Sometimes solitude is what will heal and strengthen us.
Sometimes, when you’re feeling nervous or sad, allow yourself to be in your feelings without rushing to get out of them, trying to explain or correct them, or calling a therapist. Sometimes on the other side of a lonely moment, you may find a sense of you. After all, silence is a kind of stripping away. Stay in the silence for just a few more minutes, even if you’re uncomfortable. Be in that solitude for just a little bit longer.
There tends to be a storm of thoughts during our attempts to be in solitude and silence. This is exactly how silence works. The human mind can be filled with a lot of noise and activity. Silence is like the sky above and around us. The wind blows, leaves tumble, birds fly, trees sway, yet the sky is still there. You don’t need to fight all that activity. You don’t need to chase away your thoughts. You just want to help yourself not to be so stuck on them. You do that by focusing on something simple.
Here’s something you can do: focus on your breath. Notice how your breath feels as it moves across your upper palette and the back of your lips. Gently inhale and let your breath fill you from below your rib cage and then on up. Pause. Then exhale your breath slowly and gently. Keep the inhale and exhale just a little bit longer than you think you need to. Pause. Be patient. Just be aware of your breath for a while.
Now sense what might be good for you.
Maybe a walk or run will help you feel better.
Maybe a bit of meditation or prayer will help you remember that the burden of the world is not entirely on your individual shoulders.
Maybe reading a helpful or just plain entertaining book will do the trick.
At some point, physical movement—exercise, stretching, t’ai chi, yoga, any type of physical movement—is essential.
Now go chill. Go to the café for tea and people.
The wilderness of silence can lead us towards a place at the very center of our being that is profoundly comforting and warm. I like to think of the ache I feel in these times of solitude as sacred loneliness. Sacred loneliness is a journey away from the familiar, the expectations and identities through which I find meaning in life, towards something not familiar at all: the love and security that cannot be taken away, because that love is based on the soul within. From that sacred center I can be less demanding, more wise and caring toward the people and circumstances that surround me in my life.
Sacred loneliness is not a retreat from love, but rather a willingness to increase my capacity to love. When I am not so afraid of loss and being lonely, I am not so afraid of love. Sacred loneliness is a time when I can become more soft and open within a lonely and scared feeling.