While such a word can conjure images of mountainside cabins and far off, secluded places, more often than not, solitude has little to do with whether we're around people or not. In fact, true solitude has nothing to do with the presence, or lack thereof, of others. Solitude is quietness of mind, and it's a state of being that enables us to transcend our normal impulses to run from uncomfortableness and to, instead, stay with what we're feeling and experiencing in the moment.
True solitude (which is really just the practice of learning to be our own best friend) increases our ability to surrender to life and to feel and enjoy whatever arises from within, even our most painful memories. Through such practice, we learn to rest in our loneliness, our joy, and our pain, and we learn to do it in a way that breaks us open rather than closing us down. Solitude enables us to develop greater compassion for ourselves and for those around us—even those who mistreat us (see Mt 5:11-12 and Jn 15:18).
Life is about fullness—a shedding of tears kind of fullness. And it's a fullness that can be experienced only as we decide to lean in to our sufferings and let them prick us right where we're at. Solitude isn't an escape from reality; it's a sprinting toward...a welcoming of it, in fact—much the way we might welcome a hoped for visit from a dear friend or family member. "Solitude," as Thomas Merton wrote, is the "ground of ordinary life" (see 1).
Being alone for the sake of aloneness (so that no one can bother us) is of little use to anyone. Practicing solitude, though, can be very helpful as it can equip us to live more fearlessly. And if there's one thing the world needs, it's fearlessness—especially in the lives of those who desire nothing but to be a ventilating conduit of God's loving-kindness to those around them.
Merton, Thomas, "True Fruitfulness," Thomas Merton: Arranged for Daily Readings, Ed. Aileen Taylor (Springfield, IL: Templegate Publishers, 1990),31. These words were originally published in Love and Living, Ch. 1, Sec. 2.
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