The "Practical Spirituality" Newspaper

The Temple of Silence (Part 1)

In Conscious Living on February 19, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Solitude. It’s one of those words that seems to dwell on the fringes of our vocabulary. And our understanding. Solitude  is a strange and mysterious word. As though it’s mere mention invokes it’s shrouded meaning, obscuring any inspection of it’s true nature.

When asked to describe what ‘solitude’ means, people generally answer that it means ‘to be alone’ or ‘be by myself’. On top of this, they will probably add ‘…to be away from other people‘ indicating that there is also a distance element necessary to the experience. In fact, we believe that ‘the distance element’ is the primary cause which the effect of blissful solitude hinges upon.

Of course, when we distance ourselves from a stressful work environment and take a vacation, the problems which go along with that environment do seem to disappear and ‘not exist’. At least for awhile.

As a result, when we are away on vacation our thoughts are focused upon the good time we are having. And any feelings about our work place fade from our mind. The thoughts and feelings that belong to our work are replaced by what we are currently doing or “experiencing” – in this case, sipping on a little umbrella-clad drink by the side of a pool someplace warm.

It is true that we do gain respite by distancing ourselves from stressful situations. We do gain some sense of rest when we are away from people who get on our nerves or other things which ‘get to us’ like work, traffic, noisy children, etc. But as we know, often distancing ourselves is a temporary solution at best.

For many people, “side-stepping stress” is as far as they go in their efforts toward securing true peace in their lives. But the reality is that our stresses don’t “disappear forever” when we take leave of them. For they simply return when we come into contact with them again. Simple ignorance is not enough.

Part of the problem is that we delude ourselves into thinking that the stressful work environment we left for a week or two has somehow disappeared while we are burning ourselves a nice shade of mocha on a beach somewhere. But, the truth is that the stress associated with that part of our lives has not disappeared – it has merely been overshadowed by our current activity. And the state of mind that goes with it.

Step 1 –  To finding a solution, first acknowledge the problem.

When we see that running away from our problems and stresses is not a long term solution. When we see that our problems will return to us when we ‘come home again’, we then are ripe for asking the question – how do we find true-and-lasting peace in our lives? How do we find refuge in a world which seems to constantly bombard us, confront us, impose itself, eat at our boundaries and demand that we play a part?

Is it even possible to weather that kind of storm?

Step 2 – Honor your desire to withdraw.

The desire to seek solitude now and again is a healthy one. And natural. By being alone from time to time, we can regain balance, composure and find stability once again. Solitude helps us to ‘start over with a quiet mind and calm disposition’ and provides the strength to carry on and face the world again. If you’ll notice too, the briefest exposure is powerful enough to negate any chaos going on inside, simply by ‘taking time out’.

Step 3 – Reflect on the qualities of stillness.

When I seek solitude – or some simple peace in my life – one place I head for is the church in the centre of our city, Melbourne. Despite the hustle, bustle and clamor of cars, trams and traffic lights, this noise does not seem to penetrate the tiny building of bricks and mortar. And it should, because right outside is one of the busiest streets in our city, Elizabeth street.

For many years, I sought my moments of peace and stillness from such places. Usually from churches but occasionally from certain places in nature. I would periodically seek out such places and factor hours into my schedule ‘for spiritual refueling’. At first, I leaned on the fact that these physical environments could offer me the respite I sought. But, to rhythmically withdraw into seclusion had it’s side effects too – there were obvious ramifications on relationships – invoking ‘trust issues’ because ‘I wasn’t ( emotionally ) around’ sometimes. Work and various other areas which required steady commitment, reliability and a stable presence also suffered too. So, for a long time I was caught between two very real needs… to be at peace within myself… and to play my various roles in the ‘noisy and chaotic’ world. An imbalance of either only stressed the other, so a solution became of the highest priority! But what was the solution?

Step 4 – Spend time in your inner sanctuary.

Let’s put solitude under the emotional microscope and take a close look at it. Now, if you examine the motive behind “finding some space to be alone” you will see that it is really the desire to find peace. The motion to withdraw from an environment is really a sign that the environment has gotten on top of us in some way. And that we have lost some kind of vital bearing we feel we need to maintain emotional or mental stability.

After years of ‘periodic-withdrawal’, I realized that my movement toward ‘being alone by myself’ was really just a yearning to reconnect with myself. And that the action of taking refuge was just a way of ‘kick starting’ an inner experience.

Soon I realized that my need for solitude and privacy was not the important thing. This pang was an indicator for something else. A sign that I had become lost in the hysteria of my thoughts and emotional life. And that I needed to move toward quietening and calming myself down. And reconnect with who I was.

After awhile my craving to be alone faded. I also found that as lovely as churches are for quiet meditation, I no longer required them to find inner peace. I realized that ‘the outside world’ was not the source of my inner noise, turmoil and turbulence. It was my thoughts-about-the-outside world that were the marble that rattled inside my can. What I think about my job, my family, myself, my life – all of this contributed to the clamor which I used to blame on ‘life’ or the world around me.

In my practice of solitude; finding myself, I found that there was a stillness and peace that always exists – below the clamor of my internal world, should I stop and recognize it. With that realization as my new basis, things changed for the better.

And after many exposures to ‘treasured silence’ something must have rubbed off. I learned these things…

.1. Solitude, in essence, is not about any kind of extraction, ignorance or avoidance of your environment.

.2. The practice of Solitude is about finding that you have the ability to go within yourself while still being in the world. This is also the pursuit of meditation. To remain calm within an active environment.

.3. The aim of the exercise is not to withdraw from the world in order to find peace for yourself… but to carry the peace you have within you and place it in the world outside.

.4. Spiritual practice, in essence, is ‘pro-active’. Spirituality asks us to be ‘peace ambassadors’ and to cultivate an inner life which ‘spills’ into the lives of others. Peace, thereby becomes a tool in the hands of the enlightened.

More later…

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  1. […] The Temple of Silence (Part2) In Conscious Living on February 24, 2010 at 1:05 pm This is the second part of “The Temple of Silence” article. For the first part, click here. […]

  2. Well done! I struggled to find the right words for the latest movements. Fantastic! I’ll be sharing this with my students.
    Thank you! =>

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