Saturday, July 26, 2008
From Loneliness to Solitude
I have been reading a great little book lately entitled Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen. I am truly amazed at how this little book written around thirty years ago is so relevant today. One part of the book that seems to really speak profoundly to our times is when Nouwen writes about moving from loneliness to solitude.
“By running away from our loneliness and by trying to distract ourselves with people and special experiences, we do not realistically deal with our human predicament. We are in danger of becoming unhappy people suffering from many unsatisfied cravings and tortured by desires and expectations that never can be fulfilled. Does not all creativity ask for a certain encounter with our loneliness, and does not the fear of this encounter severely limit our possible self expression?” –Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out (P28) http://www.amazon.com/Reaching-Out-Henri-Nouwen/dp/0006280862/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1217086300&sr=8-1
When I read these words I cannot help but wonder how so many of the things I busy myself with whether internet or emails, or ipods or books, or reality TV shows can so easily become distractions from confronting my fears of loneliness not too unlike the alcoholic or drug addict whose only thoughts about the immediate future are how to get enough euphoria-producing chemicals lined up so that he or she will not have to face the screaming silence inside. My addiction to the distractions of the modern world is evidenced by how hard it is for me to simply sit for any length of time in silence, and this is not good, because it stunts my ability to connect with what’s going on the inside and furthermore my capacity to connect with God and other people.
In the last few months I have made a conscious attempt to listen to less music, to read slower, to get outside more, to check my emails later in the mornings; I am finding that by making an effort at putting away distractions I am slowly beginning to confront that place of loneliness within and replacing it with solitude of heart.
The irony of our modern world is that it promises connection but only brings further fragmentation. The spiritual irony is that solitude of heart, achieved by purposefully eliminating pain-numbing distractions (even when they promise connection) actually connects us in a more meaningful way with ourselves and others.