What is solitude?

Solitude is voluntary aloneness with the desired purpose in mind. A kind of self-imposed aloneness.
For the Christian, solitude begins with a time and place for God and God alone.
While teaching about prayer, Jesus Christ instructed as follows:
“Go to your private room and, when you have shut the door, pray to your father who is in secret” Matt 6:6. This is solitude per excellence.
In today’s busy world, it is not easy to have some solitude. There is so much going on within us, around us, and about us that it is almost impossible to have any quiet time.
Many of us have lived this busy way of life for so long that even though we don’t enjoy running around, we are scared of being alone, not physically of course.

Challenges of Solitude
The challenges of solitude may be likened to the experience of someone who has lived his entire life with his doors always open, but suddenly decides to shut them. Visitors who used to just walk in and out will now start pounding on the doors, wondering what is happening.
When the doors remain closed despite their persistent knocks, these visitors begin to back off until eventually, they stop coming. So it is with anyone determined to have some solitude.

Obstacles to Solitude
Obstacles to solitude are known as distractions, and they exist at two levels: external and internal.
These are distractions that come through the five senses, and all one needs to do to escape them is to insulate the senses from them. One can isolate or lock him/herself up, go to the mountain or wilderness, etc., but the moment the external distractions are suppressed, the internal distractions immediately surface.
These are involuntary thoughts that swirl in the mind, which we often struggle to suppress. Their origins may be known or unknown.
Self-isolation through blocking the senses from the environment does not shut out internal distractions like anxieties, fears, bad memories, anger, conflicts, jealousy, and many other pressing internal pressures.

Generally, we tend to cover up internal distractions with external ones, which explains why we don’t like to be without some form of entertainment and external distractions. We dread being without our phone, television, music, movie, social media, etc., and long to keep our five senses engaged. Since we become what we occupy our mind with, our destiny becomes tied to our embrace or rejection of solitude.

Benefits of Solitude
The first benefit of solitude is that it affords time to think, and because thinking is the starting point of progress, solitude can become the beginning of a transformed destiny. Remember that thinking is creative; positive or negative.
Secondly, solitude is often restful for the physical body because usually, the body is not busy running around in the physical environment. During solitude, thinking capacity is enhanced and developed.

Cultivating A Lifestyle of Solitude
Since solitude involves devising a deliberate plan to be alone, here are a few suggestions to help you develop a lifestyle of solitude.
1. Devote at least a quarter-hour a day to prayer and meditation.
2. Train yourself to give the first thought on awakening to God.
3. Resolutely turn your back on the past, good, and bad, and live only in the present.
4. Forgive everybody without exception, no matter what they may have done, and …then forgive YOU whole-heartedly.
5. Endeavor to make your life of as much service to others as possible.
6. Start with a few minutes a day, and gradually increase the duration to an hour a day, gradually increasing it until you can go as far as several days of solitude per year.
What To Do
What do we do with the solitude once we’ve gotten to the point where we can go into it at will? Great men of faith who have perfected the practice tell us that the next thing is to develop attentiveness to God’s voice within us, with emphasis on WITHIN.

In the quietness of solitude, it is very easy to revert to our previous state and be hyper-sensitive to external voices and distractions, but we need to still our senses and be sensitive to the voice of God, not by the physical ear, but the voice discernible by the subconscious mind.

It is only when we have been grounded in God sufficiently that we can allow others into our hearts and allow them the freedom to be part of our lives without being threatened, threatening, or demanding but rather inviting and liberating.

Let me conclude with this quote from the 19th-century philosopher Schopenhauer: A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; … if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is truly free.”

James Aremu-Cole

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