Monday 17 April 2017

Solitude, Stillness and Silence...

How many times have you looked at your phone today? No idea? Me neither. This is most likely because we check and recheck it so often that are no longer aware of how often we do it. It's become a habit maybe even an addiction and we're not alone in this.

Recently I've started thinking a lot about solitude, stillness and silence and how to find these in the midst of all the noise and distraction of modern life. Yes, even Friars are not immune to all of that. Today we are often connected to the point of distraction, disconnection and even isolation. Yet, at our very core we crave something else.

As humans we are on a life-long quest to find meaning and to find ourselves. We search, struggle and succeed in various ways. We form bonds with others, we learn from mistakes and we create so as to make our mark. We do. In all of this doing we can loose sight of our ability to just be; who we are, right now. Being with who we are can be a frightening place at times and a place we don't like to visit too often and so we keep ourselves distracted with work, tv, sports, phones, laptops...the list goes on. None of us are immune. It's a symptom of the modern world and it may also be something that's making us deeply unhappy and even unwell.

I work in a secondary school and a good amount of my time is spent teaching students the benefits of meditation. As we begin, I invite them to begin to allow stillness and silence emerge and often they look at me with a mix of puzzlement and fear. Stillness and silence can be scary and so I assure them that nobody has every been injured or harmed by a meditative stillness or silence! I often go on to explain to them that silence is different from being quiet. When we're told to be quiet we have to stop doing something that we are doing and oftentimes this forcing down of our self-expression sparks an internal noise masked by our external quietness. Of course, removing noise or an obvious distraction is a necessary first step on the road to silence however it's not the entire journey. Silence is different because silence is always present. As we begin to still ourselves and allow the internal and external noise to settle, silence emerges.

Silence and stillness may seem like an unaffordable luxury at times, yet it is quite the opposite. We need it. Our minds need it as do our souls. We need it to allow our mind process all the information we pick up every second of the day. We need it to allow our soul express its inner most longings. We need it because its an essential part of who we are. Silence and stillness are valuable commodities in today's always-switched-on-world. Yes, we need to create space but in order for us to do that, in a sustainable way, we need to recognise our deep longing for them.

Saint Francis of Assisi knew the importance of solitude, stillness and silence. He often took himself off to isolated places high in the hills to find it. Even for St Francis it was often hard to find. Even when he couldn't go to these places, Francis often covered his face with his hands or pulled his hood over his head to create a small place of solitude wherein he could allow silence emerge. He knew what was essential. He knew that silence and stillness in a place of solitude allowed him to refocus and reorientate himself so as to better respond to the needs of the brothers and those he ministered to. And it was in these places of solitude, stillness and silence that he communicate with God on a very deep and personal level. God, like silence is always present. Our job is to create the space necessary to allow His Presence emerge.

Factoring times of solitude, stillness and silence into our daily routine will benefit our well-being, relationships, ability to connect with others at a deeper level, our sleep, blood pressure, stress levels, appetite, world view and so much more. And the amazing thing is, it's already there. All we have to do, is not do...for a while. Try it. You won't be disappointed.

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