Essay / Culture

Solitude and Silence as Spiritual Disciplines (Part I)

Throughout his writings and lectures, Dallas Willard has warned that the hardest thing to get North American people to do is nothing. The regular practice of doing nothing is crucial for spiritual growth. It keeps us from having an inflated view of our importance, it surfaces anxiety, fear, and worry along with our controlling strategies to keep from facing them, and it opens our heart to hear from our real, authentic selves and God. These benefits of solitude combined with silence—a form of “doing nothing”—are of crucial importance in today’s climate. Arguably, the most distinctive, pervasive characteristic of contemporary folk is stress. And a stressful life is one prone to depression and anxiety. So now more than ever it is important for Christians to incorporate the disciplines of solitude and silence into their regular practices.

These disciplines are absolutely fundamental to the Christian life, and they are naturally practiced in tandem. In solitude we choose to be alone and to reflect on how we experience the facets of life (our family, job, relationship with God, finances) and what they mean to us while in isolation. We unhook from companionship with others, we take ourselves physically and mentally out of our social, familial, and other human relationships.

Because one can learn to practice solitude in the anonymity of a crowd, silence is not necessary for practicing solitude, but it is a very useful aspect of it. Silence involves two aspects. First, one closes off oneself from sounds and seeks a quiet place. Second, one closes off oneself from communicating to others.

How can one learn to practice silence and solitude? In this series, I will offer some practical suggestions, realizing that there is no “thus saith the Lord” in these. It is important to find activities that work for you in learning to practice solitude and silence. Still, I have found these ideas to be immensely helpful to many of my friends and to me.

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