Silence and Solitude: Tools of the Soul

For the past three days I’ve been attending a work-related conference on health communication, marketing and media. As you might expect, almost every session refers to the “new media” tools used to communicate in today’s digital world.  “Facebook and Twitter” is spoken as a single word, and it’s invariably followed by other social media tools used both to communicate and measure that communication. Topics such as “engagement,” “reach,” “influencing,” and being “connected” with one’s target audience are pervasive.

A monarch butterfly enjoys the garden at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

I get that this is the world in which we live. I also understand that these tools are just that — tools in a larger toolbox that has been around since the first humans realized that they were not alone, that there were others like them, and that they wanted to reach out to others, interact with others, and be connected. The need and desire for human connectedness is even more self-evident than the truths penned by Thomas Jefferson; we are social beings, and we want to know one another, to interact with one another, to touch one another.

Yet, in the midst of all the talk of connectedness, I’ve found myself these past days seeking and relishing moments of quiet and solitude. And by that I don’t mean time simply alone.  As a single man I have lots of that! I am by myself more than I am with others, and so the need I’ve been experiencing went beyond that. I’ve been experiencing a need to be “disconnected” from all the texts and tweets and emails and surfing and simple “noise” that at times can be so very overwhelming.  Perhaps that’s why I find myself now — in the middle of the night — sitting in the silence of a darkened hotel room, relishing the silence and the opportunity to be alone in a deeper, more profound way.

A large bird — is it a vulture? — flies overhead at Monticello.

Silence and solitude are tools, too. They are not the tools of social engagement, but are the tools of the soul. Without our occasional (dare I say regular?!) forays into silence and solitude, our souls in shyness can become bewildered. When we are so utterly “connected” and so constantly engaged with an outward gaze, we can lose the necessary perspective that an inward gaze provides. We can lose touch with the deepest part of who we are, or even forget that there is a part of who we are that doesn’t need our gadgets and technologies.  What I’m speaking of is not so much the need to be disconnected from that which is outside of us, but rather the need to be equally connected with that which is within us. Deeper connection with myself, and with the Other Whom I find in the quiet depths of my soul forms and informs and blesses my connections with others.

Even more than FB and Twitter, Silence and Solitude are tools everyone can use (and there’s no username of password required!).

Aloneness, Solitude, and Community

I often struggle with loneliness.  Despite the fact that I have lived alone for the past ten years, the solitariness of being single is at times overwhelming.  In his meditation for January 22 in Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith, the late Henry Nouwen has this to offer:

Community Supported by Solitude

Solitude greeting solitude, that’s what community is all about. Community is not the place where we are no longer alone but the place where we respect, protect and reverently greet one another’s aloneness.  When we allow our aloneness to lead us into solitude, our solitude will enable us to rejoice in the solitude of others. Our solitude roots us in our own hearts.  Instead of making us yearn for company that will offer us immediate satisfaction, solitude makes us claim our center and empowers us to call others to claim theirs. Our various solitudes are like strong, straight pillars that hold up the roof of our communal house. Thus, solitude always strengthens community.

I venture that Nouwen would also say the layer between solitude and community — relationship with another — is likewise nurtured by the fruits of allowing our aloneness to lead us into solitude.  When we know and are at home at that center where we can breathe deeply and profoundly and simply be who we are — it is then that we are best able to move beyond our center and relate with the “other.”

And in this relating, Love lives most fully.



All Images © 2012 Timothy MacGeorge