“Not all of us are called to be hermits, but all of us need enough silence and solitude in our lives to enable the deeper voice of our own self to be heard at least occasionally. Thomas Merton
Here we are, stuck inside the house, or even worse… stuck inside ourselves.
Home: Rest or Activity?
As the Coronavirus stakes its deadly presence in the lives of everyone in the entire world, we find ourselves obliged to live, for a time, with the wisdom of some kind of personal quasi quarantine. And the vast majority of us, especially in urban America, know nothing of staying at home for long periods of time. It seems were are more familiar with our places of work, shopping, eating out, sports, and social gatherings than we are with the solitude of our own homes.
Anyway, our homes have become more of a functional modality (for eating, sleeping, homework, washing clothes, and TV) than a place of rest from the demands of a social and consumerist-oriented world. We know not what to do with ourselves when we are stuck at home with nothing to do!
What if we were to turn this inconvenience of “stuck at home” to moments of intentional solitude and reflection? All the great thinkers of the world seem to have embraced solitude and encouraged their followers to do the same. Albert Einstein writes, “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” In a very similar quote Mahatma Gandhi, wrote, “Solitude is the catalyst for innovation.” Comparable reflections are found by the likes of Thoreau, Seneca, Schopenhauer, and Rilke—from poets to activists to scientists.
So what about us, you and me? What do we DO when we aren’t even familiar with the discipline of solitude and intentional reflection? Oh, my guess is you can figure out the solitude piece of it, like finding a place to be alone for an hour or so. But what in the world do you do in that time when this reflection and contemplation is a new routine?
First: Control Your Own Thoughts
The first step may be the most difficult because it requires a whole new way of thinking. Pondering stressful and pressing issues in our lives are actually counter-productive. And those are our first thoughts—well, they are my first thoughts. That is why I need help.
The first thing I recommend is to find inspirational readings—not self-help—but readings that take your spirit and soul into that dimension that persuades you to ponder the grander matters of life like the meaning and purpose of your life, the legacy or footprint you would like to make on your world, the ones you love: how, why and how much more you could give and receive.
For these times I would like to offer a short reading list that has served me well in contemplation and reflection:
- Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte
- Tao Te Ching: Annotated and Explained by Derek Lin
- Seneca: Letters from a Stoic, Penguin Classics
- Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius translated by Gregory Hays
Each of these books is extremely readable and enjoyable. None will disappoint. In fact I am currently using Merton’s book in my own morning meditations.
Perhaps this is a time of opportunity for some of you to ponder the value of your life and how you might better discover pleasure and service.
Provide Strange Opportunities
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