Valuing Rest: Experiencing Solitude…

I am learning a lot about rest, and solitude recently… and it hasn’t been particularly easy 🙂 Mostly because I get BORED, and ANXIOUS, and just generally AGITATED. Which seems to indicate that it’s probably a good thing to pay attention to… 😉

A good friend sent me this quote from Henri Nouwen recently:

“As soon as we are alone…inner chaos opens up in us. This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again. Entering a private room and shutting the door, therefore, does not mean that we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings and impulsive desires. On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distraction, we often find that our inner distraction manifest themselves to us in full force. We often use the outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important.”

True enough Henri! It is astounding to me the “noise” of my inner self, and the internal discomfort that opens up when I am alone for too long. I have always enjoyed some time alone, and in fact, found it to be restorative and energizing, but my challenge comes when I have more time alone that I might like. And usually, that line is when the internal noise starts to get … well, noisy.

We live in spaces that are full of external noise, traffic, cell phones, music, TV. Even in our refuge or our homes, we use noise to keep ourselves company, to avoid the loneliness and absence of quiet. Sometimes of course, this is just fine – of course, you can’t dance in the kitchen without the music on! 😉 But sometimes, and we all know when that is for us, we use noise to drown out the agitation inside of us.

The same is true of our time, we fill it with people to visit, things to do, committees to participate in, and people who need us. We like to feel useful and productive, and again, this is just fine – but we all know when we cross over and are sitting with others to avoid sitting with ourselves.

I am learning this about myself, and realising just how much I do this. How much I like to use noise, activity, busyness to fill that space inside of me. And I’m realising that it makes me feel good about myself. I am useful. I am interesting. I am wanted. I am needed. I am productive. I am valued. Give me a weekend with no plans, and all that goes to pot… I am anxious, I am unwanted, I am uninteresting, I am unnecessary.

So how can I quiet the space, and sit with the uncomfortable feelings? The annoying answer, is you just do. You slow down, you rest, you create space, and when the feelings come, you sit with them. Like a gentle grandma, you welcome them, even though they are like spoiled, little, attention-seeking brats. You welcome them, you sit with them, and eventually, they relax with you and you with them. It’s that simple, and it’s that difficult.

So, I am engaging in the practice of rest, and of solitude. I call it practice, because that’s what it is for me. I am learning how to do it, and how to enjoy it. I am learning how to be in it, without it defining me and changing my understanding of my worth and value. But let me be clear, I am in a place and time of my life where I am “building a community” or in other words, I am making friends and finding ways to make Mwanza my home. As a result, some of the time, it is not a choice to be alone and step into solitude. Sometimes, circumstance necessitates it and that’s where the rubber hits the road for me. Can I find peace in unwanted solitude?  Can I sit with the internal noise and wait for it to relax? Can I find energy and joy in rest and quiet?

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on rest and solitude. Feel free to comment and feedback, all thoughts are welcome 🙂

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