Had I not accepted an unusual challenge during my senior year of college, I doubt I’d be currently aware of how my heart longs for quiet.
The challenge was to choose a spiritual discipline I’d never intentionally practiced before and find a way to observe it for one week.
The list included disciplines I was well acquainted with, such as prayer, fasting, and meditation. As I read on, I began to wonder if there was a spiritual discipline unfamiliar to me. When I read “Solitude” I honestly had to admit I didn’t even know what practicing solitude meant. All I could picture was living in the wilderness, wearing a brown robe cinched with a rope, and making my own butter.
The whole idea seemed highly impractical, but I do love a challenge.
The year was 2001. At the time, I owned a cell phone but for emergencies only. Because it seemed like such a novelty, I constantly told myself it cost $220 per minute to use (which it might have because I was most definitely roaming where I went to school) so it just took up space in my purse. The internet was up and running, but when writing research papers one still needed to cite real books. Email had become a thing, yet my friends and I utilized it to write each other letters. Upon receiving an email, I would print it out and save it in a special shoebox where I also kept my handwritten notes from friends and family. While I owned a television, I didn’t purchase cable, so I could really only use the VCR unless I wanted to watch something badly enough to get the tin foil out and begin problem solving to make our antenna work. AOL Instant Messenger was new and, on occasion, I would chat with a few friends who had it. LOL was the only initialism I recall ever reading, and I never once used it myself.
When I decided to practice solitude I knew I needed to set guidelines for myself. At the time, I lived off campus and had a week where I was staying alone. My classes were scheduled on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I was only taking a few credits as I had already met most of my graduation requirements. With this schedule, I realized I could avoid contact with people five out of seven days. I also chose to eliminate listening to any music, watching any screens, and any use of the phone. Having completed all of my final papers, I had already packed my computer up and sent it home. Therefore, I had no internet. Believe it or not, while I didn’t make a rule for this, I also don’t remember reading nonfiction books.
Given I spent most of my time alone that week, and that I had been struggling with loneliness going into the week, one might wonder what I did with my time.
I still wonder that. I remember reading, journaling, cooking, and cleaning. I remember life becoming peaceful, my heart becoming light, and time passing fast.
Toward the end of the week, I was surprised to realize I was no longer lonely. In fact, I wanted to find a way to extend my week of solitude. My heart had found the very quiet it needed. Which was the quiet I had been robbing myself of out of fear- the quiet I usually spent my hours distracting myself from.
Human connections are imperative for all of us. Yet, when I deny myself of solitude, my relationships suffer. I’m too scattered to listen and respond well.
Social media and email are tools, and in order to use them to enhance connections, I need to set the rules.
I don’t want to live distracted by ads, text notifications, social media, and email.
At this point in my life, a week of solitude seems nearly impossible. Still, I know I need to make some changes to quiet my heart. Last week, I made a social media schedule for myself. According to this schedule, I should not be on social media during one minute I would otherwise be spending with my children. I also purchased an ancient word processor to write on so I’m focused during time I’ve chiseled out for writing.
I took these measures after hearing my three-year-old ask me three times before his words began to register, “Mommy, are you listening to me?”
He shouldn’t have to wonder.
My life is complicated enough. At times I am distracted by weighty matters that seem like threats to my family’s well-being. With or without social media, there will always be times I have difficulty being present for my loved ones.
I do have the power to limit distractions.
When I am brave enough to use that power, I’m free to carve out fragments of quiet I once believed were unobtainable as a parent.
As a result, I’m more present with my loved ones- something our hearts mutually desire.
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