The Lifelong Process of Understanding  

by Mark Votava


I have been on a path to understanding myself for the past two decades.  It all started back in the early 90’s.  It has felt confusing, difficult and impossible at times.  I have recognized that my own humanity is very complex and has very deep levels that I do not always fully understand.

I crave food, sleep, sex, comfort, rest, companionship with others, rhythms, integration, mission, learning, thinking, contemplating, silence, meaningful work, healing from pain, freedom from anger, the disappearance of sadness, looking good, cleanliness, exercise, leisure, celebration, touch, affirmation, happiness, money, possessions and fun experiences.

  •  Listening in silence and solitude

In the midst of sorting out what is a healthy expression of my humanity, I have had to cultivate a practice of listening in silence and solitude.  There are boundaries, liberties and limitation to all the things I experience within myself.  My silence and solitude has helped me to discern what is going on inside of me.

  •  Asking the hard questions within myself

I ask the hard questions within myself constantly to try to understand myself.  I have gotten much better at this over the years, but it is a lifelong process of working out my identity in the parish.

  •  Deepening our own self-understanding

Thomas Merton writes in his book Contemplation in a World of Action, “He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love will not have anything to give others.  He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas…”

  •  Understanding ourselves

Understanding ourselves is so important to becoming our true self.  Understanding ourselves is a connection point in our relational context.  The more we understand ourselves, the more ability we will have to live relationally in our local community.  When we are on the path of self-understanding, we will start to experience our spirituality more holistically.

  •  Our awareness becomes alive and free

Our awareness becomes alive and free within the mystical imagination.  Our awareness leads us deeper into ourselves and the place we inhabit together.  Silence and solitude creates this self-understanding, this awareness.

  • Becoming whole and centered

Phileena Heuertz says in her wonderful book Pilgrimage of a Soul, “Self-Awareness is central to becoming whole and connected…” 

  •  Looking inside ourselves

If we are not connected to one another in our local context, it is because we are not seeking to look inside of ourselves.  We are not seeking to understand ourselves.  Our awareness of this could change everything within us in the parish.

  •  Our creation in the true self

Silence and solitude is where our identity will not be split into multiple identities.  If we are to embody compassion in our local community, we cannot have multiple identities at the core of who we are.  Our identity needs to be holistically one with our creation in the true self.

  •  Solitude and identity

Henri J.M. Nouwen writes, “Solitude is the place where we find our identity…” 

  •  Cultivating our identity

In the practice of silence and solitude, we will experience our identity.  This is where we will cultivate our identity.  We will cultivate an understanding of ourselves in this way.

  •  Awareness, understanding, integration

Our identity will be integrated with our humanity.  Our humanity will be integrated with the place we inhabit as the body of Christ together.  We will have a hard time finding our identity outside of our practice of silence and solitude.  Our silence and solitude gives us this awareness and understanding.

  •  Intentionality, seriousness, intensity

Our identity needs the mystical imagination that comes from our silence and solitude.  The mystical imagination has an identity that is one with our humanity in the parish.  Silence and solitude need to be practiced with intentionality, seriousness and intensity.  We will never discover our true self that makes up our identity otherwise.

How can we become more self-aware through silence and solitude?