13 Ways to Create a Life of Silence and Solitude
by Mark Votava
Silence and solitude has been a valuable practice for me as I have grown in my spirituality over the years. Working through the fear of being alone and with my thoughts has been something I have had to work hard to develop in myself. I am coming to see silence and solitude as both beneficial and strengthening toward my own posture of work in the world.
This practice is something I cannot live without. It is essential to my being in the world in a functional way. It helps me in community with others in everyday life.
The things I care about and am drawn to really come out within me in silence and solitude. This is how I understand what is authentic for me as I navigate some discernment in life. I am finding the kingdom of God within me through silence and solitude. This is a profound blessing and an uneasy path of breaking apart the status quo narratives that I have believed in.
Here are 13 ideas around creating a life of silence and solitude for yourself.
1. Be open to learn from the wisdom of Christ
There is so much wisdom to learn from Christ in silence and solitude. There is so much depth to experience in silence and solitude. We need not fear this in any way. We are all called into the depth of our humanity by Christ.
2. Open up to the kingdom of God within
This is the call to follow Jesus. We follow Jesus into the depths of our humanity within us. This is where we discover the kingdom of God.
3. Connect seeking God with exploring the depth of your humanity
Life cannot stop at believing. We have to cultivate a depth to our humanity through seeking God in everyday life. This is the call of the body of Christ in the place we inhabit together. Our communion with God cannot remain a static belief that is not connected to the depth of our humanity.
Sandra Maitri writes, “We suffer because we are living at a distance from our depths – it’s as simple as that…”
4. Be intentional about your own growth
Our silence and solitude shows us that there is so much more to our humanity than propositional belief. We need to seek the depth of our humanity all throughout our lives as the body of Christ in the parish. Our belief should not be a block from entering into the depths of our humanity through an intentional growth of our entire lives.
5. Take responsibility in your life
Belief is always connected to depth or it is dead. Our belief in God should lead us into the depth of our humanity. It should not be used as a cliché to keep us from taking responsibility in our lives.
6. Build the bridge between belief and depth
The mystical imagination does not allow our belief to destroy the bridge to the depth of our humanity. Our silence and solitude builds this bridge between belief and depth.
7. Have a sense of courage
Jenna Smith states, “Depth can be a scary thing…”
8. Engage the imagination
We need to have the courage to face the depth of our humanity, the potential, the opportunities, the unknown, the fear and the struggle to be marginalized in a world that lives at a shallow level a lot of the time. Depth opens the imagination in fascinating ways.
9. Embrace a listening spirit
We practice silence and solitude to seek God in everyday life together. As we seek God in this way, we are creating a depth to our humanity. Our silence and solitude prepares us to embrace a listening spirit. There is so much God is wanting to communicate to us, but many times our lives are too loud to understand.
10. Never stop seeking God in some way
We must never stop seeking God in silence and solitude in the place we inhabit. If we stop seeking God, we will stop living. If we stop seeking God, we will disappear.
If we stop seeking God, we will not exist. We will be a human body with no life within. The mystical imagination always seeks God.
11. Do not cling to a silence you think you have found
Twentieth century influential writer Thomas Merton says, “For inner silence depends on a continual seeking, a continual crying in the night, a repeated bending over the abyss. If we cling to a silence we think we have found forever, we stop seeking God and the silence goes dead within us…”
12. Develop an experiential maturity within
The noise within us needs to stop or will never listen long enough to embrace the depth of our humanity and develop an experiential maturity within. The depth of our humanity is at risk within us if we do not practice silence and solitude. Our silence and solitude is our sanity in this life.
13. Be creative in your listening and communion
It is how we listen to the depth of our humanity. It is how we commune with God. It is how we experience life in creative ways.
What is the most difficult part of silence and solitude for you? Is it a fast paced life or too much noise in your head?
My new book The Mystical Imagination: Seeing the Sacredness of All of Life (2015) is finally done! It is available on kindle and paperback!
“Our crowded, overly-consumed, hyper-active, digitally-addicted lifestyle is draining the life out of us. We are desperate to transcend the chaos and find a better way to live. We need a mystical imagination. Get ready to be transported into the depths of meaning as Votava breaks open the contemplative path and shows you how to live your life to the fullest.” Phileena Heuertz, author of Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life and founding partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism
My first book The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together (2014) is available on kindle and paperback also!
“Inside everyone there is a longing for community, to love and be loved. We are made in the image of a communal God. But in out hyper-mobile, individualistic, cluttered world… community is an endangered thing. And community is like working out – it takes work, sweat, discipline… without that our muscles atrophy. Everybody wants to be fit, but not too many people want to do the work to get there. Mark’s book is sort of a workout manual, helping you rediscover your communal muscles and start building them up slowly. It is an invitation to live deep in a shallow world.” Shane Claiborne, author and activist