I come to the Garden alone while the dew is still on the roses. And the voice I hear, falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses…and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.
When people think of spiritual practice, they often think of something done all by yourself in a quiet place. That is not the only kind of spiritual practice, but solitude is important. I believe, however, that solitude is not a condition but rather an orientation.
It is possible to find solitude in the middle of a busy city, in a crowded room or in the midst of a busy household. But it does require concentration, practice and the right disposition of heart. Conversely, it is possible to be alone on a mountaintop or in a beautiful garden, or sitting in a magnificent house of worship and not be able to find anything but frustration.
Being alone and really experiencing solitude is not the same as being lonely. In fact, it is the opposite. Real solitude is an opportunity to pay deep attention to yourself and to God. Being lonely is a state of not being with yourself, of not honoring your presence and being focused on the absence of others.
To appreciate solitude, you have to be willing to turn away from the rest of the world and its concerns for a time. This is deeper than silencing your phone or using an on/off button to the world. It is conscious attention paid to your own being, to your state of mind and your connection to God.
Just as lovers are so entranced with one another that they hardly notice anyone around them, so we need to be with ourselves so deeply that we are not attending to our worries about dinner tonight, or whether we paid the gas bill, or what will happen next in Congress. In solitude we listen to ourselves and to God’s still small voice and pay attention to our own reactions.
It does take practice. The mind is like a dog that is totally distracted by the twitch of the tail of a squirrel. At first, we think that we will never be able to focus at all. But little by little, as we find that place of inner rest and peace, solitude is easier and more natural. At that point, our physical location hardly matters at all.
That said, sometimes I don’t really like my own company. Solitude, like grace and peace of mind, is not biddable. There is no magic formula that will instantly produce the state of joyful solitude, although lots of spiritual teachers will try to teach you one. Buddhists understand this best, that sometimes your time “on the mat” is just that: time. Sometimes, our attempt to achieve peace and focus fails. But only as you spend this time regularly is your soul trained for solitude.
And when the moment is right, and your being unfurls and blossoms, and you connect to God and yourself – that moment is inexpressibly precious and worth all the false starts. Deep, real, joyful solitude is its own reward.