In emails from friends, in blog posts, in discussions over tea, more and more often lately I’m noticing certain words:
In poetry and books of prose, in conversations at the grocery store, in magazines, there they are again:
Is it just that I happen to notice these particular words? Is it because they all begin with S, and I love alliteration? Or are these words slowly becoming more important in all our thoughts?
Are we becoming more aware of our lack of spaces for emptiness and quiet? Am I hearing appeals for, longings for, these simple states of being?
Here’s what I think: There is a STILLNESS that is different from silence. This stillness is a quieting of the mind and the body in the midst of mental chatter and bustling schedules. This stillness is refreshing.
The SILENCE we seek is the absence of human-made sounds, those produced by electronic devices or motorized vehicles or even sounds spoken or sung. We long for vibrations made by nature, like bird calls and wind through pines, rainfall and river song, bumble bees and hummingbird flight.
I understand SOLITUDE as that sort of being alone that is not lonely, but filled with the opportunity to listen for the whisper of the Divine. Solitude is a rest from interacting with others, a celebration of sabbath not because it’s required but because it nourishes.
Yesterday I received an email from a friend who has arrived in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, after a month as a pilgrim walking the Camino de Santiago. Sadly, the Camino has become such a popular “vacation destination” that there was little sense of solitude about it for her. She writes, “It seems that the longer I am gone the more I become protective of my private spaces.” Even in the midst of a “pilgrimage” she hungers for more solitude and stillness and silence.
A few weeks ago a friend and I rented a cottage for a three-day writing retreat. We decided to do no cooking, just snack when we felt like it. We brought crackers, peanut butter, string cheese, apples, granola, and bananas. We each claimed a corner of the common space for our writing, spending hours in stillness and silence. For long stretches of time we were either unaware of each other, or present in a nonintrusive way. It was a delicious, creative, and nourishing time.
As I’ve been pondering them, I realize that stillness, silence, and solitude are opportunities that come with a privileged life. For people who are wage-earners, those who have children to raise or loved ones to care for, those who don’t have the luxury of disappearing from their daily routines, some of their most creative work may be finding a fragment of time here or there in which to experience such gifts. (I remember when, as a young mother with three children under the age of four, the most creative thing I could do to nourish my soul was to lock myself in the bathroom for five minutes and just breathe!)
I grieve for the millions of people crammed into crowded refugee camps and tenements and homeless shelters, who are denied even a moment of the blessings of stillness, silence, and solitude.
I don’t have any conclusions to draw from these thoughts. I have only the certainty that these gifts are profoundly precious, and I commit myself to appreciating as much of each of them as my days can hold.