The spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude provide a great place to learn to become a noticer. I call noticing an art because just like any other art, it takes deliberate and intentional practice.
The key to entering into silence and solitude begins with a willingness to abandon all distractions. Silence and solitude are an invitation to search and explore both the outward and inward dynamics of our hearts that we work so hard to ignore. Practicing silence and solitude is risky business because it pushes us beyond our comfort level, and it challenges us to find contentment in being alone. You should begin the practice with a few minutes each day.
In the quest to make sense of loss, we are continually distracted from what’s really important. The clamor in our minds keeps us from settling into the presence of God. Being mindful requires that we slow down long enough to experience those internal and external cues in our lives. The internal awareness is the music of our hearts, and it’s expressed through the outflow of our emotions. Our minds struggle to keep a tight rein on emotion, instructing us not to cry. But tears are the heart’s attempt at healing, watering the dry and arid places of the soul and bringing us back to life and feeling. Our feelings are trying to expose our pain; we must not do them the injustice of denial.
Embarking on this journey requires quieting the mind and body, adopting an external awareness of what affects the five senses from our environment. I give my clients the following instructions as they learn to sit quietly:
- Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit without any distractions.
- Quiet the mind and body. Close your eyes if you like.
- Scan the body for tension. What parts of your body come into awareness?
- Notice the breath. Is it shallow or rapid?
- Slow the breath by taking a deep breath in, and exhaling slowly through the mouth. Do this for several breaths, noticing the feeling of calmness.
- Scan the body again for tension. Do you notice tight muscles? If so, tighten and relax each muscle group by tensing and contracting.
- Ask yourself: How does doing the difficult work of grief feel in your body? What do you notice in the world around you that causes difficulty? How do you respond?
- Notice your breathing again.
- Slow the breath. Inhale, hold, and exhale slowly.
- Notice any emotions that come up. Make no judgments about them, instead, talk to the Father about them.
- Wait on God. Use no time constraints.
- Sit with your feelings, even if they are uncomfortable or painful.
- Put words to your feelings.
Then we practice noticing, we learn to slow down the mind and give space for learning from our experiences, thoughts, and feelings. This gives space to interact with our thoughts by simply accepting them and finding out what messages they may be trying to communicate about what lies deep within. Practicing silence and solitude gives space for attention outwardly and inwardly to that which we usually ignore, and provides a beautiful segue for listening and learning.
Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.”
There is a knowing and a power that comes with stillness. The disciplines were given as gifts of refreshment meant to restore and nourish our souls. When we cease all our striving and calm our minds, we may notice that we can actually listen for the voice of God and receive what He has promised, that “In Your presence there is fullness of joy.”
The most important part of the grief work we do takes place in these quiet moments of silence and solitude—alone with God. It is there that he helps us uncover our deepest fears, and speaks to them in a way no one else can. In those moments spent alone with God, we find out who we are and what we’re made of. But most importantly, we find out who He is and that our hearts really do matter to him.
Rita Schulte is a licensed professional board certified counselor. She received her B.S. in psychology and a master’s degree in counseling from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. Rita has a private practice with offices in Fairfax and Manassas Virginia where she specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, anxiety and depressive disorders as well as grief and loss issues. In April, 2011 she launched “Heartline Podcast where she talks with top leaders in the Christian counseling and literary world about cutting edge issues affecting the hearts and lives of people today. She also airs a 1 minute devotional spot Consider This on 90.5 FM in NC and 90.9 FM in Lynchburg, VA. Heartline airs on Saturday evenings on 90.5 FM NC and will be heard on Christian Life Internet Radio in the coming months. Her book, Sifted As Wheat: finding hope and healing through the losses of life is currently with Hartline Literary Agency. You can follow her at http://www.siftedaswheat.com or Twitter at Heartlinepod.
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