We are often encouraged to spend time alone. I am one of the voices that strongly advocate that. Over the centuries Silence, solitude and simplicity have been heralded as foundations of Christian growth and spiritual advancement but in our section of history, today, they are looked upon as being out of sync with all that life is in this busy world. Is there still value in pursuing these things.
Over my life I have spent lots of time alone.
You can spend time alone but still have many distractions like music, TV, computers, books etc. But to really find silence, solitude and simplicity you need to be in a place where there is just you and the natural world.
Time alone in nature like this brings you into another world. Things are removed and awareness of hidden thing is transacted. Life comes down to some basic realities, some that aren’t able to be realised until you’ve been there for some time. Then you bring these perspectives back into your life in a busy world and it can be of very great benefit at a heart level of life. I just want to write down a few things that I have realised while alone in the wilderness and while I have therefore been immersed in natures revelation of God.
1) While alone your name becomes insignificant.
Our names are given to us when we are born and there is no indication of what we will become as we grow. Even if our names were given to us with a meaning – for most western names, we can find dubious meanings for them in dubiously authoritative writings – our parents had no idea of when we were named or of what we would turn out like and so the names are randomly appointed with no descriptive value. Our names are only given to us because of our need to relate to others. When alone your name is superfluous.
I have wondered in my relationship with nature though what would it name me. I have spent so much time there it must have seen me and in it’s own discussions observing me what would it think is a name that would describe what it has seen in me. Maybe a more appropriate name than the one my parents gave me. Maybe closer to what God would call me. Most people have no hope of nature naming them. Nature doesn’t know them enough.
With time spent alone there comes an awareness that all that the hustle and bustle of childhood friends, youthful adventures with others, your wider family interactions and work friends and the way they have all looked at you down the years and defined you drifts away as a mist and disappears and you are left with, you and you. You looking at you! But you don’t really look at yourself, you just feel your presence alongside. You don’t come to this in the early stages of being alone. It won’t happen in the first periods of aloneness. You will be too shocked, impatient for things to happen, distracted by what you are missing out on etc. Days will seem long, too long and like the sugar addict off sugar you will feel only the lacks. But in time you come to be separated from all of that and the new world appears. Then you see yourself rather than yourself as a product of the busy world. In that world your name was very important but in this one not only irrelevant but alien! It feels like it belongs to someone else.
2) When alone your appearance becomes irrelevant.
Unless you have a mirror you will lose all interest in your appearance. If you have a mirror when alone after a short while you will not want it. Most of that is relationship with other humans oriented. For comforts sake you will put a comb through your hair and cut your finger and toe nails but when alone your awareness is forced to be other than your body; unless of course you hurt it. But when the pain is gone you forget it again.
As many people who have spent much time alone have said almost with the same words, ‘when alone you become an eye’. You move about seeing as your dominant awareness of existence. In time this sense will cease to feel like a part of you and will become you. Your connection with nature is your eyes. Smell and hearing become acute too but it is your eyes that are operative all the time. And the more you are alone the more you will become incredibly detailed in what you see. On first opening your eyes as you look across the river you will notice a grey warbler fifty yards away sitting on a branch. It will stand out to you. The piece of driftwood that is a battered old piece of something man made will clash in your brain as being out of place. It’s too square. You will see the sunlight glittering off water and watch it for half an hour because of it’s beauty. Why look away! It’s beauty saturates into you and it’s not till many minutes have passed that you drop into it more deeply. Your heart can break with joy sometimes at the things your eye brings to you. Your appearance becomes irrelevant. The things your eye brings to you become your world. When another person suddenly appears it’s like a cannon going off clashing with nature. But your eye will see them as they don’t see themselves either. When alone you merge into and become part of your surroundings. It’s a relationship that is not available when other people are bustling you.
3) When alone the past and the future shorten.
It’s strange that when alone for long periods yesterday and tomorrow lose significance. You simply don’t have any interest in what happened yesterday. It’s today, it’s now. There is nothing that happened yesterday that has any importance for today. You don’t need yesterday for anything. So much of our awareness of the yesterdays of our lives are when we are in conversation with others and are letting them know what we have been doing. What has happened. Where we are at now and how we got here. What others have been doing etc. When alone yesterday has gone in a way that doesn’t happen when in life with others there.
Also the future shortens down drastically. Dreams of the future usually come down to what I might do tomorrow and that’s about as far as it goes. Maybe when the weather locks you in you will develop plans for when that weather clears but thinking weeks, months or years ahead, even into your life in society, is non existent. Life becomes what I am experiencing now, what I am doing this hour, where I will go this day, what I will eat and where I will sleep tonight with a simple idea of things I ‘might’ do tomorrow. Life becomes very simple!