The desert, the wilderness, can be a silent, solitary place. A place where we can go, whether physically or internally, to escape. And sometimes, if you’re like me, you crave that empty, vast space of nothingness as a place of retreat and rest.
Some people literally go to the desert, or to a cabin in the woods, or a cottage by the sea to get away. Seeking that peace and quiet. And, I mean, how great does that sound? Who doesn’t want to get away and recharge? who doesn’t want to escape the noise and commotion of regular, crazy, busy life?
Imagine it. A wide open space. Dirt. Sand. Mountains off in the distance. And so much sky you can’t even take it all in. I absolutely love the desert… at least the deserts of the southwestern USA, the deserts I have visited a few times. Sadly, it’s not very often that I am able to feel that free, solitary, quiet feeling of the desert.
More often, I am able to experience that silent space near water. On the ocean, by the sea, looking out over the vast waters that stretch out to the horizon. Or on a mountaintop, looking out over the world below. Only air + sky surrounding me. Or even deep in a forest, trees surrounding me as if hugging + embracing me + bringing me into their magical fold.
Perhaps that’s the feeling that I get in when I enter a great cathedral as well. The sheer vastness of the intricate beauty. The space and the air from the floor to the top of the ceiling. The openness, the solitude, the quiet.
Come to think of it, meditation is the inner space of solitude + wilderness.
It is the desert, the mountain, the sea of the soul. Here, when I slow down + breathe deeply, I discover those same feelings of deep connection, solitude and the peace that I seek in the physical, earthly places that inspire me.
All of these spaces, whether out in the wild west or in enclosed sanctuary of a cathedral or deep within the truth of my soul, evoke a sense of quiet, intentional wonder + awe. And I go to these places in order to bask in the silence. To reconnect. To find shelter and quiet and peace.
But, it ain’t always quiet. In fact, though these places are often solitary, they are rarely quiet. Coyotes howl in the desert. Birds chirp + caw on the top of the mountain. Waves lap and crash in the ocean. Cathedrals are places for people to wander and pray. And my mind… well, it never shuts off. Especially when meditating.
The other day, as I entered the cathedral, I was immediately greeted with a sign:
Yessssss… I thought to myself. Finally, a chance to step away from the rest of life for just a few minutes, sit in a sacred space, and just be quiet.
Ummm… not exactly. It just so happened that as I made my way down the center aisle and slid into a pew, voices, tons of voices, started heading my way. I could see no people, but there was definitely a group somewhere nearby. Talking and mumbling and walking and laughing and carrying on. It wasn’t long before I understood that it was a school group taking a tour. And, as they were on the move from one pace to another, they were, well, LOUD.
Gaaaah. Typical, I thought.
And, oh lordy, was I irritated. All I wanted was silence. All I wanted was for my surroundings to be super quiet so I could just be. For things outside of me to settle down, so that my inside could settle as well.
It didn’t happen. I soon realized that they would be taking this tour longer than I would be able to stay in the pew, as I had to get back to work.
So, I accepted that fact. And, then what I did next, surprised me.
I decided to close my eyes and just start breathing. I didn’t try to block out or ignore the noises of the teenagers chatting, the feet moving through cathedral, the shrill voice of the woman explaining to the class what they were seeing. But, I also didn’t listen to it. I simply acknowledged it as a part of my experience.
And, then, I remembered. It’s never really silent anywhere, at any time. So, the goal is not the create a vacuum of silence and solitude, because that isn’t really realistic. To find the silence that I crave, all I have to do is realize that I carry it with me. Wherever I go.
I can accept the noise, and still feel the silence.
The peace that I seek in the wilderness, which is actually never a silent place, is found right in the middle of it all. What I mean is that peace is not the absence of chaos, it is the calm right in the middle of life. Ultimately, it matters not what my external circumstances are, where I am, how much noise there is, who is close by… what matters is how I embrace it all.
What I mean is that I do not ignore and try to push away everything. I do not try to retreat and escape and empty. Instead, I seek to be mindful. Instead of fleeing, or getting irritated, or feeling as if I cannot concentrate, I become aware of everything around me. I accept, let it be. And let it float by. I find my peace + quiet + calm + silence deep within me, so that whatever is happening around me and outside of me cannot actually affect my soul. And, even though I still hear, see, experience, and am surrounded by life, I am still able to feel calm + grounded.
In this sense, I can experience solitude + silence everywhere, and at anytime, I choose to turn inward.
Yes, my friends, it is so amazing to head into the desert, sit alone on top of a mountain, gaze out into the ocean, or feel the quiet sacred space of a cathedral. I crave these places. I always will. They offer physical, important opportunities to set myself apart from the busy-ness of life. Because, retreat + renewal are essential parts of maintaining balance.
But, I do not need these places whenever I seek peace + quiet. I can create the calm feeling of solitude that I yearn for in any place. At work, on the train, walking through the grocery store, sitting in the dark on the floor at home. All it takes is a little mindful awareness… and that begins by simply slowing down and breathing.
Slow down. Breathe. Become aware. Accept. Dive deep. Keep breathing. Peace will rise up from within us.