Simplicity, Silence, Stillness, Solitude


Silence, Solitude, Stillness, Simplicity. Image via Wikipedia

As I seek to move deeper into the contemplative life, I try to keep in mind the gifts of simplicity, silence, and solitude. Simplicity, in choosing to liberate my life from the tyranny of too much “stuff,” of too many commitments of my time and energy, of too many causes to which I can devote — and dissipate — my energy. Silence, in letting go not only of external stimuli like the incessant buzz and chatter of the media, music, television, the internet, and so forth, but also the more insidious inner chatter of compulsive thoughts, “problems” to be solved, anxieties and regrets that lay claim to my mind but offer little in return. Closely related to silence is stillness, responding to the promise/mandate of Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.” Letting go of excessive activity, like letting go of unnecessary noise, is a way of cultivating space in my life where the still small voice of God might be heard. Finally, I seek to cultivate solitude, recognizing that the most challenging relationship in my life is my relationship with myself, where I come face to face with my varied ways of distorting how I see the world or hiding my true self from myself: the lies of fear and depression, the limiting beliefs and illusions that prohibit me from fully and truly loving God, neighbor, and self as a way of responding to the lavish love continually bestowed upon me by God.

In addition to all of the above I might also add “balance.” Simplicity is not meant to be an excuse for avoiding the necessary stresses of life; nor is solitude a way of avoiding relationships and community. Silence and stillness are not meant to erase my voice and my work. Each of these qualities has value not so much in how they define or limit my life, but in  how they contribute to it. They all function, on a daily basis, like the sabbath functions on a weekly basis or a retreat functions on a seasonal or annual basis. I take refuge in simplicity, silence, solitude, and stillness, not perpetually but from time to time, for these qualities function as safe havens where I can retreat for nurture and rejuvenation. Hopefully I can take some of the qualities of simplicity, silence, stillness and solitude back into the dynamic world of relationship, community, conversation and activity, though. Contemplation – in – action seems to be the worthwhile goal. But to reach that goal I need, and I believe we all need, times in which contemplation does take center stage in life.

Preliminary Practices for Christian Contemplatives
Pentecost and Ecstasy
Emptiness and Non-Attachment
Happy St. Hildegard's Day!
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • gail

    How helpful the post is to me today. Just what I needed! The balance you describe is what I seek.

  • Ted Todd

    These elements of inner life are hard to achieve in a world that speaks to the opposites.
    As a husband, father and owner of business very active in the life of the church, achieving inner depth and qualities of awareness can be frustrating. The tension between Service (Activity) and Sensitivity to Spiritual Senses is a dilemma I struggle with.. Silence speaks,
    Solitude can heal, simplicity allows stillness to inner.. I live in the world, but do I allow God’s flow to lead me???
    I wish I could be at Wild Goose, but!! I have to work..Hard to balance if the weigh is on the other scale.

  • Anna

    Very well put. I think often of silence, solitude and simplicity but now see the importance of stillness in the mix.