Inner communion— ah, what a joy! To feel blessed liquid peace within and around you— to bathe in it, to become it— not bothered by a single thought…To feel such love that it overpowers you with the knowledge that everything is made from love— the love that is the central reality of all creation…
—from Seclusion: Practicing the Joyful Art of Sharing Quality Time with God
by Sudarshan Simpson
“Taking a seclusion” means carving a chunk of time out of your (probably) very busy life to be completely alone and in silence and then dedicating that time and to deepening your spiritual life. Deliberately taking a time of seclusion and silence is not particularly well-known or popular concept for most people in our culture today.
The first two steps to finding out how wonderful a seclusion can be are:
1) To convince yourself that you not only really need it, but that you also deserve it, and
2) To get over any fears you might have of spending time alone and in silence—especially the fear that you might fail in your efforts to meditate more deeply and be closer to God.
If you’ve never taken a seclusion before, it’s best to start slowly. Try taking just a day or two days at first. Then when you are more used to short seclusions, try for a longer amount of time.
It is possible to seclude where you live, especially if you live alone, or if the rest of your family will be away for a time. However, most long-time “secluders” will tell you that when they tried to seclude in their usual environment, it didn’t work as well. Most find they need a different environment—to get away from it all.
It’s okay to be flexible
Write out your lists and proposed daily schedule ahead of time. Decide what you want to do, then decide what you want to take with you to make that possible. What reading materials do you want? Highly recommend would be reading about the lives of the great saints of all religions. Think about such things as: Music and CDs to listen to. Meditation equipment. Walking shoes. Food.
But also be flexible! You may get to your seclusion place and find you are very tired (this is often the case) and simply need to sleep a lot for a day or so before getting on with your seclusion plans. This is really okay!
You may think you’d like to fast, but find you are hungry! Be prepared for that. Be ready to come up with new plans on the spot, if you need to. Let yourself be inwardly guided in both the planning stages and during your time at your seclusion place.
Don’t be attached to what you want to have happen. Relax and just be.
For most folks beginning a seclusion, a primary goal would be to have increasing times of prayer and meditation, along with all the things related to getting ready for deep meditation, like yoga postures, chanting, inspirational reading, etc. You definitely want to see these things as the focus around which everything else revolves.
But if you are taking a longer time of seclusion, you may find that there are some days when you simply cannot meditate as long as you had hoped. Go with it! If possible, take a nice long walking meditation in nature, and be with God in that way. Or do some journal writing and write a letter to God. There are many “meditative activities” which, though they really don’t help us quite as much as silent, sitting meditation, are still very powerful ways of spending time with God. And after all, that’s really what a seclusion is for.
Remember the SILENCE part of it. “Silence is the altar of Spirit.” If you must be around people for any reason, have an “IN SILENCE” badge to wear and point at it if someone tries to engage you. Don’t make eye-contact with others. But best of all, stay completely alone and “speak” only to God in the language of your own heart. Keeps that inward conversation going strong!
When things come up
What if things come up from inside yourself and you become frightened and feel you need to talk to somebody about them? This does happen. First, do your best to get through the experience on your own. Do something different and pray for insight. Exercise and fresh air often help quite a bit. Or a nice long shower or bath. Write about it in your journal. Try sleeping on it. Sometimes that’s all you need to give you insight and a fresh perspective. If all else fails, then find someone to talk to. The retreat staff are always on hand to help.
Try to isolate yourself from all distractions like cell phones or any phones (turn them off), e-mails, internet connections, TV, worldly magazines or newspapers, etc. Resist all temptations to “check my messages.” It may feel funny at first to be “cut off” from the world in this way. But that’s really the idea—to give you time to look at your world in a more interiorized way. You may wonder, when you return to your daily life, why all that constant availability seems so necessary.
Your mental clarity increases
In normal life, our minds are restless, and our potential mental clarity is often in a state of being “stirred and shaken” In seclusion, you begin to see that the mind, like a glass of dirty water, is cloudy with dirt and debris. By being very quiet and still, by praying and meditating more than usual, thinking uplifting thoughts, keeping company with the saints and masters, all the dirt and debris begin to settle down.
Your “mental water glass” becomes very clear and clean and you can begin to see life as it really is. When your reach that point in your seclusion, life looks SO DIFFERENT and so much more beautiful. You can pick up an inspiring book you’ve read before and it’s as though you have a different book in your hands. Each sentence is written in flames of light—their perfect wisdom meant especially for you.
Your heart also becomes more open, softer, and more in tune with devotional practices. Chanting and devotional music become much sweeter and more uplifting. You can feel yourself soaring on wings of joy! God becomes “the nearest of the near and the dearest of the dear.
“Seclusion is the price of greatness”
As the years go by and with each seclusion that you take, you’ll grow more used to the “rhythms” of seclusion. You’ll probably find that each one is different. Some turn out to be just as you had hoped. Some do not. Some are great learning experiences. Sometimes you might weep to think that this time has to be over for now and that you have to return to daily life.
There is no question that seclusion, as Yogananda says, “…is the price of greatness.” Greatness of spirit comes only with an increasingly closer walk with God—with feeling God’s presence within and all around you at all times.
The following items are strongly recommended to bring with you:
- Flashlight for navigating the retreat at night
- Appropriate clothes for the season, in layers (even summer can be chilly at night)
- Sunhats in summer
- Rain gear in all seasons except summer
- Sturdy boots or shoes for walking/hiking
- Sunscreen and insect repellent in the summer
- For seclusions: meditation and hatha yoga equipment; uplifting reading materials (some supplied in our small library); music, with your own player device.
Feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for any additional questions and for more suggestions.
In spite of our indifference God loves us, and always will. To know this, we must withdraw our thoughts from sensations and be silent within. Silencing the thoughts means tuning them in to God. That is when true prayer begins.
– Paramhansa Yogananda