The Importance of Silence and Solitude
Whenever I meet with a leader, I like to ask them to share a nugget with me. “What is a practice that has enhanced your leadership and life?” is one of my favorites. A number of years ago I had the opportunity to spend some time with David Baker, the president and CEO of the Football Hall of Fame. His answer was clear and very helpful: “Dwight, spend no less than 30 minutes a day in solitude. When you run fast, when you are driven, without breaks from constant noise and input, you drain yourself emotionally, and that positions you to make unwise decisions.”
Here is what I know about you for sure: If you are leading something (business, home, church), it is very taxing right now. It is more so than ever because of all that is happening in our world. More and more people are looking to you for leadership directions, answers, and encouragement. It is very draining. You need solitude and stillness.
But what is it? When was the last time you saw people just sitting still for any amount of time? Even during what would otherwise be empty time, people are doing something—scrolling through social media while they wait, listening to podcasts while they drive. Mentioning no names, of course, but I know some people who take their phones when they go to the restroom, to check emails! Our state of constant busyness is something we seem to brag about, however. No one impresses another person by saying, “Yeah…I spent the weekend sitting under the tree in my back yard watching the wind rustle the leaves.” Being still, being quiet are just not worth much to most people.
But this is what I’ve learned, and my own spirit affirmed as I researched. Stillness is not the same as laziness. Stillness is a conscious choice to put problems aside and let yourself become calm and slowed down. Being still gives you a chance to realize how truly overstimulated and unable to focus you are. The inability to choose stillness is why so often your mind will not cooperate with you when you try to sleep at night. Choosing stillness appropriately during the day will allow you to be focused and will drain away the stress that keeps you awake at night.
Stillness soothes your body as well because your body was not created for constant motion. Forcing yourself to regularly be still will allow your stress hormone levels to lower and even out, taking a load off your heart and brain. Your muscles will release, and you can finally relax.
Your spirit is recharged when you are still. You are able to let go of what has been bothering you with greater ease. You can feel your God-given intuition and instincts surface. Your creativity resurfaces. Creativity withers away when you are constantly bombarding your brain with activity.
Stillness empowers you to live in the present moment. You are enjoying life as it happens.
Psychologists say that people who live intentionally in the present are less likely to self-sabotage with overeating, impulse spending, binge drinking, or addictions. A regular pattern of stillness allows you to appreciate life. When you are still, you can appreciate the little things, and treasure the relationships you have. Stillness is a deep cleansing rain for the soul.
In short, a regular discipline of stillness will give you less stress and an ability to let things go more easily. You can hear your own spirit speak to you and live with delight in the present. Your listening skills will improve, and you will have greater clarity and more rewarding relationships. You will sleep better and be more creative. Your overall health will be better, and you will be stronger facing adversity. You will be more self-aware, and my favorite result of all is thatyou will much more easily be aware of the presence of a Higher Power, God Himself, in your world. This is why God said, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Cooperating with God gives you confidence and hope.
Martha Beck says, “Doing nothing is the most productive activity you will ever undertake.” That’s literally not planning, problem solving, or even praying. It is simply being still. Mother Teresa expressed it this way: We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
Likely, you are like me. You know that you need the perspective, the connection to God and yourself, and the margin that stillness provides. But how do you get there? I have to tell you that I am a beginner student in this. Stillness is very hard for me. But I will suggest Martha Beck’s book, The Joy Diet, to get you started, and then I also want to share some thoughts from Michael Hyatt on his development of the discipline of solitude and stillness that I am working on myself. Michael says…
1. Schedule a time. I schedule stillness first thing in the morning. This time has become so precious to me that I would not want to start the day without it. I practice this first—before prayer, before Bible reading, before journaling, and before exercise.
2. Find a place. When I was on vacation, I sat on the dock by the lake. This was ideal. But it is not my real world. Now I simply go into my study and shut the door. The main thing is to find a place where you won’t be interrupted.
3. Set a timer. I am following Martha Beck’s admonition to set aside fifteen minutes a day. In my limited experience this seems about right. It is amazing how my perception of this time changes from day to day. Sometimes it seems like forever. Other times, it goes by very quickly. I use the timer on my iPhone.
4. Relax your body. I simply sit in a soft chair with my eyes closed. I then systematically relax my body and get quiet. Beck says that if you can’t sit still, then engage in any mindless physical activity, like rocking in a chair or watching some natural motion like fire or running water. I also play a recording of the ocean.
5. Quiet your mind. This is the biggest challenge for me. Just when I get still, I have some random thought or a whole flurry of thoughts. But I am getting better. Beck offers several techniques for practicing “nonjudgmental observation,” a discipline that keeps your allotted time from being hijacked by an overly active mind.
6. Be present. Don’t be regretting or celebrating the past. Don’t be worrying or dreaming about the future. Instead, collect your thoughts and be present—in this moment. It is the most important time you have. In fact, it is the only time you have.
Perhaps the most important thing is just to start. It’s easy to blow the discipline of stillness off as something you don’t have time for. Don’t. The busier you are the more important it is.
I’m going to do this. The frustration of COVID-19 has shown me even more how much I need it. What about you?