Seclusion is the Price of Greatness
I felt inspired to write the following article during my recent seclusion at Ananda’s Meditation Retreat in Northern California. I also felt to share my thoughts on seclusion after reading a beautiful book during my experience entitled, : The Joyful Art of Sharing Quality Time with God, by a dear friend and long time Ananda minister, Sudarshan Simpson. Unfortunately this wonderful handbook has not been published. However, having spoken to Sudarshan, he is willing to provide some of his extra copies if you’re interested. It is a wonderful guide for anyone who is new to seclusion or anyone who just wants to receive some inspiration. Now begins my story.
I was 18 years old at the time, studying Yoga Philosophy at Ananda’s College of Living Wisdom. It was located at Ananda’s Meditation Retreat, a place where many guests came for silence and seclusion. It was mid-January and all of the college students were away on vacation. I knew that the old timers at Ananda (the one’s who have lived the spiritual life for many years) spoke highly of seclusion and the importance of taking one week out of the year for this practice.
“What a perfect time to seclude!” I thought. “All the students are off on vacation, the weather is cool, there could be some quiet snowfall to encourage my withdrawal into my cabin, and my schedule allows me to take a whole week off!” I imagined myself meditating deeply in the girl’s dorm house, which I would have all to myself during my silent retreat. At the time, I was already meditating regularly (morning and evening) for about a year.I thought highly of those I knew of who had gained deep spiritual wisdom through many years of self-discipline. It was time I gave this seclusion thing a try!
I soon made arrangements with the college staff to take my seclusion in silence, undisturbed, and without meals. I figured I could buy my own groceries and cook on the single burner in the girl’s dorm, which was currently being used to heat tea water. To make a long story short, my week long seclusion lasted about an hour or two. First of all, the weather was the most gorgeous it had been all winter. The sun was shining so warm and bright that I had no desire to be inside all day! Secondly, my first meal was tomato soup from a can, which I stirred sadly on the tiny burner. I remember distinctly my melancholy filling the cabin as I drew my first spoon full of bland soup toward my lips, knowing that the others were enjoying a beautiful wholesome meal back at the main building. It was in that moment of tasting the soup that I knew this seclusion couldn’t last. Did I really have the guts to throw in the towel so soon after telling everyone I was going to be away for a week? Before making my final decision of defeat, I went to the dorm’s mini fridge to look for some kind of comfort.
“Did I plan this whole thing out well enough?” I stared shockingly at the few nuts, 2 boxes of rice milk, the cereal, and fruit that I had bought. “What was I thinking?!” Suddenly remembering it was choir night at Ananda Village, I ran to the school building to call a friend. I was dying to speak to someone after all of that silence! (A couple of hours). I explained to her why my seclusion was ending and I asked her to pick me up.
It turns out I ended up having a wonderfully uplifting night singing Swami Kriyananda‘s music. I felt so much better choosing not to force myself into something I obviously wasn’t ready for. Knowing the seclusion was behind me and that I didn’t have to judge myself for it was a huge relief.
“It is what it is…” I decided. “Some day I will I have a better experience.” The college staff was surprised to see me the next day, but I told them I didn’t feel like secluding after all. They didn’t make a big deal about it, thankfully.
Now let’s fast forward to about 4 months ago when my husband Kalidas said to me, “I think we should both schedule a time for seclusion this year.”
“Good idea.“ I said quietly while trying not to recall the memory of my first attempt at seclusion.
Catching on to my half-hearted reply he continued with enthusiasm, “I’m going to schedule my seclusion right now!” He whipped out his planner and started flipping through the next few months.
“Wow! He’s really serious.” I thought. When he said “this year” he actually meant in the next 3-4 months. It was mid September.
Locating an open space in his planner, he inquired, “How about we take a seclusion from November 14th to the 20th?” I thought about my teaching schedule at The Expanding Light for a moment and soon realized I had prior commitments.
“That’s not going to work. It’s the same week that Yoga Teacher Training ends and I will also be organizing a Restorative Yoga for Women Weekend.” I assured him that I definitely needed that time to prepare.
Kalidas, knowing of my past experience with seclusion and sensing my hesitancy to commit to a definite time, commented, “You were only eighteen years old back then…Do you know what a disaster it would have been if I had tried to seclude when I was eighteen?! What I mean to say is that I know that you have grown so much since then.” I was still inwardly worried that I wasn’t “deep” enough to take a seclusion. Not seeing much certainty in my face, Kalidas moved forward in his decision. He was not going to let it slip away as it had in the past.
The day arrived when Kalidas was to leave for seclusion. I kept telling him how much I would miss him. This would be the first time in our relationship that we’d be physically separated for this long. He agreed that he would miss me too, but he also knew that a great blessing was awaiting him. The day he drove off into seclusion, I had a brief cry. I was insecure about how I would feel for the next 5 days. I wiped my tears and prayed for time to speed.
I felt lonely that night as I went to sleep but was happy to find my kitty snuggling up to me more than usual. I knew my guru would take care of me, even if it was through no other way than our cat’s love. I also found great comfort in praying for Kalidas’ experience to be blessed.
The next morning I awoke feeling strong and calm inside. I knew the next few days would be a blessing for me too. I had a blissful experience going to bed earlier, waking up earlier, doing chores in silence, going to work, and coming home to silence. I had great meditations and more time for sleep — two very important things for me.
When Kalidas arrived at the end of the week we were both surprised at how quickly the time had passed and how a couple more days would’ve been nice. (Maybe next year). After realizing that I did in fact enjoy the time alone the past few days, I was relieved and reassured that my own seclusion could be a sacred experience after all. As Kalidas told me of all the beauty and joy of his days at the meditation retreat, I too had a glimpse of the possibility of a successful seclusion. I prayed for guidance and blessings on my seclusion, which was due in a month.
Since we had this space in between Kalidas’ seclusion and my own, we had time to get back into our adventurous days of doing everything together. As you may imagine, I was attached once again to being with my best companion and when the time came for us to part, I didn’t really want to leave. Though on a deeper level I knew that seclusion was a deep blessing for us both and would just take some getting used to. It is an essential part of our path, and Yogananda says that “Seclusion is the price of greatness.”
When Kalidas dropped me off at the Meditation Retreat (the same place I attempted to seclude 5 years ago), I held back my tears until he drove away. This time, as soon as the tears came and went, I felt a great blessing come over me and my retreat.I went to my room, which was a simple, yet uplifting bungalow cabin. I unpacked my things, sat down, and listened to the silence.Having been a regular meditator for 6 years now, my heart was thrilled by the depth of inner peace that awaited me. I think I was finally ready for this blessed experience.
I quietly arranged the essentials that I had brought: My harmonium for devotional chanting, special pictures of my Guru and the Masters for my altar, spiritually uplifting books and talks to listen to, and some healthy snacks. Other helpful gear was: A yoga mat, warm clothes, and a laptop for creative writing. Here are some things that I wrote:
Benefits of taking seclusion:
1. A relaxing and rejuvenating experience (more restful than any vacation I’ve taken, even to Hawaii).
2. An uplifting experience for body, mind and soul. There’s more time for yoga postures, meditation, affirmation, and tuning into God’s presence within and without.
3. Waking up slowly and in silence. You can sleep longer if you choose to by going to bed earlier or sleeping in. Either way, you can wake as you feel ready to and do so slowly knowing you have no where you have to be.
4. Practicing your spiritual devotions for as long as you’d like (Energizing, postures, chanting, meditation, all without any limit.)
5. Practicing Silence (a wonderful experience once you get used to it, and a great way to preserve energy.) You can talk to your Higher Self, or with God. Also walking in silence with God.
6. Eating in silence (allows you to pray before eating, consciously enjoy each bite with gratitude, and feel God digesting for you.)
7. More time to pray deeply for others– family, friends, those who are sick or struggling. Sending blessings to all those you love and praying for the healing of the whole planet.
8. Make New Year’s Resolutions (or if it’s not New Years, set some new goals for yourself.)
9. Begin cultivating these new habits now so that they have a dynamic foundation!
I am grateful to report that I received many priceless benefits from my first real seclusion. I was blessed to have two days alone before my guided group kriya yoga retreat began and one day after everyone left (all the while in silence.)
Thank you for reading my story. I hope you will try your own seclusion when the time feels right, and may it also be blessed with the peace and joy of the masters!