Paramhansa Yogananda says in an article written in 1923:
The week should be allotted to work, amusement, and spiritual culture—five days for money-making, one day for rest and amusement, and one day for introspection and inner realization.
There probably isn’t too much question about working: most of us don’t have much choice about it. Rest and amusement are often too easy for us to seek out. The third area is where we may lack experience and definition: introspection and inner realization.
Ah, sweet seclusion! If you’ve never tried it—well, you must, and the sooner the better! Most likely, you’ll find it so enjoyable that you’ll soon be trying to take a day of seclusion more often, perhaps even one day a week, once a month, or even longer seclusions once or twice a year. Here are some suggestions that might help you to have a better time of your seclusion.
Location, Location, Location
Try to find a place, even if it’s just a room, where you can be completely alone all day. Your own home may be fine, but householders often have problems secluding at home. Try to get the rest of the family to leave or to at least agree to give you as much privacy as possible for the day. Better yet, get out of your familiar environment, where there may be a strong temptation to get back into old routines, habits, or thought patterns. Go somewhere away from home. The Ananda Meditation Retreat or The Expanding Light Retreat, both part of Ananda Village near Nevada City, California, certainly are two of the best places to consider.
Meals and Starting Time
Don’t eat a heavy meal the night before a seclusion day; this will help your next morning’s meditation immensely. Try to meditate deeply the night before, then go to sleep affirming: “Tomorrow is my day to be alone with God!”
Get up early. Sleeping late will make you sluggish all day—and besides, you’ll miss the coming of the dawn, the loveliest and often quietest time of the day.
A seclusion day is perfect for fasting and keeping complete silence, or breaking your silence only for prayers or chanting (even then, try chanting softly, staying very inward). If total fasting is too much for you (drink plenty of water, please), you might try fresh fruit and vegetables only or fresh juices all day. Whatever you eat, eat lightly, gratefully, slowly and consciously. Don’t forget the other kinds of diets and fasts that Yogananda recommends: the wisdom diet, the courage diet, and of course, a worry fast.
Energize—outside if at all possible. Go slowly and stay very conscious of how you are doing the exercises. Do some yoga postures. Take time to do them carefully, gracefully, meditatively, in the Ananda Yoga way. If you are not used to doing yoga on your own, use a guided Ananda Yoga routine on an audio or video recording. Be adventurous and pick out some postures from Ananda Yoga for Higher Awareness that you rarely or never practice and give them a try too. Here is your chance to really enjoy them; you’ve probably been too rushed to do them correctly—if at all—during your busy work week.
Meditation and Yoga Practice
Now for a long, deep meditation with no time barriers. How glorious to know you can meditate for as long as you can sustain the energy. Do the techniques longer than usual, with your mind deeply absorbed in what you are doing. Do more kriyas and/or higher kriyas than usual, too. End with healing prayers—sending healing vibrations to individuals, to the world, and to yourself, too. Try bridging the gap between meditation and the rest of your day by practicing an affirmation, reading one of Yogananda’s prayers or poems, listening to some of Swami Kriyananda’s inspiring music, going for a walking meditation in the beauties of nature, or having a little ceremony or ritual of some sort for yourself.
Seclusion may be the time to do all those yoga postures or techniques that you keep intending to do, but just don’t take the time for: the special mudras, bandhas, or pranayama. Other things to do: practice your chants, letting God flow through your voice. Take one chant and chant it for a long, long time. Learn a new chant. Learn one of Swami’s songs. Sing along with a recording, like Windows on the World or any of the Ananda music and chanting tapes. Chant AUM at each chakra, using the appropriate musical notes. Make chanting, music, japa, and the power of vibration an important part of a seclusion.
Silence is the altar of spiritParamhansa Yogananda
Most people find it much easier to fast if they stay in silence at the same time. While keeping silence try to avoid even eye contact with anyone—no note writing either(!). Just SILENCE. You’ll find your energy begins to build as the time goes by. All the energy that gushes out of your mouth and eyes all day, every day, hoard it up and direct it towards God and toward longer, deeper meditations. It truly works! As Yogananda says: “Silence is the altar of spirit.” After several days of complete silence, you will find a greater sense of inner peace and joy within you that you have ever known.
Writing, Journaling and Study
Write in your journal. If you don’t have one, use this time of seclusion to start one. If you only keep a brief daily spiritual diary, have another journal for expanding journal writing—and write, write, write! You’ll be amazed at how many problems you can solve by listing them and then asking Divine Mother to help you list all kinds of solutions. Subjects such as “Why are my meditations so blah?” or “Why don’t I get along with so-and-so?” have a sort of intensive planning session with yourself, on paper.
Write letters of spiritual encouragement; there are surely many folks you know who are in great need of such a letter. Write songs or poetry, but try to make it introspective and God-centered. Draw or paint, though only with a focus on God and Gurus.
And study! This is an important a part of every seclusion. For example, take one of the lessons from The Art and Science of Raja Yoga and read it slowly, reflecting on every sentence. Take notes. Make outlines. Pretend you’re going to have a pop quiz tomorrow, or that you have to teach a class in whatever you’ve chosen to study. Or listen to one of Swami Kriyananda’s recorded talks or perhaps even transcribe it word for word, or at least make some good notes.
Read other inspirational works, lives of saints, or biographies of other Godly persons. But please, no light or trashy novels today—no sci-fi, detective, or romance novels. And no People magazine or the San Francisco Chronicle. Remember that this is your time to grow closer to God and there’s plenty of material of higher consciousness to read and study without falling into those other traps. And of course no cellphones, computers, e-mails, movies, TV, radio, or non-spiritual music. The idea is to keep the consciousness high; avoid these distractions like the plague!
Perhaps your seclusion time can be a time of internal and external cleansing as well. Take a mild herbal laxative one evening or an enema in the morning. Have a long soak in your bathtub, or at least have a good long scrub in the shower. Take a swim if the weather’s nice and you happen to know of a fairly private place to swim. Take a sunbath, too, consciously pulling in those healing rays (be careful of going too long with this—perhaps avoiding the more dangerous times in the middle of the day). Do some of Yogananda’s heliotropic methods of self-healing.
Do you like to run? Fine! But try to find a place where you won’t see anybody, at least anybody who might want to talk with you. Take a long walk (ditto about the places you go while walking). In fact, do a walking meditation.
At twilight have another nice, long sadhana—perhaps outside, if the weather will allow. Try a three-hour meditation with breaks every hour for chanting or stretching. Go even longer if you feel you can, or work up to longer meditations as you are able to take longer times of seclusion.
Solitude is the price of greatnessParamhansa Yogananda
End your day with a prayer of thanksgiving for the joy that comes from spending a day alone with the Friend of Friends.
Certainly, your time of seclusion will seem to end too soon, all the better to whet your appetite to make your next seclusion longer and deeper. Sweet, sweet seclusion! “Solitude is the price of greatness,” Yogananda said. Seek it out and God bless you as you do.
Author’s Note: I wrote this little article on one of my seclusion days in 1980, not too long after I had first started taking regular seclusions. Now, many years later, I am still just as enthusiastic about them, if not more so. I now know, without any shadow of a doubt, that times of seclusion are essential to one’s ability to persevere on a lifetime spiritual quest to final freedom in God.