“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 to deepening your spiritual life. Deliberately taking a time of seclusion and silence is not a particularly well-known or popular concept 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 a seclusion, 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.
Most people have these feelings in the beginning. You are not alone! If you do feel this way, it might be wise to talk to someone who loves seclusion and is a “veteran” in doing it. He or she can offer you the necessary inspiration.
If you’ve never taken a seclusion before, it’s best to start slowly. Try taking just a day or two at first. Then when you are more used to short seclusions, try for a longer amount of time.
“Find a place and book your space”
Here are a few other suggestions: Carefully plan ahead of time where you are going to stay and what you are going to do. The colder months of the year are often best, as life tends to be more naturally inward at that time.
“Find a place and book your space” as far ahead as possible. Life has a way of crowding in and taking over your best made plans. Don’t let anything interfere with your intention to seclude. Your seclusion place needs to be very quiet and preferably have a retreat-like environment — where any nearby people, such as the retreat staff, will respect your need for complete silence, privacy, and for how you want to spend your 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 have tried to seclude in their usual environment, it hasn’t worked 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 to take with you to make that possible. What reading materials do you want? Highly recommended would be reading about the lives of the great saints of all religions. Here are some other things to think about: music and tapes 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 (as is often the case) and simply need to sleep a lot for a day or so before getting on with your seclusion plans. Starting out with a good rest 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 God and Gurus guide you carefully 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. Begin each day by saying, “What shall we do today, Divine Mother? Guide each moment. Thank You for giving me time to be alone with You!”
The ups and downs of a seclusion
For most folks beginning a seclusion, a primary goal is to have increasing times of prayer and meditation, along with all the things related to getting ready for deep meditation, such as the Energization Exercises, yoga postures, chanting, and inspirational reading. You definitely want to see prayer and meditation as the center around which your seclusion 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. There will be ups and downs. 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, spending time with God is really what a seclusion is for.
Remember the SILENCE part of seclusion. “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 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. Keep that inward conversation going strong!
When things come up
What if things come up within yourself, so that you become frightened and feel you need to talk to somebody? 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 your experience in your journal. Try sleeping on it. Sometimes that’s all you need to gain insight and a fresh perspective. If all else fails, then find someone to talk to.
Try to isolate yourself from all such distractions as cell phones or any phones (turn them off), e-mails, internet connections, TV, worldly magazines or newspapers. Resist the temptation to “check my messages.” It may feel strange 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 seemed so necessary.
Your mental clarity increases
In seclusion you begin to see that your mind is like a glass of water which is cloudy with dirt and debris. By being very quiet and still, by praying and meditating more than usual, thinking uplifting thoughts, keeping company only with the saints and our line of gurus, all the dirt and debris begin to settle out.
As your, “mental water glass” becomes clear and clean, you begin to see life as it really is. When you 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 feel 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, with each seclusion 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 may 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 Paramhansa 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.
On a more personal note, I have made it a priority in my life, for the past 30 years, to take a longer or shorter time of seclusion at least once a year. In my early years at Ananda, I was able to dedicate one day a week to a mini-seclusion. I know several people here who are still able to do that.
Now, close to Thanksgiving, I usually take 5-7 days in a housekeeping cabin at The Ananda Meditation Retreat. I choose that time of year because of its very inward feeling, because the autumn scenery is still beautiful for my daily walks among the hills, and because it’s close enough to Christmas that I can begin the process of “preparing the cradle of my heart for the coming of the Christ (Consciousness) Child.” My Thanksgiving seclusion is definitely one of the high points of the year for me.
My husband, Sudarshan, probably holds the “Ananda Village record” for the most time spent in seclusion. He spends 4 weeks a year, usually in February, in his little seclusion trailer, parked at a secret and remote location nearby. He does Yogananda’s 9-day Cleansing and Healing Diet for the first 9 days. I re-supply him with food about halfway through. When he returns home after all that time in seclusion, his eyes look angelic and his face looks about ten years younger and filled with divine light.
Because of his excellent experience in taking longer seclusions, he has written a little self-published booklet on the subject, called, How to Take a Personal Spiritual Retreat. If you are interested in obtaining a copy, please e-mail him: Sudarshan Simpson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Nayaswami Savitri teaches at The Expanding Light guest retreat at Ananda Village, and is the Director of Ananda’s Meditation Teacher Training Programs. She also serves as administrative assistant to Ananda’s Spiritual Directors. A Lightbearer and 33-year resident of Ananda Village, she is married to Nayaswami Sudarshan.
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