Justin Eisinga | Crown Reporter
Living alone in your own space is something of a novelty. It is exciting, of course, especially after several years of sharing a bedroom with another person and making do with small spaces shared between a group of friends. However, the novelty does eventually wear off. After a few weeks of enjoying my own space by blasting music, staying up late, and leaving the lights on, it dawned on me that I was truly, actually, completely alone.
I share a house with a married couple. I live in the attic, a finished space with broken radiators and wood floors that appear to smile at me as the late autumn snow falls outside the window. I spend a lot of time looking out at the park beside our house, as kids run from their parents’ arms towards the nearby schoolyard and squirrels scurry between trees and my windowsill. As I sit in my chair looking out the window, I find myself reflecting and spending more and more time with no one else but myself. To be honest, I’ve come to the realization that I never really spent much time in this reflective mode over the past several years. I’m beginning to recognize how valuable it really is.
Coinciding with my increased time spent alone, I also made the decision to deactivate my Facebook account. On top of this, I’ve been writing more than ever before, altogether a consequence of fourth-year studies and my job with the student newspaper, but also a result of my newfound isolation. In all of this, I’ve been making a conscious effort at reducing the seemingly endless amount of voices that seem to be streaming into my brain at breakneck speed. What I’m only just beginning to uncover is the value found in solitude and the necessity for contemplation.
Perhaps it is a bit premature for me to be providing commentary and advice on aspects of life I am only just beginning to settle into. Perhaps I should be writing this column for you at the end of the school year, after I’ve fully learned my lessons and have an incredible piece of wisdom to share. If you’re anything like me, though, you need to hear this in the midst of the storm that is the academic year (not that we are miserable, but maybe just a little tired). What I want to implore is simply this: do not neglect your soul, for it is your soul that you need to live out of.
It is nearly impossible to live fully out of your friendships. Trust me, I can attest to that. The people you surround yourself with are important, and you surely ought to invest in good relationships. However, they will never completely fulfill you, and they most certainly have power over you (often for good, sometimes negatively so). Likewise, it is also nearly impossible to live completely out of the things you love to do. Whether it is the sport you play well, the musical instrument(s) you excel at, or the opportunities for service that bring you great joy, those things you do with your time are not there to complete you or for you to find all your meaning out of.
Now, don’t read me incorrectly; these are all good things, not evil and certainly not inherently wrong. Friendships are fulfilling and sports are enriching activities. But deep down in the depths of your soul, in the places of your being only you can explore, they shouldn’t be what defines you.
To spend time in solitude and silence is to care for your soul. In making efforts to do so, we begin to learn about ourselves and about the living God in ways we cannot learn when we are around our friends or engaging in activities, even if we were created for these purposes. It is in solitude that the mask of our soul is peeled off and the walls we have built around it come down. Often, when this takes place, we feel a deep loneliness and our gut reaction is to run away. In a world of many voices, with Facebook, Instagram and iMessage lighting up our phones, loneliness is the last thing we ever need to feel. However, it is only by pushing through this loneliness that we come into the still and quiet solitary clearing.
Henri Nouwen, a late Catholic priest, writer, and incredibly wise man of God, once wrote: “to live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude.” As I write this, I am in this desert. It is a difficult and painful place to be, as I recognize my inequities and faults and the lies that I have been telling myself for too many years. But I smell a spring rain coming, and a garden is being prepared for lush growth.
My fellow students, we all are on different spiritual journeys, but if this resonates within you, heed the call. I wish I had taken better care of my soul when I lived on campus. Do not neglect the importance of seeking time away from the noise and into the quiet places of your heart. Be strong when you face the loneliness that rests within you and walk the path towards a rich and vibrant spiritual life. As Nouwen puts it, embark on the journey of a deeply spiritual life and join the “movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.”