To Move from Loneliness to Solitude,

Begin Within

by CSW Director Rob Field


Hours ago, I walked — no, I floated — out of a sacred ritual, conducted in a hillside chapel, on a sunny and beautiful spring day. I say I “floated” because the prayers, music, sacred texts, and words of inspiration were exactly what my soul needed. They almost literally carried me outside when the ritual came to an end.

In her reflection, our speaker quoted a beloved writer and teacher from my religious tradition. Here’s the quote: “To live a spiritual life, we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our own loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. The movement from loneliness to solitude is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit.”* In other words, those who want to pursue a deeper spiritual life must begin within.

All the great spiritual traditions of the world teach that the divine (God, spirit, higher power, Source of Being, etc.) is available outside as well as inside each one of us. Searching for the divine outside ourselves is never a bad idea, but making the inward turn opens up what, for many of us, is an undiscovered and delightful world. If we can overcome the fear of the unknown and the initial awkwardness of making friends with our inner selves, we’re likely to find that the “desert of our own loneliness” can indeed become a “garden of solitude” — a garden teeming with new life, a gateway to the divine.

Are you ready for this journey? You may already be on it, but would like some company along the way. Either way, please accept this invitation to begin within.


* Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (Image Books 1975).


photo by Karl Magnuson via Unsplash

The Bishop’s Chapel, Roslyn Retreat & Conference Center, Tuckahoe, VA