“It is a difficult lesson to learn today–to leave one’s friends and family and deliberately practice the art of solitude for an hour or a day or a week. For me, the break is difficult. Parting is inevitably painful, even for a short time. It is like an amputation, I feel. A limb is being torn off, without which I will be unable to function. And yet, once it is done, I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.”

I love these words from a little book called Gifts From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindberg. Although written around 60 years ago they still hold so much meaning for each of us today, for purposefully taking time out to be still and alone is always a discipline that we find hard to do. For some of us it can be hard to drag ourselves away from the constant distractions that 21st Century living offer us; smart phones, tv’s and other screen based media can give us a false sense of belonging, whereby we feel we are missing out on the chit chat and up to the moment news of both our friends and our work lives if we are not always online. Or perhaps, like me, you long for moments of solitude and silence but feel guilty at taking time out to be still when you know that perhaps you could be doing some chores or helping a friend of colleague or just being useful and busy.

I am a mum of four, all grown up now and flown the nest, but I have found much wisdom in this little book as I have returned to it year after year since my children were small, to read the ‘gifts of the sea’ that Lindberg shares with us as ways to find stillness at different phases of our lives. It doesn’t matter whether we are a young mother with small children at our feet, a busy executive working in the city or slowing down because our body doesn’t have the energy it used to have, we all need to uncover ways to carve out times of stillness within our everyday lives if we want to discover contentment and peace. To rest within the present moment, to look attentively at the minutiae and beauty of everyday things around us, to learn to be grateful for the small things, brings an inner freedom that each of us longs to experience, a deep down joy that comes when you find peace within your deepest self.

This inner peace and stillness can be found not just in the good times but also in times of utmost despair and fear. Anne Lindberg lost her first child, a little boy who was kidnapped and murdered in 1932. For most of us it is unthinkable that we could ever recover and find peace after such desperate heart ache and trauma but Lindberg offers us the gift of hope, that even when the worst times happen, we can still seek and find inner peace when we truly discover the art of solitude.

The German Christian martyr Diettrich Bonhoeffer who was killed by Gestapo soldiers just a few days before the end of WW2 speaks some very powerful words to us from the depths of darkness within the cell where he was to loose his life.

“My soul is silent before God.

Being silent really means no longer being able to say anything;

It means feeling as if a strange, loving hand is laid on our lips and tells us to be silent.

Being silent means being blessed in the sight of the One longed for and loved;

It means devoting oneself completely;

It means capitulating to the greater power of the Other, the totally Other;

It means for a moment no longer seeing oneself at all, but seeing only the Other.

Yet it also means waiting,

Waiting to see if the Other has something to say to us.”