“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 and to deepening your spiritual life. Deliberately taking a time of seclusion and silence is not particularly well-known or popular concept for most people in our culture today.
It’s best to start slowly. The first two steps to finding out how wonderful a seclusion can be are:
1) To convince yourself that you not only really need it, 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 feel this way! If you do feel this way, it might 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 days 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 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 else interfere with your intention to seclude. Your seclusion place needs to be very quiet and preferably one with a retreat-like environment—where any people nearby, such as the retreat staff, will respect your need for complete silence, privacy, and what you want to do with 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 tried to seclude in their usual environment, it didn’t work 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 you want to take with you to make that possible. What reading materials do you want? Highly recommend would be reading about the lives of the great saints of all religions. Think about such things as: 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 (this is often the case) and simply need to sleep a lot for a day or so before getting on with your seclusion plans. This 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 and thank you for giving me time to be alone with You!”
The Ups and Downs of Seclusion
For most folks beginning a seclusion, a primary goal would be to have increasing times of prayer and meditation, along with all the things related to getting ready for deep meditation, like the Energization Exercises, yoga postures, chanting, inspirational reading, etc. You definitely want to see these things as the focus around which everything else 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 up’s and down’s. 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, that’s really what a seclusion is for.
Remember the SILENCE part of it. “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 it 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. Keeps that inward conversation going strong!
When Things Come Up
What if you things come up from inside yourself and you become frightened and feel you need to talk to somebody about them? 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 it in your journal. Try sleeping on it. Sometimes that’s all you need to give you insight and a fresh perspective. If all else fails, then find someone to talk to.
Try to isolate yourself from all distractions like cell phones or any phones (turn them off), e-mails, internet connections, TV, worldly magazines or newspapers, etc. Resist all temptations to “check my messages.” It may feel funny 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 seems so necessary.
Your Mental Clarity Increases
What will happen, if you really give yourself a chance to notice it, is that, because your mind is always being “stirred and shaken,” by daily life, you see don’t always see things unclearly. The truth is obscured! 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 down.
Your “mental water glass” becomes very clear and clean and you can begin to see life as it really is. When your 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 it’s 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 and with each seclusion that 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 might 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 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, I usually take 5-7 days close to Thanksgiving in a housekeeping cabin at The Ananda Meditation Retreat. I choose that time of year because it feels very inward, the autumn scenery is still beautiul for my daily walks among the hills, and 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.” It 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 Master’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 it, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org for ordering information.