BY: T. Franklin Murphy | May 2016
The Joys of Momentary Solitude
We encounter troubles but can enjoy momentary escapes.
In the depths of struggles, where do we find peace? Too many quiet days, and the tediousness bores us, insufficient days of rest and life overwhelms. We must find middle ground to avoid the sluggishness of overwhelm and the laziness of stagnation. Some need to be prodded to act while others must be forced to rest. The body—and mind—are not machines. We tire and quickly become depleted. For some constant activity serves as an escape from the ghosts haunting their mind, others need the reassurance of work to prove their worth; but the unrelenting pace damage the soul and the body. Our bodies and minds need restful moments to properly integrate the troublesome backdrop of living. The peaceful escape is most salient during troubled times. During the darkness of difficulty, a few moments of peace rejuvenates the soul and reenergizes the body.
We experience rough patches; an unexpected blast knocks the air out of us, dashing hopes. During the late months of 2008 and into 2009, I suffered a divorce, loss of a life’s work of equity, and an unexpected lawsuit that forced eventual bankruptcy. I continued to function but not well; but when I lost contact with a supportive friend, I collapsed in despair. Hopes of recovery—a possible new life—crumbled. Short spurts of sleep provided my only escape, only intervening when complete exhaustion triumphed the over-active mind. Painful ruminations continually intruded spanning over a dark fifteen months of mental hell.
I’m not special; the experience was more poignant because I’m the one that felt it. Most people encounter similar moments of suffering. That was my time. However, the ashes of ruin fertilize the soil for beautiful new beginnings. In the deepest moments of despair, I discovered peace.
"However, the ashes of ruin fertilize the soil for beautiful new beginnings."
The light of peace—although only monetarily—broke through the agonizing days; at first just a flash, piercing through the darkness, delighting my soul. I could feel it. I relished the moment and then it quickly vanished. A momentary glimpse at the possibility of healing. My mind was still at war, but the ceasefire gave hope. The first taste of peace came with a simple nonjudgmental awareness of the pain. A quiet acceptance without a forced plan to heal. This first joyous escape was soon followed in the proceeding days with other peaceful encounters. Peace became a regular visitor, still in simple short bursts. In the sacred moments of pain, I discovered peace. The life problems remained, still haunting progress; but with the moments of tranquility gracing my life, I could begin the process of rebuilding.
Emotional unrest challenges self-confidence, dampens hope and discourages action; even when action is essential for recovery. Following painful experience, the body delves into a mire of thoughts and feelings. Our brain organizes experience—emotions and thoughts—to create a coherent story. We experience life through the lens of meaning—the meanings we assign.
We search for answers; Why do I feel this way? What does this mean? How do I escape these feelings?
Our mind fumbles for answers, giving meaning to experience. Graspable meaning creates a sense of control—escape from vulnerability. We give meaning to experiences even when we have insufficient knowledge of the causes. Our meanings are influenced by our moods. When lost in sorrow, our explanations are sorrowful, adding to despair by finding catastrophic meaning to mundane events. Our answers (no matter how eloquent) can’t explain away the pain. The lover is still gone, the bill collector still knocks, and the future still menacingly looms beyond control.
Stopping the incessant flow of thought, even for a moment, invites breaks in the action, giving space for refreshing moments of peace. We must purposely invite the space. The mind gets dragged into finding answers that don’t exist. When resolutions are unavailable, the wheels of the mind continue to spin, sinking deeper into the unforgiving sludge of the unknown; the more the wheels spin, the deeper the mind sinks. Often information emerges solving the problems that have us stuck; but this doesn’t always happen at our command. We must wait. During the dark waiting periods when causes are unknown, and futures are put on hold, we need a mental escape. We need the respite to prevent overwhelm; outmatched by experience to prevent the depression, discouragement and helplessness that are sure to follow.
The practice of mindfulness directs awareness away from words and towards feelings. This practice works well with nature, exercise, and meditation. We momentarily excuse ourselves from the normal practice of understanding with words, assigning meaning (with words) and creating connections; stopping thought flow from this flooded world of words may be awkward at first. Our initial attempts to disengage and focus on feeling often challenges our resolve as our mind stubbornly continues to return to thoughts and explanations. We must catch the wandering mind and redirect it—over and over and over. This engages the mind in a new process, momentarily distracting the painful ruminations, focusing on feelings without judgement, without explanations, and without words—just feeling. Eventually these practices invite new encounters with peace, providing momentary relief from troubles, and refreshing the mind before reengaging with life.