The Necessity of Tides

I’m drawn to the coast.

Seduced by the subtleties of sand meeting water. Captivated by the currents and briny air ushered in from the water’s edge. The sounds of seagulls and waves always arrive as good news to me.    

And I don’t consider myself a poet, but when I’m near any sort of shore, poetry spills out. My mind grasping for words worthy of capturing the beauty—word pictures snapped as impulsively as the pictures on my phone.

Allie Illuminated | Low Tide

In February, I stayed in this sleepy coastal town just across the Canadian border. What I imagine to be hopping in the summer, all fish & chips shops and ice cream parlors bustling with friendly Canadians now remained mostly dormant in the grey-skied winter months—the boardwalks had more strolling seagulls than tourists.

I was housesitting in this Colonial style home, just a fifteen-minute walk from Crescent Beach. I would take Maddi, the 12-year-old shepherd mix down the 101 rickety stairs cutting into the bluffs down to the stony beach. On clear days, you could make out the Vancouver skyline off in the distance, the North Shore Mountains etched behind.

As a land-locked Iowa native, the tides are a fascinating mystery to me. Our first few visits to the beach must’ve been at high tide the water, a little ledge made a sidewalk out of the beach. Other times, the beach revealed an expanse of rocky coastline. The shallow slope of the land makes the tides dramatic, exposing glassy bars of soft sand stretching out hundreds of feet.

As part of the Straight of Georgia, we were protected from the wildness of open sea. No crashing waves. The ebb and flow of the tide the only sign this water belonged to the ocean. I relished the long beach walks, Maddi dutifully sniffing every third rock.

Allie Illuminated | Low TideWhen I decided to travel solo, I intentionally, willingly carved this wide margin in my life. The rhythm slows down a lot when you spend six weeks alone in a place where you don’t know anyone. I welcomed the spaciousness like a low tide. I explored the exposed tidal pools on my own and admired the rivulets of water etching lines in the salty sand as often as I could those solitary weeks in Canada.

To the untrained eye, the bareness of low tide could easily be mistaken for a drought. A depleted water source pointing to scarcity. Likewise, the barren quietness of my solitude could’ve easily been seen as an emptiness. My poverty of activity and company a glaring sign of all that was lacking in my life.

While isolation isn’t a state I’d like to live in indefinitely, allowing the busyness to seep away and releasing my need for constant companionship was a freeing revelation.

Allie Illuminated | Low Tide

That’s the beauty of low tides. Being stripped bare from the blanketing waves, the secrets of the shore are revealed. Low tide is an invitation to rest. Boats nestled into their docks, lowering closer to the foundations. It’s also a time to explore, to gather and collect hidden treasures unveiled in glistening sand.

Seasons of quiet—margin to simply Be—can make me feel exposed at first. Panicky, I used to reach for some sort of activity to crash over me like the incessant waves I was used to. But this time, on the Canadian shorelines, I leaned into the quiet.

Don’t get me wrong. I love high tides, both the reality and the metaphor. A week after leaving Canada, I picked up my dear friends from the airport. The wave of familiarity reached my delighted heart like the gift it was. I could hardly contain my giddiness as we made our way to the Oregon coast. Waves crashing, sand between my barefooted toes. The rush of conversations and laughter and companionship—familiarity that had almost become foreign to me swept right back in, and I welcomed it.

Allie Illuminated | Low Tide

I need both. The rising tide of action, engagement, moving in the world is directly linked to our purpose in this world. But I’m beginning to suspect our highest contributions can’t happen unless we also receive the moments of low tide.

It feels like the placid waters of my low tide are starting to rise. My shorelines aren’t crashing with waves just yet, but I wonder if high tide is coming. Rising or receding, I want to remain open to the tides.

Allie Illuminated | Low Tide

Cultivating Quiet: A Guide to Solitude (Free Resource Included!)

Solitude isn’t sexy. We may crave alone time in chaotic moments, but the intentional habit of carving out long stretches of time by yourself is a bit foreign in our world of constant stimulation and busyness. Most of us leave the practice to monks and poets. An indulgence we tell ourselves we don’t need.

But disliking solitude is kind of like being afraid of the dark. We won’t admit it, but in the same way run up the last few stairs of the basement, a lot of us casually craft our lives to avoid aloneness at all costs.

Solitude

Maybe now more than ever, we need people who are willing to cultivate silence in their lives. I think most people have little to no experience with the practice, which makes the idea of practicing it daunting to say the least! Which is why I’ve created a guidebook to help demystify it and share tangible, realistic ways to cultivate more quiet in your life.

Included in this guide:

  • What solitude is (and what it isn’t)
  • What we gain when we cultivate more solitude in our lives
  • Practical ways to create more margin in daily life
  • A complete guide to a weekend solitude retreat

My intention in writing this is to provide tangible ways to implement this practice. I’ve tried to make this really practical, but please know this isn’t prescriptive. I’m writing from the experiences I’ve had and insights I’ve gleaned. But like most practices, solitude is a deeply personal and unique experience for everyone.

I find solitude to be helpful when I feel directionless. When I’m creatively blocked. After a heartbreak or when I have a big decision to make. Solitude is for anyone interested in pursuing wholeheartedness in any capacity. But I specifically wanted to address three people before I begin:

For those reeling in the wake of the political climate,

I think a lot of us have been feeling a variety of bewilderment, deep concern, rage, and hopelessness, especially in the last few months. We need people to respond to injustice. But activism that springs out of reactionary anger is not sustainable. Activist and pastor Anthony Smith said, “before we can meaningfully play some part in addressing the violence my our own community, I must first seriously address the violence within my own soul.”  

If we don’t do this internal work, our best efforts only end up reflecting the very thing you’re trying to fight.

For the frazzled,

I know, I know. You’re probably muttering “must be nice…” when someone suggests that you make solitude a part of your rhythm. I get it. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like you’ve got a choice in certain seasons of life.

I want you to know this invitation is extended to you, even now. If you’re a mom of young ones, or work just got crazy busy, you probably need solitude more than anyone. You may have to get creative about the how and the when, but what feels like a luxury is actually a necessity. Leaving things undone for a little while to tend to your soul is so good for you.

For the extroverts,

I’m beginning to suspect that we hide behind the labels we give ourselves. Maybe “I don’t do alone time well because I’m an extrovert” is code for “I avoid being alone because I don’t want to face the demons that await me in silence.” (Equally, I suspect us introverts claim of social exhaustion has more to do with our dysfunctional mask wearing than personality traits) It may not be your natural tendency, but I dare you to give solitude a try. I promise, there are beautiful things waiting on the other side of the silence.

Solitude

In the midst of a world of incessant noise, we intuitively know we need to cultivate quiet in our lives. The gifts waiting inside quiet moments carved out are many.

To reclaim our humanity.

In a culture that worships at the altar of productivity and surrounded by people who wear exhaustion as a badge of honor, choosing solitude is an act of rebellion. It’s reclaiming the territory of what it means to be human. It’s owning up to our frailty and making peace with our limits. Solitude ushers us into the process of unlearning the self-protective “adult” habits that aren’t actually serving us. It’s trading in the forceful hustling, and constant pushing for a gentle wayfinding and sustainable rhythm.

To encounter unprocessed emotions.

Perhaps the main reason we avoid solitude is that we fear what awaits us. The grief we’ve been dismissing. The anger we’ve been stuffing down. The disillusioned doubts and undignified disappointment that we hope will just go away if we ignore it long enough. Uncomfortable though it is, the best way to move through complex emotions is through them. Not acknowledging undesirable emotions actually enslaves us. Pushing into the discomfort can lead to healing, clarity, and true healing. It IS worth it.

To be more fully present.

The true intention of solitude is not selfish isolation from the world. Richard Foster says “the fruit of solitude is increased sensitivity and compassion for others. There comes a new freedom to be with people. There is new attentiveness to their needs, new responsiveness to their hurts.” And Thomas Merton observed that “it is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them… Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say.”

If this is something you’re curious about, please download my free Cultivating Quiet Solitude Guide. 

 

Adventures of a Solitude

I am writing this in an empty Starbucks, on a sunny, windy, cloud-decked sky of a Sunday, on my way back from 48 hours of solitude at a convent—The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde Missouri. In between the long, uninterrupted hours of contemplation that I had in the quiet guest house Sister Judy prepared for me and the to do lists and friends and Superbowl parties and noise that awaits me in Kansas City.

unnamed-1This is perhaps an eyebrow-raising way to spend a weekend. To choose silence and to be alone for two days. Admittedly, I am an introvert to the core, so I am coming back from this weekend feeling deeply energized and refreshed. Increasingly, I have made these retreats an important rhythm in my life. Without fail, I always leave these oases vowing to continue to carve out more time, no matter how busy life gets. Creating space to let the mental and internal clutter settle like a snow globe that’s been set on the shelf is, for me, part of becoming and remaining deeply human. It is always a coming home, a coming back to myself. Especially as one who finds that being alone is where I feel most myself, most able to articulate my story and name it, I find that I need solitude, but it has become a strong conviction of mine that everyone would deeply benefit from going away to the mountaintop, to be alone with God. I believe that “until we experience the freedom of solitude, we cannot connect authentically. We may be enmeshed, but we are not encountered.” (Julia Cameron)

Will you let me (and Henri Nouwen, and Richard Foster, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Thomas Merton, and my mentor Lori Adams, and others…) tell you why I think you, and everyone you know, should make solitude a regular part of their life?

“Solitude is being with God and God alone. Is there any space for that in your life? Why is it so important that you are with God and God alone on the mountain top? It’s important because it’s the place in which you can listen to the voice of the One who calls you the beloved. To pray is to listen to the One who calls you ‘my beloved daughter,’ ‘my beloved son,’ ‘my beloved child.’ To pray is to let that voice speak to the center of your being, to your guts, and let that voice resound in your whole being.”  (Henri Nouwen)

We live in a world with so much noise, where it is easy to miss that voice that is calling you Beloved. It is quite possible to live day in and day out with a constant barrage of notifications, feeds, podcasts, live streams, and pop-ups asking us if we want to continue watching. Multiple sources of distraction, it’s as if our headphones have become an IV, a constant drip of numbing morphine, tranquilizing us from the terrifying thought of facing ourselves, of—heaven forbid—being alone with only ourselves for company. For all this busyness and distraction, we are lonely creatures, are we not? Logic follows that being alone would only deepen this wound we carry, but “we can cultivate an inner solitude and silence that sets us free from loneliness and fear. Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment.” (Richard Foster)

Because solitude is not just being alone with yourself. That’s called introspection. And that is a nasty, gross, mucky downward slope that spirals into self obsession, self hatred, and despair. I’m not trying to be dramatic, I’m just speaking as one who has been down that horrible rabbit hole. Rather than being this austere, navel-gazing ritual of entering into the inhospitable holy of holies, solitude has been, for me, a childlike playful thing, a restful sweetness, an embracing and murmuring of “it’s all going to be ok. You are ok, my child.” At times, yes, a reckoning and wrestling, of raw reality and facing of fears, but also a time of fort making and nap taking. Of making sculptures out of tree bark and leaping over muddy river banks, giggling at the bewildered cows that watch my adventure from afar. No, solitude is not a lonely affair, it is being alone with the One who knows me deeply, and being delighted by being delighted in.

IMG_4890I want you to know that solitude comes with a rhythm. I have found it usually takes time to exhale first. To dump out the contents of my heart and let them sprawl. The things that are weighing me down are brought up and set aside, and then the myriad of pesky and inconsequential thoughts swirl around for awhile. The laundry I haven’t done, the person I forgot to call back, and the kicking myself for still not filing my taxes yet swirls around and can cause untold frustration. You feel like you “aren’t doing it right.” Henri Nouwen likens your inner life to a banana tree filled with monkeys jumping up and down. If Henri Nouwen had inner monkeys, I guess it’s ok that I have them too. I have found that being patient and gentle with the monkeys is the best way to coax them down. Sometimes it can take several hours, or even days for quiet to come. And that is ok. We are far more impatient with ourselves than God is. He waits.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetAnd then the deeper things come up to the surface. The things that have been nagging in your subconscious, or maybe you completely unaware of. The thing that all the other things were merely symptoms of. And God takes your hand, and you go there together. It’s messy. And most of the time there isn’t some glorious moment like in the Renaissance paintings of saints where they are in some spiritual ecstasy. It’s probably a moment on your walk when you see that bird, or when you reread something in your journal, or in a verse that sinks down more deeply because you’ve been quiet.  That’s when you can inhale the things that you need to receive. Almost every time I hear some variation of the same message that I will continue to need to hear until I die. That I am loved deeply. And that being enough makes me enough. It’s a word or a phrase or a picture, but every time, I am changed. Even if it feels frustrating and empty in the moment, there is a harvest eventually. Richard Foster says “the fruit of solitude is increased sensitivity and compassion for others. There comes a new freedom to be with people. There is new attentiveness to their needs, new responsiveness to their hurts.” And Thomas Merton observed that “it is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them… Solitude and silence teacher me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say.”

So, what kind of adventure of solitude are you being invited into? I get that it’s intimidating, but seriously, it is so Good! Start small. Maybe it’s turning off the radio on your commute to work. Maybe it’s carving out some time every Tuesday to go to go on a walk and not listen to a podcast, but just have your eyes open. Maybe it’s fasting this Lent from the extra noise that is numbing you to being honest with yourself and entering into a healing dialog with God. Or maybe you’re feeling invited to start planning a solitude retreat of your own!

If you want more resources or to dialog about what this could look like, I would be so excited to share more about this spiritual discipline that has been so life giving to me.