5 Steps to Zen – Susan Smith Jones

Everyone at some time has experienced the feeling of being overwhelmed by life. We all, too, have felt the need to escape, to find a quiet, secluded place to experience the peace of spirit and to be alone with our thoughts. Creating times of silence takes commitment and discipline. Most often, they must be scheduled into the day’s activities or we’ll never have any.

1. Switch off

Maybe you can carve out periods of quiet while at home, where you can be without radio, television, telephones, or voices. If you live with family members, the best option may be early in the morning before the others arise. In that calm, you can become more aware of, and more sensitive to, your surroundings and more in touch with the wholeness of life.

2. Spend time alone

From quiet time, you’ll recognise the importance of being alone. Silence and solitude go hand in hand. In them, you reconnect with yourself. Being solitary helps clear your channels, fosters peace, and brings spiritual lucidity. When you retreat from the outside world to go within, you can dwell at the very centre of yourself and reacquaint yourself with your spiritual nature—the essence of your being and all life.

Outside noise tends to drown out the inner life—the music of the soul. Only in silence and solitude can we go within and nurture our spiritual lives. Within each of us, there’s a silence waiting to be embraced. It’s the harbor of the heart. When you rediscover that haven, your life will never be the same.

3. Listen, Communicate, Mediate or Pray

Mystics, saints, and spiritual leaders have advocated periods of silence and solitude for spiritual growth. Saint John of the Cross wrote that only in silence can the soul hear the divine; Jesus prayed much by himself and spent long hours in wordless communion with God. Gandhi devoted every Monday to a day of silence, in which he was better able to meditate and pray, to seek within himself the solutions to all of the problems and responsibilities that he carried. When I read about his practice several years ago, I was so inspired and moved that I decided to adopt a similar discipline in my life. So now one day each week, for two consecutive days once a month, and for several days in a row at each change of season, I spend time in solitude, silence, prayer, and fasting.

“You long for peace. You think of peace as being goodwill towards each other, goodwill among the nations, the laying down of arms. But peace is far more than this; it can only be understood and realised within your heart. It lies beneath all the turmoil and noise and clamor of the world, beneath feeling, beneath thought. It is found in the deep, deep silence and stillness of the soul. It is spirit: it is God,” writes White Eagle in one of my all-time favourite books, The Quiet Mind. Invite quiet and solitude into your life, and find that place within you where peace and stillness reside.

4. Put a different meaning to the word ‘alone’

How do you feel about being alone? It’s quite different from loneliness. In the book The Courage to Be, Paul Tillich expressed this idea beautifully when he wrote the following: “Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone. It has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.”

Loneliness is something you do to yourself. Have you ever experienced it even when you’re with other people? We’re so used to being around others and so unaccustomed to being by ourselves that we have, in a sense, become “a people” and not persons. We must reclaim ourselves and reconnect with our wholeness and the peace of solitude.

I know several individuals who do everything possible to keep from being alone. Often this is because they’ve never tried it, they’re afraid of loneliness, or they’re simply uncomfortable with themselves. They haven’t yet discovered the peace of their own company. It’s not scary to be by yourself—it’s absolutely wonderful! Loneliness isn’t a state of being; it’s a state of mind, which you can choose to change.

5. Embrace Solitude

Through the years, I’ve gone on several vision quests. These are periods of solitude during which you can take time for looking into your soul, finding a new direction or path, or simply reconnecting with your Higher Self. On these occasions, I usually go to the mountains or the ocean for prayer, meditation, fasting, reflection, and being alone. I spend much of my time outdoors, open to the beauty and love all around me. On this peaceful, reflective retreat, the earth, sky, wind, animals, incredible beauty, and divine order of everything take on a new and personal meaning. I commune with the trees, moon, flowers, and animals. My vision quests always show me that the most profound lessons in life come through nature, solitude, and silence.

It’s my contention that all of the other good things we endeavor to provide for ourselves—including sound nutrition, daily exercise, and material wealth—will be of reduced value unless we learn to live in harmony with ourselves, which means knowing ourselves and finding peace in our own company. This serenity is a natural occurrence of spending quiet time without others. When we do so, we realise that we’re never really alone and that we can live more fully by focusing on inner guidance rather than on external things.

Walk in silence among the trees, in the mountains, by the ocean, and with the sun and moon as your friends. Be by yourself and experience a whole new way of celebrating yourself and life. Feel the heartbeat of silence; bathe in its light and love. Know within yourself that you’re a child of God, and in your silence is Heaven.

This is an edited extract from Health Bliss: 50 Revitalizing NatureFoods & Lifestyle Choices to Promote Vibrant Health by Susan Smith Jones, Ph.D., available at all leading retailers.

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