Silence, Solitude and Turning Pro

Day 5 of the Turning Pro digital book club has intersected wtih one of my favorite topics: Spiritual Disciplines. In his chapter “The Amateur is Easily Distracted”, Steven Pressfield notes:

The amateur has a long list of fears. Near the top are two:

Solitude and silence.

The amateur fears solitude and silence because she needs to avoid, at all costs, the voice inside her head that would point her toward her calling and her destiny. So she seeks distraction.

The amateur prizes shallowness and shuns depth. The culture of Twitter and Facebook is paradise for the amateur. (p. 58)

Solitude and Silence are not only the amateurs deepest fears, but to the writer and professor Dallas Willard, they are the two first steps toward a life of discipline.

Willard passed away in 2013, but I got to meet him and spend a few brief moments with him on three separate occassions. I’m sure he would not have remembered me, but each of those meetings showed a man who just exuded peace and attention to whomever was right in front of him. I default to his writings a lot in my quest to pursue a better personal and spiritual life because I actually saw him living the kind of life I want to live.

Whenever he writes to those taking their first steps towards spiritual formation, he will invariably bring up Solitude and Silence, sometimes alone or sometimes with one or two other discipllines as in his article “The Key to the Keys of the Kingdom.” The article isn’t too long, but for the sake of brevity I want to pull out two paragraphs he wrote on Solitude and Silence and comment on why I think these two, especially, are terrifying to the amateur.

Regarding Solitude, he writes:

Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on you shoulders after all. You will find yourself and God will find you in new ways. Joy and peace will begin to bubble up within you and arrive from things and events around you. Praise and prayer will come to you and from within you. The soul anchor established in solitude will remain solid when you return to your ordinary life with others.

And on Silence:

When we stop talking we abandon ourselves to reality and to God. We position ourselves to attend rather than to adjust things with our words. We stop our shaping and negotiating, or “spinning.” How much of our energy goes into that! We let things stand. We trust God with what others shall think.

I don’t know if Pressfield is familiar with Willard, but I love when two completely separate people arrive at the same solutions from seemingly completely different starting points. Solitude and Silence are terrifying to the amateur because that’s where you only have yourself to observe. You can’t be distracted by anything except what’s coming from you, and you also can’t manipulate the way others see you (not that most people are as successful at this kind of manipulation as they think they are anyway).

So, if you’re looking to “turn pro,” two out of two authors agree. Get away, even if it’s just closing a door, and get quiet, even if it’s just for a few hours. Let your journey towards being a pro, or an artist (or a mother, or any of the roles I quoted in yesterday’s post) begin by knowing you have enough to get started within you. And know, too, that you don’t have to manipulate what anyone thinks of you anymore, just do the work and let it do the talking.