Ascent to Interior Prayer
Part 4 of 5
By Br. Craig Driscoll (1958-2015*)
What is Contemplative Prayer?
Prayer—what Søren Kierkegaard referred to as our "greatest earthly happiness" is a popular subject. Many books are written about prayer. And rightly so. St. Augustine called prayer, "the soul's breathing."
I need to begin by explaining what can be meant by the phrase "contemplative prayer" and how this essay refers to it. "Contemplative prayer," these days, means a few different realities. To the theologian of the spiritual theology or the spiritual life (what used to be called ascetical and mystical theology) contemplative prayer is that rather advanced stage of prayer called "infused contemplation," during which the person, being passive, is the receiver of this infusion by the Holy Spirit. This grace, prepared for, perhaps for years, by the person's efforts at prayer is not something he or she can bring about, hence it is received, therefore mystical, to use that term in its correct theological sense.
I found an interesting definition of contemplative prayer from the pen of the Carthusian Dom Thomas Verner Moore. "Contemplative prayer is a means of uniting the soul more closely to God by a living experience of the Divine Presence, which, while it lasts, is essentially a more or less perfect union of mind and heart, of intellect and will of the creature with the Creator. It is attended with a feeling of peace, joy, happiness, and great delight, which makes the soul yearn to will only what God wills and do only what He desires." Surely these words need prayerful pondering for their full benefit to be received.
For many people contemplative prayer is the kind of prayer, they presume, that people do who are dedicated to the contemplative life. Monks and nuns being contemplatives (that is, not out in the world teaching or nursing or doing some apostolate) must, so it would seem, spend their time in contemplative prayer. This is one way some consider contemplative prayer. There have, however, been many great contemplatives among lay people. I think right away of Raissa Maritain, the wife of the great Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain, who dedicated her mornings to contemplative prayer and reached very high stages of prayer.
But there is a new use of the phrase "contemplative prayer." It is not a dictionary definition nor does it have the theological exactness and meaning of "infused contemplation." But as one hears "contemplative prayer" being used lately one gets a real sense of what it means. This is true because more often than not when someone speaks of "contemplative prayer" the person is expressing a desire or a need. That is what this book is about. Let me explain.
When people say they want to learn about contemplative prayer they are revealing the fact that they do pray, that prayer is very important to them but they want to pray more deeply. They might have a sense that their efforts lack something. Or a feeling that there is, or could be, something more to prayer. All this might be vague but it could be persistent. A person could actually feel a real need to have a more profound prayer life perhaps to strengthen him or her during a time of suffering such as the illness of a loved one. Some people want to pray in a way that is more recollected, perhaps even to pray with fewer words and greater silence. Some people will speak of moving from meditation to contemplation. They want to learn how to contemplate God. A noble desire indeed!
Hopefully this book will help each reader with contemplative prayer. I think it is safe to say that you are interested in contemplative prayer if you are reading this book. The chapters of this book deal with different ways of doing contemplative prayer and various helps to doing it. You might find it best to read this book straight through and then re-read it perhaps taking notes.
One thing I want you to know and it is best if you know it from the start. You can do contemplative prayer. You need Positive Thinking. You need to believe that you can if you think you can! You need enthusiasm, must not be discouraged but must not expect instant success. The more you do contemplative prayer the greater facility you will have for it.
St. John Marie Vianney put it this way. "The more we pray, the more we wish to pray." Joni Eareckson Toda advises we "pray for prayer. Pray to be helped in prayer. Pray until you appreciate prayer. Like art, like music, like so many other disciplines, prayer can only be appreciated when you actually spend time at it."
I recommend a motivational book that teaches many great lessons you can use in motivating yourself to do contemplative prayer. It is a book I read over and over again. It is called "A Strategy for Daily Living" by Ari Kiev, M.D. It is published by The Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster.
Believing you can do contemplative prayer is important as a motivating factor and because it is true! However there is something else you should keep in mind as you read this book. You will need to adapt, at least some, perhaps much, of what you read to you and your personality and your own life. You need to often recall the words of the Benedictine author Dom John Chapman, O.S.B. "Pray as you can not as you cannot."
Contemplative prayer requires sacrifices. These sacrifices are not called for while you are praying but in preparation for your time of prayer. Contemplative prayer requires what monks and nuns have done for centuries—kept silent, stayed home, ignored curiosity about unimportant things, shunned listening to idle talk, etc. All of this comes down to fostering and protecting recollection. There will be a whole chapter on that! Recollection is having a still mind, a control of the attention and a focusing of all interests. A person whose mind or attention is scattered and going here and there is not preparing for contemplative prayer. It is a prayerful day that will prepare you for contemplative prayer.
My own beginnings with contemplative prayer began in Rome. I was studying theology at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas, better known as the Angelicum. I lived in a house of students run by the Archdiocese of Rome and located in what had been the home of the Italian St. Francesca Romana. Each evening I would attend Mass at a nearby church called "Our Lady of the Light." After Mass the church was closed up until morning so the small group who had attended Mass would leave the church and head home. Instead of walking directly to the student residence I would walk to the Tiber river. I cannot recall the name of the street. I would walk back and forth on the sidewalk. The street was on one side of me and a short wall on the other. Down below, on the other side of the wall, way down, was the Tiber. I would walk back and forth for maybe twenty minutes making my—what is customarily called "thanksgiving" after Holy Communion. It was during these evenings, praying with the Eucharistic presence still within me for awhile, praying to Jesus within me, that I began to find I was praying more recollectedly, that I was praying more deeply and that I was listening. All this transformed my prayer life and led to the spiritual "groundwork" of my founding The Monks of Adoration. But that's another story. After I began attending another church—that did not close right after Mass—I would go outside and make my thanksgiving walking since that had become such a habit!
That the word contemplative makes people think of quiet, silence, solitude, a meditative, a reflective attitude and monasteries is a good thing. For the road to contemplative prayer is one of ever deeper interior silence, stillness and recollection. And these are things that are associated with the world inside a monastic cloister. Yet as pleasant as all these things are they are not the reason for contemplative prayer nor is it its real purpose.
Most importantly, contemplative prayer brings about both a growth in virtue and a much closer union with God. The more profoundly one prays the more one sees his or her needs—areas where there is perhaps need for growth in a particular virtue. Contemplative prayer brings a person very close to God, the Source of all holiness. Dame Julian of Norwich, the Medieval English anchoress, taught, "prayer oneth the soul to God." Contemplative prayer can make us holy! It can make us saints! It is no wonder people want to learn how to do contemplative prayer!
If you are new to contemplative prayer you will be encouraged to know that in time you can get "quite good at this." You may even find yourself not even praying one moment and then something—a thought, something you see, or perhaps a sentence read in a book will put you in a contemplative "mood" which is not the right word but "state" does not seem to be the right word either. But I think you know what I mean. I find this happening when I am reading certain kinds of books—not always religious books, often well-written memoirs—or riding on trains. I think trains are great and I am encouraged that C. S. Lewis also found them a good place to pray. True, as a monk I do not get to ride trains much but I suspect you will be hearing about them again!
You may have other reasons to want to do contemplative prayer. Each person's motives will, of course, be affected by one's personality. Contemplative prayer is calming and restful. "Free yourself for a little while from your many cares and take some time to think of God and to rest in Him," wrote St. Augustine whose Rule our monastic community follows.
Contemplative prayer can relieve stress and tension. It can help us "get through life." Perhaps more importantly it can get us through the day! As Evelyn Underhill wrote, "After all, those who have a deep and real inner life are best able to deal with the irritating details of outer life."
Contemplative prayer can strengthen us in times of suffering. This is a great blessing. Perhaps the most important way that contemplative prayer is a help when suffering is that contemplative prayer can make us strong. From the depth of contemplative prayer somehow we receive strength that enables us to "carry on" or be courageous or perhaps patient when suffering. So, I believe that during times of suffering we should spend even extra time in contemplative prayer.
Contemplative prayer can do something which we must not under-value—it can be a way of praying when we just do not know what we should prayer or perhaps for what intention. Contemplative prayer, having a certain passivity lends itself to praying to God when we, at last, admit we do not know what is best, when our minds or bodies are tired or we just cannot think of the right (or any) words. As Søren Kierkegaard wrote, "For a long time my prayer has therefore been different, it really is a silent surrendering of everything to God because it is not quite plain to me how I should pray."
Also, contemplative prayer is not the end of the road. As you will read in the chapter about the stages of prayer, beyond contemplative prayer are higher stages of prayer and the heights of holiness. Make no mistake—those levels of prayer and increased holiness are related! And, one more thing, contemplative prayer is a great adventure!
Chapter 2. Natural Contemplation
Learning how to contemplate naturally can help you to do contemplative prayer. It is not absolutely necessary as a preparation for contemplative prayer but it can be a help. But what is meant by natural contemplation?
Natural means it is a work of reason, of thinking and not the result of a special grace. True, reason is a gift of God (Raissa Maritain referred to "blessed reason" in her journal) but we use reason in a way we call natural. Natural contemplation is in the realm of philosophy. Contemplative prayer, involving faith as it does, is in the realm of theology.
Natural contemplation along with philosophical considerations, the practice of really thinking, the use of our intellect and reasoning are not popular subjects. For we live in an age of feeling. People say "I feel" when they mean what they think. This century (okay, it was the last one!) saw philosophy and the mind forgotten while psychology and the emotions were emphasized. Natural contemplation requires the use of, and great respect for, thinking and reasoning.
But to contemplate requires a special form of thinking and reasoning. It requires an intellectual "seeing" or a mental considering. This is not so difficult to do. We do it all the time. The young woman who says, "I'm considering becoming a nun" means she is contemplating becoming a nun. Contemplation is thinking, pondering, considering and sometimes involves wonder.
Above I referred to intellectual seeing. While using our intellect, thinking or considering, natural contemplation can also involve ordinary seeing—using our eyes. True, we can contemplate an idea. We can contemplate a person or a place without any use of our eyes. But, I think, the best way to practice natural contemplation as a help or preparation to contemplative prayer is to combine its interior mental aspects with actual natural exterior looking.
So how do you do this? It can be done using different subjects for consideration, that is, for contemplation. I suggest you choose something you like and are interested in but not overly familiar with. What you choose may be an actual small object you could hold in your hand—I think immediately of those globes with a scene inside and you move them to make "snowflakes" fall—or a larger subject for your contemplation such as the woods behind your house. Whatever you choose the principles are the same. Okay, here's an example.
Across the room from where I am writing there is a wooden desk with a matching wooden bench rather than a chair. It is a light-colored wood. The stain must be light-colored. The desk has a single drawer. The design is simple. I just noticed something I have never noticed before. The legs of the desk and the bench tilt out giving the two pieces a pleasing symmetry. That I only just noticed this is significant. My father made the desk. I grew up with it in the house. But I never contemplated it before. Sure I saw it. Yes, I've looked at it and even sat there using it. But until this morning I never contemplated it. I think my father made it when he, my mother and brother and sister, lived in California before I was born. Did I write that to be chatty? No, rather, it illustrates that contemplation leads the mind to thoughts, to associations. There are other objects in the room—chairs, books, lamps, a wood stove among other things. Why did I chose the desk and its bench? I chose them because I like the wood. I find that wooden things are objects of beauty. I think wood is fascinating (and fascination is a kind of contemplation) and I want someday to learn how to identify, as my father can, the kind of wood of which something is made. I also want to learn to identify various kinds of trees. For that I could use a book or go down the road, two and a half miles (I know the distance from my running) to Harvard University's School of Forestry and ask questions. Am I digressing? No, I'm contemplating. You see, contemplation is more than staring at an object. It is a combined looking and considering.
Now looking and considering may lead to a greater knowledge of the object itself (like I noticed that the legs of the desk and bench slant outward) or to "lessons" or thoughts caused by, but outside of, the actual object. Either way it is good practice for contemplative prayer. The first way leads us to contemplate God and in doing so learn more about Him. Or perhaps to contemplate some aspect of the spiritual life, such as the virtue of prudence, and come to a deeper understanding of it. The second way—with its associations, its "going off on a tangent," enriches our contemplative prayer by giving us, perhaps, numerous subjects to talk to God about or to prayerfully consider during our time of contemplative prayer.
Natural contemplation also helps us to learn how to focus. If we naturally learn how to think about and consider a particular object we will be better at focusing—or rather, paying attention—when at contemplative prayer. I will not recommend the Zen practice of staring at an object for a long time. But looking with thought and consideration at something can strengthen your minds' ability to contemplate. The mind or, rather our brain is "fluid." The more we do something the more the brain gets better at it—by forming pathways because of repetition.
So what should you use to practice contemplation? I don't know! Only you know but you might need to give it some thought to know it! Remember, choose something you have an interest in but are not already overly familiar with. It can be an object that you can see which especially helps those new at doing this kind of thing. Or it can be something you imagine.
Keep in mind that without settling down to "practice natural contemplation" we all do this kind of thinking or considering now and then. It is not so hard. But then again we should not be against "hard thinking" for the more we use and challenge our brain the more we increase its ability. So you might do some reading of philosophy books, crossword puzzles or math problems if you want to enhance your brain's power. You will also be increasing your powers of concentration and attention—always helpful regarding prayer.
So spend some time doing "natural contemplation." The more you think you are not good at concentrating, the more your thoughts tend to wander and the more you are distracted the greater need you have for this kind of practice.
What do I like to contemplate? What, to quote Maria in "The Sound of Music," are some of my favorite things? I like stones, well-made books with a well chosen design for the lettering of the words, paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, though I am not at all an art kind of person, coffee, a vegetable garden (Am I the only person who thinks an onion is pleasant to look at?) and pick-up trucks. (Yeah, it's a guy thing.)
To learn contemplation you could consider, look at or study a photograph. Sometimes really looking at a photo for a good long time reveals things we do not notice right away. I have here in front of me three books. All by Dr. Tom Dooley—"Deliver Us From Evil," "The Edge of Tomorrow" and "The Night They Burned the Mountain." Each book has many black and white photos—I've been contemplating these photos. In one Dr. Dooley is holding a sick baby, the good doctor is looking up, at whom I do not know, he is not looking toward the camera. He looks helpless. Then in another photo he is holding a happy, healthy child. His arms are wrapped around the little child. Both are smiling. Other photos: Dr. Dooley doing surgery, with a stethoscope listening to a baby's heart while the baby lays on his lap, Dr. Dooley playing the piano, drinking coffee and reading mail. Now I want to re-read Teresa Gallagher's biography of this great man. We have a copy upstairs. I'm thinking what a good friend and helper she was to Dr. Dooley. My mind is on the medical missions. What can I do to help? Yes, pray. Maybe also I could write an article that would get donations for a group aiding medical missionaries. I just glanced up from writing. The cover of "The Night They Burned the Mountain" has a photo of Dr. Dooley holding a little girl. I study the picture. I contemplate it. I am renewed in my admiration for Dr. Tom Dooley.
Then again I do not want to give the impression that natural contemplation involves only seeing either of an interior kind or exterior kind or both. Natural contemplation does involve seeing perhaps more than anything else but there can be another aspect, or can be, to it. You can contemplate by hearing. You could practice natural contemplation by listening, really listening, to music. Again it should be something you like, a type of music you like but not something with which you are overly familiar. Many will choose classical music and that is good as the "complication" or the intricacy of the music will, or should, require attention which is important in practicing natural contemplation. I myself would choose country music!
The whole idea of using natural contemplation as a preparation or help to contemplative prayer that is, using something natural to prepare for something supernatural has a venerable tradition in our Catholic Faith. Seminarians must study philosophy before theology. These students study the various philosophical concepts used in theology's "handmaid" as the Church likes to call philosophy. We use the natural to help with the supernatural. We remember—or should—that we are not simply a soul but have a mind blessed with God's gift of reason and He likes His gifts to be used.
Poets, of course, use natural contemplation. The essence of the poetic gift is the "seeing" of something special. The poet does this "seeing" and then crafts it into words, into a poem. This is why poems, good ones, are often written about very ordinary things and yet readers find these poems interesting. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe went so far as to claim, "one proves that one is a poet when one is able to discover an interesting aspect in a very common object." With practice poets become good at seeing what could be called "the poetic" in things. Poets are good at natural contemplation. Perhaps reading good poets would help you to do natural contemplation. I really don't know. But if you do try it read one of the best—Emily Dickinson.
Still I must not give the impression that contemplation is totally cerebral, all a work of the mind, only an intellectual activity. For that is not true. There is often also enjoyment present in natural contemplation and sometimes love. The little boy watching at a construction site is truly contemplating. And enjoying every minute of it! As he watches the trucks, the back-hoe, the crane, he is totally focused, he is doing natural contemplation. As a mother looks upon her sleeping baby, looking with love, she is contemplating—and doing so perhaps without any particular or specific thoughts. That natural contemplation can involve enjoyment and love only helps us to see all the more how practicing it would benefit a person who wants to do contemplative prayer. The point is not that contemplative prayer will always or even often involve feelings of enjoyment but surely a desire to contemplate God and the things of God implies a love of God. But even in natural contemplation the heart can play its role, along with the head.
What else can I tell you? Try natural contemplation. It will take effort. It will take mental effort. Unfortunately we live in a society that does not encourage mental effort. Rather, mental laziness is encouraged! Mental efforts (not only in doing natural contemplation but also studying, learning a language, math or physics or reading a medical book, etc.) increases our facility not only to concentrate and pay attention but our ability to make our minds do what we want them to do. And that, my friends, comes in real handy when you settle down to do contemplative prayer.
Helps to Contemplative Prayer
Here I consider how silence and solitude can be great helps to contemplative prayer. First, silence. Silence is far more than just a help to contemplative prayer. It is a foundation for it. The more silent you are the more prepared you will be for any kind of prayer.
Silence as a help to doing contemplative prayer refers to not talking, listening to talking or noise and to practice what is called "interior silence." More later on interior silence.
If you want to dedicate yourself to contemplative prayer you will need to value silence. Choices and sacrifices need to be made. By talking less, being more silent you will be removing obstacles to contemplative prayer. Being silent is a way to prepare for contemplative prayer and will add stillness, calmness and recollection to your life; all of which are helpful for contemplative prayer. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta expressed it—"We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence."
Not spending much time involved in unnecessary talking will "protect" your times of contemplative prayer. (One aspect of this "protection" is that you will have less distractions.) This is true even when your time of contemplative prayer is long after the time you have spent in silence. The more silence throughout the day the more recollection you will have during contemplative prayer.
There is another way that silence can be helpful to contemplative prayer. Silence also means the absence of noise—all kinds of noise: television, radio, loud music, any loud or disturbing noise. The more you eliminate noises from your life the more prepared you will be for contemplative prayer. This is not an easy task. But it really must be done if you want to foster the silent atmosphere needed for contemplative prayer. If you cannot eliminate all noise from your life at once strive to get rid of some noise. Remove one source of noise each day.
Silence grows on you. You may not have any interest or desire to be more silent. Give it a try. The more silent you are, the more you will learn to love silence and be nourished spiritually by it. It will enrich, not only your prayer life, but also your spiritual life. As Father Lawrence G. Lovasik, S.V.D. taught, "Silence is the language of God—sanctity's mother tongue."
Now you might be thinking—"It's easy for a monk not to talk, avoid unnecessary talk and live and work in a place of silence." That is true. As the Trappist monk, Dom Vital Lehodey wrote, "Our life is organized above all for prayer. Everything in our life tends to protect us from the turmoil of the world so that our monasteries may be sanctuaries of silence." But even in a monastery there are phones that ring and visitors. So a monk needs to recall St. Bernard's words—"Silence is the guardian of monastic life." I will not deny that living in a monastery is a great advantage and that those living outside of monasteries will have to be creative in thinking of ways to ensure silence.
Still, in a monastery each monk must make a continued effort to maintain the monastery's silence. For silence even affects talking. Silence "shapes" what a monk says when he does talk, when his is not being silent. Dom Hubert van Zeller, O.S.B. expressed it this way—"Thus the value of what a monk says will depend upon the silence from which he says it. If he speaks from the silence of recollection his words will be worth listening to, if he speaks from a distracted or wasted silence his words will be empty."
Then there is what is called "interior silence." This is silence within our minds. It does not help much to be free from talking with people or noise if our minds are jabbering away with interior words, ideas and thoughts flitting about. The busy clashing or rushing about within our minds not only does not prepare us for contemplative prayer but it can tire us. If we can still our minds then we can better prepare ourselves to be in a prayerful or recollected state in order to be really ready to do contemplative prayer.
Another great help not only for preparing yourself for contemplative prayer but also for making you a more prayerful person in general is solitude. Monks, as you no doubt know, love solitude. We like to be alone. The word monk comes from "monos" which is Latin for alone. I am writing this alone in an empty room early in the morning (with coffee and wrapped in a blanket.) Being alone is not only helpful in making you calmer, more recollected and still, it is also a way to be more silent. When you are alone you are not talking. But it is more than that. When you are alone you can discover, more so, who you really are. Many people have that all figured out, but some do not. What I mean by "who you really are" is your real personality without it being affected or changed by reactions to other people. In solitude you can discover your real interests, dreams and goals. Dom Hubert van Zeller, O.S.B. wrote, "It is only in solitude, prayer and silence that one comes to see below the surface of things and to find his or her true self." Of course, all of this is not done just by being alone. It requires thought. But real thought, for most people, needs quiet and solitude. The philosopher Immanuel Kant got up early and spent two hours thinking. By thinking in solitude you can sort out your real self from passing interests and the things you might only do because of the rush and the hecticness of everyday life. In solitude you will either find your true self more clearly." Journalist Frank Bianco advised, "You turn inward. There is nothing to distract you, so you begin to look at yourself." Knowing yourself helps as then you pray to God from the real you, from who you really are. This is important.
Solitude is also helpful in forming us into people ready, willing and able to do contemplative prayer. As I explain in the chapter on natural contemplation "to contemplate" involves the activities of looking at something, pondering an idea or considering or thinking about an object, person, idea, etc. By thinking alone in undisturbed quiet solitude you will develop your mind's facility to naturally contemplate thereby you are more prepared to doing your part when you settle down to contemplative prayer.
After you find the place for your solitude you must accustom yourself to being solitary. The right place is not enough. You must become still, interiorly quiet and at peace. Anne Morrow-Lindbergh expressed it well. "The problem is not entirely the room of one's own, the time alone, difficult and necessary as that is. The problem is more how to still the soul in the midst of its activities." This stilling the soul will take time and practice and much solitude.
Like silence, finding time for being alone, in solitude, is not easy. It requires effort. But the things that are not easy in this life can be the most fruitful. Many thinkers, philosophers, scientists, musicians and writers have made great efforts to find solitude, have "gone off" to be alone for long periods of time. So, you too, if you want to be successful at contemplative prayer, should find time for solitude.
It is true there are people who fear or dislike being alone. They can come to like and appreciate solitude but they might have to ease into it, spending short amounts of time alone then slowly increasing them. For these people the words of actress Ellen Burstyn should be an encouragement. "What a lovely surprise to finally discover how un-lonely being alone can be."
Time spent in solitude is a way of preparing you to be a contemplative pray-er. Another important way for your to prepare for contemplation is to silence what the world calls "news." Monks and nuns are good at this. We project our recollection by not reading newspapers or listening to watching the news. Yes, people tell us about major events and the same is true regarding tragedies that call for prayer. But the slanted, violent and peace-disturbing news is something anyone wanting to progress with contemplative prayer has to do without. The myth that we need to be informed has to be abandoned. If you want to really progress in contemplative prayer you will have to make sacrifices. Give up the news, those stories of crime, deception and you will also decrease the stress and tension in your life. Better you watch Mother Angelica's Eternal Word Television Network or the Home and Garden Channel.
Back to solitude. Jean Guitton, the French writer, had something interesting to tell us about solitude. It deals with monasteries and he refers to stones—cut stones used to make a building. I like stones, hewn into blocks. I like stone buildings. They remind me of solidity and permanence. Here is the quotation—"Solitude always tends to construct an invisible monastery built out of silent stones...The fact that there are monasteries built of stone, real communities of men and women living a life of permanent self-donation helps me to build this interior abbey of the soul."
Actual physical solitude is needed when a person is new at being solitary but in time, the ability to turn within may develop to turn within in such a way and settle down into an interior solitude. As Pearl Buck wrote, "Inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that's where you renew your springs that never dry up." But this idea must not be pushed. While it is true and possible to be in solitude anywhere we must not think we are "above" the need for physical solitude.
But where to spend time in solitude? I cannot really answer it for you. Rather I can mention that people find solitude in "very various" places—an empty room, in a parked car, walking in the woods or in a corner of the New York Public Library. Some of my greatest experiences in solitude have been in libraries! You may need to experiment, try different places to find the place that is best for you. It should be a place from which you will not (cannot!) be called away. A place without a phone, fax, beeper or e-mail! Your solitary place once chosen, and after you have spent some "solitude sessions" there, will begin to take on a certain atmosphere of solitude, particularly if you have chosen an uncluttered place. (That is, if you have chosen a place indoors.) A cluttered room is a room filled with distractions shouting at you, disturbing your silence. This atmosphere of solitude will be a reminder to you when you arrive at your chosen place of solitude and will be conducive to settling down to stillness, silence and thought.
Then you will have to chose the "when" for your time in solitude. And also how long you spend alone. Again, there I cannot help you much. You must think about this, consider your daily schedule and experiment. I can only offer this advice. The earlier in the day you spend time in solitude the less likely it is to be forgotten or neglected. Also, you should try to spend some time in solitude each day.
Silence and solitude should be the foundation of your prayer life. Practice them. Love silence. Love solitude. They will not only rest you, relieve stress, silence and solitude will help you with contemplative prayer.
About the Author
Brother Craig received his B.A. in religious studies from the University of Albuquerque. He received his B.A. in philosophy, his B.A., M.A. and S.T.L. in theology from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome where he studied spiritual theology under Father Jordan Aumann, O.P., one of the world's greatest authorities on the spiritual life. 2011: At present the order has gone inactive.
(Above article is used with permission; Br. Craig was Fred Schaeffer's former superior when he was with the Monks of Adoration. He passed away a few years ago.)
* not sure when Br. Craig passed away.