The Practice of Poustinia: Slowing Down and Finding God In Daily Life

For many people, the passion for speed has become an addiction. Our culture and society encourage this addiction; we emphasize doing instead of being, multitasking is considered a desirable skill, and we are generally more focused on quantity instead of quality in all aspects of our lives. Every modern convenience, from cell phones and computers to instant meals and microwave ovens, feeds our addiction to speed and encourages the illusion that we can do more in less time. Because our bodies are so efficient at adapting, we are often not aware of the negative impact that this fast pace of life is having on our being, which is in essence our spiritual nature.

Poustinia - solitude and prayer


To live a life of balance, we must understand that life is not a race, and that true happiness never comes from doing more, or having more. This extends to the information overload that characterizes our modern lives. I’ve found that one important key to staying balanced is to not waste time or energy worrying about things over which I have little or no control. For this reason, I made the decision years ago to avoid the habit of listening to or reading the news. This doesn’t mean that I don’t check in now and then; I do maintain an overview of what is going on in the world, but it’s a small part of my life. Instead, I choose to put my time and energy into focusing on what is in front of me that I can influence for the better, with the intention that my actions may positively benefit others and the world.

I’m not immune to stress, and like everyone, I have times when I feel drained. This generally happens when I’ve not spent enough time in prayer and reflection. When I notice that I’m not quite feeling up to my usual level of vitality and well-being, I make sure that I’m attending to the basics that keep me feeling balanced: eating well, taking my adaptogens, getting enough sleep and exercise, spending time with family and friends, and playing music.

I also make it a priority to center myself through prayer and reflection. In so doing, I maintain my focus on what is most important, which is my calling to live a life that is selfless. I find that when I truly give to others, I am nourished instead of depleted. I am called to my life path out of love, and am actively living my daily life in response to my inner prayer and my being. This means that what I do in the outer world is a reflection of who I am, and it is in this alignment that I find balance and ease. To live in this way requires prayer, and not simply saying prayers perfunctorily and then going about life as before. I pray actively, living my life and my prayers as one, so that I am continually in communication with God, and am living in accordance with divine wisdom and guidance.

To support my intention to live in daily communication with God, I practice being a poustinik. I was introduced to this ancient Russian Orthodox tradition through one of my favorite books, Poustinia, Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer, written by the Catholic social activist Catherine Doherty. The word poustinia means “desert,” and refers to a simple room where one goes alone to fast, pray, and commune with God. Catherine expanded the original idea of poustinia to become “poustinia of the heart,” where one can find communion with God in any locale, even in the midst of the busiest of lives. By cultivating a silent, still space within, this internal poustinia offers a personal, always available quiet place of connection with God.

Our life expression of doing, which is manifested in our physical activity, work, and play, reflects our inner being, and thus is an extension of our spirit. We must learn to challenge our learned habits of overdoing and overworking to create a life based on what is most meaningful to us as unique individuals. We must join together the thinking rational mind and our spiritual awareness to have our spiritual being and our expression of doing come into balance. Developing and maintaining connection with our inner being requires quiet, peaceful, restorative time. It is only when we allow ourselves this time for self-reflection that we can be certain that we are living in accordance with our deepest truth.

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2 Replies to “The Practice of Poustinia: Slowing Down and Finding God In Daily Life”

  1. I am thinking this is a core part of the Lenten message, more than abstaining from things. I am seeing the abstaining as more of resting from than sacrificing. I press on. At least this is how I view Lent.

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