Karen Fredette is a contemporary solitude seeker who has produced over a hundred articles, poems along with five books. After spending decades in solitude with her husband, Karen has become a trusted voice and guide for those that have moved beyond community life. Her teachings were recently profiled in a popular New York Times article, “What We Can Learn from Solitude”.
Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, she has counselled those struggling with isolation, and offered valuable resources to support our worldwide community in navigating the crisis. In the last 25 years, Karen has overseen “a social network for hermits and the hermit-curious” called Raven's Bread Ministries, co-authored a quarterly newsletter called Raven’s Bread and offered mentorship support and retreats to those seeking solitude. Karen is also the author of several books on the topic, including Consider the Ravens: On Contemporary Hermit Life and Where God Begins to Be: A Woman's Journey into Solitude.
In this episode of Intersections, we are joined by Karen to try answering the question: “What happens when we embrace solitude consciously, even in the best of times, instead of associating it with loneliness?” She talks about the rich and unexpected possibilities that solitude holds for each of us. What are some small steps that we can take to practice solitude in our modern — and for many, urban — lives?
The episode “The Art of Being Alone (and Not Lonely)” offers key insights on:
Hitendra Wadhwa: Greetings, everyone, and welcome to Intersections. Our aspiration in this one-hour webcast is to invite us to explore the highest and human potential. What is it? If you and I were able to pursue that path to the peak of who it is that we can be? And in doing so, along the way of fine boundaries, dissolving boundaries between inner and outer, between east and west, between profit and purpose, between science and spirituality and all of these other kinds of ways in which we, at times in a limited way, confined ourselves to just like certain boxes in the pursuit of truth in the world.
Today, I have with us a topic and a guest that I'm just so delighted to present over the course of the last year and a half, as we have all been stricken by the pandemic all through all across the world. I have witnessed, either through just conversations with loved ones as well as through articles in the press, the level of loneliness and the struggle with loneliness that so many of us have been talking about and dealing with.
And in that regard, while on the one hand there is science to show that loneliness is an affliction, it is something that is in some ways like a disease. It can have physical and mental impacts on us in a very positive way. At the same time, I know from certain other very kindred spirits and people I've had in my circle and to an extent but small glimpses in my own career and life that there's also a lot of power, too, if you want to call it solitude, something that is associated with loneliness. But perhaps approaching it from a very different vantage point.
So to that end, after a whole flurry of publicity around the struggles that everyone from children to individuals having with with loneliness in this social isolation, quarantine based kind of phase of life that we've gone through, I came across this article in The New York Times on what we can learn from solitude, and it featured in particular two individuals, Karen and Paul Fredette, who had chosen of their own volition to actually amplify the level of solitude in their lives, as opposed to striving to always dial it down and bring more people and human connection in their lives from the outside all the time.
And my heart, in many ways, burst with joy that the mainstream media was starting to recognize the possibilities, and that I also started to feel very drawn to like, who are these people? Who is Karen? Because her voice is very active in that article. And what can we learn more about this practice of solitude through their own paths and journey?
And so, you know, as I said before, I introduce Karen to you myself, let me take a moment here to give you a little bit more about her background. And as I do that, you know, as some of you are already doing, let us use this as a way to get connected, as a way to share where you're calling in from, how you're feeling in this moment. What do you feel about this conversation we are having? What brings you to want to have a dialogue around solitude? All right. Why don't we do that in the church, even though it is a joy for us and for our guests to be able to listen to you and hear from you as well.
So you do that while I also introduced Karen to you. So Karen is a contemporary, what you might call a hermit and also a former nun. She, along with her husband, Paul, has moved to the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina for the last couple of decades, where they've built their life in the lap of nature. She has been a trusted voice and guide for others who also have been striving to move beyond community life to, by choice, pursue this path of communion with nature, of solitude, of prayer and a deeper connection with her own self. During this pandemic, both she and her husband, Paul, have counseled and supported others who have been struggling with isolation, who have been struggling with isolation. I shouldn't say also because in their case they have.
You can see Karen will talk to us a little bit about her struggles, but mostly her flourishing as well in isolation. This is a New York Times article I mentioned that I encourage you to read. I sent it out as part of the invite for this conversation to them. And in the last twenty five years, they've also overseen a social network for other people of their ilk who seek to be hermits, who seek to be home and curious, who are drawn to this idea of an escape from civilization more into nature. Bread Ministries is their social network for those in solitude.
They are also authors of a quarterly newsletter and offer mentorship, support, and retreats to others who seek solitude. Some of you may be drawn to these resources that they have available for us. And she's also written very inspiring books on the power of solitude, for example, where God is ever found, where God begins to be compelling, compelling titles. You know, what lies at the next level of double-clicking on these.
You know, that's the conversation you want to have with her today. She's been featured in some leading media, both at the local and national levels. And here's a quote from her that I want to sort of end this little interaction with. You just have to sit down and be with it. You discover that there is life within you and there is life around you, and it is teaching you all sorts of things if you are listening. On that note, let me welcome Karen into our midst. Welcome, thank you for joining us.
Karen Fredette: I'm pleased to be asked to join and to talk with you about these; Topics that are really part of my life and over which I've spent. I guess all my life has been spent learning more and more about the values of solitude, silence, simplicity of life. The one thing you mentioned and you use the word isolation, and I think it's important for us to. Know that there is a difference between the word solitude and isolation.
It's the connotation that goes with isolation. I think of some friends of mine who are inmates in prison, and they're punished by being put into isolation, and they suffer from it. And then there are other friends of mine who have chosen to be alone in solitude, and I think we go through our life learning more and more about the fact that loneliness and loneliness are part of human life. It's there for us to not just endure, but to learn from, to learn thoroughly so that instead of trying to avoid feeling lonely, as our culture makes known to us, that we should wait.
Paul and I were very upset when we saw an article in a magazine called AARP that suggested that loneliness should be an illness that should be treated by drugs. And that made no sense to me. So what we're trying to talk about today, I think, is how to make good use of loneliness and to embrace it. As if so that we can move through it, you can't just will it away. You've got to become very aware of how lonely you are. And accept that state of being. As part of their lives at that moment. I spent 30 years in the monastery. And then when I moved into solitude, I had a three month practice period and I was keeping a journal and I wrote in my book “Where God Begins to Be” about my experience of these first three months. And I said, during these three months of my initial trial period, I lived in almost complete solitude, often having contact with other human beings only on a Sunday liturgy. I did not have a car, no phone, not even a mailbox. A kindly neighbor would pick up my mail and post office and drop it off at this little hermitage, where I had very few furnishings and very few resources to brighten the place up.
At the age of forty seven, I was totally alone for the first time in my life. For many months, I had struggled actively to get permission to live this hermit life. But when I finally achieved my goal, a frightening emptiness lay before me. One day, I crouched before my makeshift altar, feeling vulnerable and lost, nothing seemed either real or right. I took refuge in the concrete sensations of that moment. I felt my breath going in and out. My heart beating, my legs beginning to cramp. Shifting to a sitting position, I focused on a flickering candle. I was awash with emotions of loss and grief, guilt and anxiety. I yearn to be comforted and assured that I have made the right decision, instead, depression engulfed me.
Recognize that I have expected this, that moving into solitude would be like embarking on a sea journey at night in a leaky row boat without oars. I would be at the mercy of the wind and the waves in the dark. Forming this image helps me to clarify the strangeness that was enveloping me at that moment, if I were on a foggy sea, it behooves me to at least plug the leaks in my craft. This meant recognizing my losses, accepting my grief and praying out of my sadness. So even though I had a long experience with a prayer life, it required renewal when I moved into actual solitude as a hermit.
Hitendra Wadhwa: Well, thank you for starting us off on such a powerful note, there's so much to unpack in what you just said. You know, you started off by just questioning us about the use of language, because as I've also learned in the very words we use that encode certain assumptions and there are certain associations we have through a limited experience with what emotions and feelings that word connotes to us. And I think you're cautioning us that words like isolation just come with a lot of baggage, a word like silence or solitude perhaps has a more uplifting, elevating quality to it.
Yeah, I think there's someone I have been mentored so actively by and in my work on human potential, Dr David Burns, he's a cognitive behavior therapist out of Stanford and a really remarkable soul. And he's taught me as well. How, even just in everyday life, this agency that we have over choosing our words, you know, mindfully rather than just absorbing them from the social value. And the words that have been used in the media are such an important transformative force in allowing us to have the right emotional life in what we do as well.
So, first of all, thank you for sharing that. And then, boy, that sounds like such a powerful journey that you've gone through all those years of monastic life, the choice to then move on from it. And then at that point, you know, needing to go back and rejuvenate and invigorate yourself because the challenge came again to you. One might even ask, like, you know, yes, you're right that if you're in a leaky boat. You know, the fog around you in the ocean, you would want to plug those leaks. But on the other hand, you chose to go on the water. So what forces compelled and drove you out of your own volition to go on on that path? Maybe we can start then. Maybe we can start with having you to share with us. Karen, you know, as you were growing up, what was that spark in you? What were the shaping influences of you that drew you towards more of a hermit like life initially within the monastery and then beyond?
Karen Fredette: Yes. Well, I grew up in a very Roman Catholic family and attended 12 years of Catholic schooling, which always included religious teachings. While I was speaking, I realized that I admired the religious women, the nuns, the sisters, but I didn't want to be involved in it. Apostolate, as we call it, in those days, I was much more attracted to the cloistered groups where prayer was the essential purpose of why we had gathered. And it was during those 30 years in the monastery that I dealt a great deal with loneliness.
And it took me a quite a while to realize that you can be lonely in the midst of 18 other sisters. And largely, it took me more than a year, more than twenty five years to actually, to work my way through that loneliness. But I had to do it consciously, I couldn't just try to avoid it, I had to name it, express it, and one of the ways of working with it was by journaling, by writing down how I was feeling and why I was feeling what I was feeling. I trust feelings, as some writers have said.
Feelings don't lie, you can refuse to listen to them, you can refuse to name them as your own, but they're there. And one way to work our way through loneliness is by accepting where you are right. Then, what you are feeling, where you want to go, and why you seem unable to get there. So, it's possible to be, and I think a lot of people have experienced this, to be very lonely in the midst of a lot of people. I've read articles about people walking down the streets of New York City and feeling very lonely in the crowd. And I think part of our loneliness can be we don't have a companion that enters into our feelings along with us.
So we have to either search for that companion or try to get a better idea of who we are most missing. And in the process of journaling, I discovered that the person I was most missing was myself, I wasn't really in touch with myself and that contributed a great deal to the sense of loneliness that I had. I believe that we are all inspired and held up by the divine, but the divine speaks to us through our deepest self. And if we're running away from our deepest selves. We are going to just remain low.
Hitendra Wadhwa: It reminds me of a moment in Abraham Lincoln's life, you know, he was going through a lot of crises as president and he wasn't very popular on either side for a while because, of course, the South wasn't happy with what he was doing. And even in the north, people got fatigued from the war, all the losses of lives and everything and wanted to get it to an end. And he wanted to take it to the finish line in a way that could help heal the country, redeem it from slavery, etc. So at one point he said, I would like to run the affairs of the state so that if at the end I do not have any other friends left, I will at least have that one friend who is deep down within me.
Yes, and you said it so beautifully that it is your company of your own self, your connection with your own self, and it is through that, that the divine sometimes will speak to us, more in the language of feelings, not as much at times. Logical words, I hear you say. The landscape of feelings is, as it appears to me, a hypothesis I place in your hands to see how it relates to your experience that in modern times we tend to conflate two things.
One is the emotional surges we might get from time to time, and then these deeper, more subtle, intuitive stirrings that you're calling feelings. And so therefore, when we conflate them, we get into this mode where people sometimes feel that they need to follow every emotional urge or surge that comes to them, because that's what they're feeling. Since we unfortunately use the word feeling in both those areas, I'm feeling angry. I'm feeling very captivated by this experience or individual or intoxicant or whatever it might be. But that's not the same feeling of what you're seeing is feeling, isn't it?
Karen Fredette: No, no, I'm talking about naming what is bothering me, not what is coming at me from outside, except in how I react to it and reacting is never a good way to guide your life. It's where you end up. Running in directions, you don't really need to go in or should go in. The feelings I'm talking about are the naming lay deeper underlying. Emotions that are there, that we don't often want to name because they are often the dark there, they're often less than totally uplifting.
And we realized, like I did in that little piece I read, I was feeling very depressed, I had just accomplished a great goal. But the actual emotion and feeling about trying to live it out. Now what was depression? I had to write that out, I had to say, why do I feel depressed, what's going on? And part of it was fear. I was afraid of where I was, I was feeling very vulnerable, and I came across a little sentence in a book by a writer who was writing about the value of retreat's, and she was saying. This she says about her hermitage, but here where I feel safe. I'm learning to be present. And I believe that.
We all have to have a feeling, a certain degree of safety. Before we can even embrace the present moment in which we are living. When I first moved into hermit life, I was sitting in prayer and it was the end of the summer. I knew I would have to get wood in for the woodstove about which I knew nothing, and I was just terrified. I swear, I don't have enough income, enough money. I will make it through the winter. And it was like I heard deep within me a voice which said, well, do you have enough to eat today?
And I said, yes, actually. I said yes, Lord, and do you actually have enough in the house to eat also tomorrow? And I said yes. And it's like, well, what more do you need? You can't even live tomorrow. Today. You are OK today. Your needs are all met. And this is where the feeling of safety comes in. And I found my safety in the sense that I was being cared for and provided for. Most of my family and friends did not think that what I was doing was a good idea. But the one who mattered most to me said I will provide. It's an echo from what we find in the Bible many times.
Hitendra Wadhwa: Yeah, I mean, I get goosebumps just hearing that story and what a powerful logic, what a powerful logic. Do you have enough to eat? Did you have enough to eat tomorrow? What more do you need? You cannot even, what did you say, live tomorrow, today? Or cannot even eat tomorrow's bread today. Incredible.
And you talk about the linkages that have teachings in the Bible. Coming from India, I can tell you that at the very center of the scriptures of India lies the Geeta. And the main message of the Geeta is not attachment, to live without attachment and live with surrender, you know. In some ways, do your best, but then surrender the fruits of your labor, to some divine hand. And, one hears about that concept and one strives and simple motto is to do it in one's life. But you took it to a very heroic level to be able to surrender to that extent.
Do you find that in that pursuit, when you put yourself so much at that sort of edge of what many of us might be able to open ourselves up to, that it makes you at times test the limits of your faith and the depth of your faith and moments where there are, like dark nights of the soul of a faith crisis or something, because you push yourself beyond what most most of us do in our own comfort zones.
Karen Fredette: Yeah, you're very right, it reminds me of a quotation that I used early in that same book that I quoted from where God begins to be, and the quotation was by Patrick Overton? And it's sustained me. It still does, and it goes like this: When you come to the edge of all the light that you have and I am about to take that step into the darkness, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen. Either you will find solid ground beneath your feet, or you will be taught to fly. And that is an expression of how I am being sustained even to this day. More often than not, I am taught to put my foot beyond the dust. The light that I have into the darkness and trust that I will be provided for. And I have been.
Hitendra Wadhwa: Yeah, you know, that quote was powerful. It immediately triggered a memory in me of how several years ago, I was with my wife and daughter at Yosemite National Park and we were dining in one of the hotels inside the valley and now it was time to return to our cabin. We had a car parked quite a distance away. There was a shuttle that had brought us to the hotel and then we just realized that actually the shuttles had stopped running because it was that late. So we had to have me walk to get to the car, and I decided to take a shortcut. Instead of going down the actual roadway, which was paved with lights, I went through the thicket of woods that would get me to the other side. Assuming this is a team in a well organized national park, everything will be fine.
But as I started to go through that shortcut like bath in the middle of the night, suddenly I realized that it's getting darker and darker. And at some point, there was literally just no way to see except that in the distant horizon, I could see small little lights which were guiding me as to where I needed to go. I knew my car was but a distant light, the actual next three feet of the journey, I really couldn't see much. And I went through this first moment of insecurity and to an extent of some fear. But then I have in some ways in those days, I never felt closer to God than I did in that moment because I realized, I have to completely surrender to a higher force, to pave the way for me to have a safe passage from here to the other side. And it became almost thrilling in some ways to give that little bit of surrender and completely on faith allow nature and the divine force to sort of just guide me. Who knew what kinds of wild animals or muddy passages or holes or branches that I might stumble on might be along the way. It's a memory that I hold onto in a very special way in my heart.
Karen Fredette: Yeah, I know when I was living in West Virginia, I was down in a dark valley, which we called a holler, and there were no streetlights down there and so if you had to walk out at night, you always had your flashlight. And walking with a flashlight requires not that you wave it around above. You just see what's around you. You have to focus it right on the ground at your feet. All you can see is that one little circle of light where you can put your foot for the next time.
Only after you've taken that step, the light moves forward, and you see where to put your foot for the next step. And I've always felt that that was a true image of walking in God's guidance and you often will not see what's coming until it's there and you have to simply trust. Trust is a very strong word when you're talking about living in solitude. And it's in its trust that gives you a sense of safety. Which, as one writer said, allowed her to move into the state of living in the present.
And living in the present moment is exceedingly important to give us. Move us out of feeling isolated and into this position of solitude. Solitude is a good place to be. You may still be alone, but you're not lonely. Like you're missing something. It is OK, and it takes a long time and it keeps slipping out of it and I have to keep going back to it. The present moment, and when I do spiritual direction with people, I realize that one of the most important things I say to everyone, no matter where they are, is the present is where you are.
Don't be projecting into the future, don't be regretting the past. Be here and now and feel it. And in doing that, you will find the holy. You will find the divine who is keeping you alive, who is informing your whole being and is opening your eyes to even greater wonders all around you.
Hitendra Wadhwa: Yeah. So beautiful, Karen, every phrase, every sentence one wants to latch on, to hold on, to internalize. I'm sure many of our friends in the audience, just like me, are going to want to come back and experience this conversation with you and learn even more as we see about these ideas again. I also want to highlight that perhaps you've been watching some of these comments that my colleague Anobik is putting onto the screen.
We have a very global audience today. I mean, it's so beautiful to be Christian. You are coming in from Switzerland, are you from there? I am from India, Zach from Idaho is from my hometown, Chandigarh. You know, and thank you for showing that you're calling in from Kathmandu, Nepal. Rajha from Coimbatore again in India. We're from the Bay Area, Giesbert from Mississippi, Valerie from Trinidad and Tobago. Lenny Joe from Princeton Summit, New Jersey. Sonia, I mean, it's just. Oh, yeah. Rose from L.A.. From Milan. How nice. How nice. That reminds me when I think about Italy, that the monastery that you became a part of, the nuns there are associated with St. Clair?
Karen Fredette: Correct. And St. Francis.
Hitendra Wadhwa: And St. Francis. Yeah. To such beautiful lights in the Christian tradition, who even those of us who are not formally Catholic or Christian, we borrow from and we get inspiration from. I remember I think I was mentioning to you again as we were growing up, as my daughter was growing up, we had a picture book of the story of St. Francis and also St. Clair. And it was so inspiring not just for her, but for her parents as well.
Karen Fredette: Yeah.
Hitendra Wadhwa: So there's a question being asked here. I think, let me get to it and read it. Reza Sayah is talking about, you know, if you can shed some light on what is your day to day life like today and how has it changed over the years as you have spent more and more invested in this life. Perhaps, may be based on the learnings that you had or what adjustments have you made to get the most fulfillment from it?
Karen Fredette: Well, I think the question is so good because it implies that you're always moving on your own, where, for instance, let me say that I was married to Paul in 1996. And our marriage has developed. We just celebrated 25, the twenty-fifth anniversary and the relationship that we have has changed over the years. It's grown deeper, it's grown more accepting. And when it comes to living out the life of prayer, solitude is a means, not an end either. It's a means to make because we realize the depth of everything that is around us.
Most recently I've been reading some books about trees. I think many of you may have been familiar with the book, The Hidden Language of Trees, first written by a man in Germany who looked after a forest, Beech Forest. And he was one of the first to bring out that the trees communicate with one another. They look after one another. And we're surrounded by trees where we are here. It is a rainforest and there are many trees, small ones and huge ones. And another tree book I read, which just came out in the past year, is called Looking for the Mother Tree.
And this is a sign that this was written about scientific experiments done up in British Columbia. And the author explains her process of discovery of how the trees care for one another, nourish one another. And I began to realize that by living in this rainforest, I'm being nourished. I wasn't nearly so aware of that when I first moved here.
When you realize that there is healing, healing like love,grace emanating from all this green growth around the. I am being healed, and I'm being given something to pass on to others. Paul and I during the pandemic authored our newsletter, but we also did some videos which we put up on YouTube, short ones, 15 minutes, trying to just provide a thought or two that would help people remain steady and not so fearful. And I could feel the life that is being given to me, even from this forest flowing out to others.
And the e-mails we got back from them were so encouraging that they somehow had felt what we were trying to even unknowingly offer to them. And so there's this life for me and an experience of the Holy Land, experience of the divine, which is continually growing. And I go from well, if that's the life in these trees, it is also the life within my own body, my own spirit. It's all one, and it is all holy.
Hitendra Wadhwa: I don't recall. That is so beautiful, Karen, thank you. Can you cite those books again, just for those who may want to follow up and read them? There were two that you mentioned from which you discovered so much about trees and their support of each other.
Karen Fredette: Yeah, the first one is The Hidden Life of the Hidden Language of Trees by a German author whose name, unfortunately, I didn't bring with me. And the second book that I mentioned was called Looking for the Mother Tree. Because and again, the author is with me right here, but I think it can be found on Amazon or any bookstore.
That certainly brings the bigger ones, we're mothering the younger trees, nourishing them at the same time, the younger trees would, if they're the mother tree, was failing, aging, the younger trees would pass them up. OK, here's the author for The Hidden Life of Trees. That was the first book I mentioned about what they kill, how they communicate, discoveries from a secret world. The subtitle. And the author's last name is Woollam.
Hitendra Wadhwa: OK, yeah, thank you for offering those. There's one that I had read a couple of decades ago, maybe three decades ago on a very similar theme. It was called The Secret Life of Plants and very eye-opening again as well in making I mean, it just humbles you, isn't it? You feel you are in some way superior and then suddenly you realize, oh, my God, there's such intelligence, such purity, such vibrancy in the lives of these things, which they don't move as fast as we do and in time and space. But there they're emoting. They're connecting. They're doing things. Yes.
Karen Fredette: I'm sitting here and I am glancing out the window at a huge tree that over the years my husband and I have called Grandfather Walnut. And it's one of the probably few original trees left here, most of this forest and second growth, but Grandfather Walnut is truly a mother tree. And there are black walnut trees all around him, sons and daughters of the mother tree.
Hitendra Wadhwa: Yeah, I just love this idea of these older trees mothering the younger ones and then the younger ones also helping support them and their aging. Beautiful. What else have you uncovered in your intimacy with nature? You know, so many of us are living very urban and sort of.
Yeah, just very highly developed existences in the midst of concrete, and we have a little box and we go to the box and we feel a little bit of the power of nature, but then we escape back into our concrete. So when you have so fully opened yourself up to this life, to surrendering and communing with nature, what are some other insights you received or just a benefit you received from being so connected with nature?
Karen Fredette: Oh, first of all, let let's just say that we really have to keep ourselves open to all the periods of solitude that we can find, whether we're, as you said, in the city or living in the country. But it is only when our soul is quiet in solitude that we will be able to experience the life that is being offered us through trees, through plants, through the scenery.
We're not trying, we're not trying to avoid the loneliness, but we are embracing it. And one of the important things, in addition to living this close to nature, is that nature has rhythms. And we need to open ourselves to those rhythms and go with them when it's wintertime and the leaves are gone and the trees are standing there black and gone. That's what should be. That's what's needed at that moment. I would be silly to be saying, oh, I wish it were summer and everything was covered with green.
No, that present moment is where I am meant to be and this is a lesson of nature. Do go through with them. Not everything we experience is going to be totally uplifting this rhythm of seasons where we can receive more or give more. It has asked us to dive into the reality that that season represents winter has its value. Spring coming gives us a new sense of life growing and a summer where everything is in its fullness and its floor and we are still there.
I remember telling one young man to come to visit us and he seemed astonished by this. I said, one of the things you learn when you stay in one place and observe it year-round through the rhythms, through the seasons, that green is not the same, bringing every year round the the spring green, which is like chartreuse, the yellow-green, the brightness fades a little bit and gets into a deeper, richer green.
And then as the seasons of summer move along, that green gets slightly smoky, looking slightly bluish. And this young man just said, I never noticed that and, well, he'd never go to school and never had an opportunity. And perhaps that's one reason why when we're talking with people who look for silence and solitude and living as a hermit, it's a person, it's a second half of life. Grow what we throw into it, yeah, there are seasons that we absorb within ourselves. We go through our own dark nights, as you mentioned, we go through the times of winter. We go through the times of hope for spring and.
So. I think each of us has different experiences of solitude, depending on where we are personally in our life periods.
Hitendra Wadhwa: Very nice. I can see a little bit of quiet dialogue happening between you and I assume that is Paul. Yeah. Wonderful. Thank you, Paul, as well for guiding us in this conversation. It has so many subtleties to it. I want to read a quote from some of your reflections, which really resonated with me. But before I do that, though, let me pause and just say you've just given us such powerful examples of how nature is in some ways, like a school in which we can learn so much about about our own selves by drawing those metaphorical insights about the seasons in our life and all of that, isn't it?
So that was really powerful. I remember I was in Botswana some some years back, and it was such a beautiful experience just being with flora and fauna in the wildest, most inhuman, touched on a farm. And then, you know, I didn't really want to look for the hunt. I just wanted to look for, you know, the flourishing of the animals and the herds and the communities. But at one point, we found a moment. But I had just hunted a deer and it was hard for us to see because we'd like to see the deer flourish. We'd like to see the cheetah flourish. And then I realized, but the cheetah cannot flourish.
And from time to time, it catches its breath. So I think their nature is bountiful and beautiful and has a very soft heart. But at the same time, somehow this cycle of birth, preservation and death, birth, preservation and death has allowed you and me to be here because past generations had to be in some ways, you know, let go of so that a future generation like us can come into being until that cycle is one of those other metaphors that I find very instructive from nature just to make peace with finiteness and mortality and those things.
Karen Fredette: Yes, I agree with you on that, and there is another wonderful book called Seasons of Strength. And if it implies that all seasons have a different kind of strength to offer us. I haven't really spent a lot of time naming the types of races, shall we say, that we receive from each season, but I would certainly mention winter brings out endurance.
Spring would bring help to lighten us and give us hope that seeds that have died in the past fall and frozen through the winter are now coming back to life, that life was always there, but it could lay dormant for a period. And that was OK. This summer, when we give our all to the back to brother son, as St. Francis would say, which draws things out of ourselves that we didn't know we had perhaps like this experience today and talking with you and listening to your reflections.
Hitendra Wadhwa: Yeah, thank you. Thank you again, such a beautiful metaphor and lesson to learn from nature. I'm just enjoying this so much and so grateful that you can bring some of this lived wisdom to us from your own life, from your own life.
And so here is the quote that I wanted to read from your own writings. There are two that I offer which really resonate deeply with me. Many do. But these two I want to offer up to our audience as well.
So this first one, you talk about how at a certain juncture, you said I struggled to find my personal way within many conflicting interpretations of contemplative life. I did not believe those who claimed that contemplative communities would soon bounce out of existence, nor did I trust the voices which claimed that survival demanded clinging with blind fidelity to every tradition we had received. I love that fusion of opposites in that the capacity to go beyond what the predominant views might be in a certain community or another community to think for yourself. And then in that thinking, the recognition that there are some enduring truths in the world, including the power of contemplative life, and yet the outer form that they take, if I understand you correct the outer one, might need to change from time to time based on where one is and what one is called to do.
Karen Fredette: Yes, that was what was happening within me when after 30 years, I realized I needed to leave the monastery, which had been a good place for me to be for that period of time. But I was now being drawn into deeper solitude. And contrary to what most people think, a monastery is not a solitary place. There were sisters around me. We prayed together. We ate together. We work together. We played together. We shared insights together.
There was very little actual solitude within a monastery. And so I had reached the point where I really needed the real thing, as I call it. And that's what. Gave me the courage to know that if I wanted to grow. If there was a new life ahead of me, I needed to move into a new lifestyle. And scary. Oh, yes, you're letting go of all those comfortable forms that have upheld you until now.
Hitendra Wadhwa: Yeah, I can't even imagine what that moment must have been like 30 years in the monastery, then there is another passage, which I'm guessing Karen might be from, like the same period we talk about.
Karen Fredette: It was frightening. And I might have disassembled forever had not. My mother died in nineteen eighty seven as well as another woman, an older nun who had been a mentor and a friend. To me, these two women had been models and teachers for me, not so much through the woods, although the words of wisdom would be an enduring gift as though their lives of faith and loyalty. Above all, it had been the belief in me which, like sunlight, had enabled me to see clearly my own gifts and strengths and trust them. Suddenly these two women were gone. And at the age of forty five, I was left with the mandate to grow into what they always knew I could be.
Karen Fredette: Now, one of those women was my advice for a number of years, and she was the one who had the courage, and it was courage in those days to allow me to do something that usually cloistered nuns didn't do, which was to write and to publish. She had been a teacher at one point in her life, and she said to me, I could not squelch the gifts that I see in you.
And her belief in me really did give me the courage to go ahead and start writing a biography of St. Clair took me 10 years because writing a book in a monastery you don't have time set aside for writing. And so I would be writing it in the evenings after night prayer, and because we couldn't use a typewriter, it was too noisy. At least half of the book was handwritten before it got typed into its typed form. But that belief in me when she saw what I couldn't yet see fully. Made all the difference. My mother, though she was involved in raising four children, yet she never interfered with what I said, I felt and I had to do. When it came to it, I felt I needed to enter the monastery, leave the family home. She supported me on that. She helped me to make the clothing that I needed to take with me.
And on my 18th birthday, she brought a birthday cake to the monastery to let me know that my family was celebrating my achievement of becoming eighteen. And that belief, you know, that just said, you're my daughter, you're still my daughter, but you're an adult daughter now, and I respect what you're doing. I was just going to say, I suppose all of us can look back over our lives and find that there were certain very influential people and their gift to us wasn't so much their words as their belief in us.
Hitendra Wadhwa: There was a nun when I was growing up that I had the privilege of having some time with over the course of several years from my early teens all the way into my mid 20s in particular, and then on and off after. But that period was a very formative period. Of course, for me, it was exactly what you just said.
Every time I would leave her presence after spending some time with her, I would just feel such a high with regard to the possibilities that lay in front of me with regard to the purity of my own nature, with regard to, you know, all of the baggage that I was carrying when I was going in to meet with, I was like, I'm not worthy. You know, I'm so flawed, you know, compared to your competitor, which is all that would get washed out by just the power of affirmation and love for what you saw at my core.
And so I relate very much to what you just said. That's beautiful. Yeah. I want to take a moment just to share something back with you, because I know how fond you are from everything that you've shared about lives, the great ones, such as, for example, St. Francis and St. Clair. And so this is the artist, Bimba Lanman, who actually is from the line, who has created this really beautiful piece of work on Clare and Francis. The art is so evocative and so beautiful. Anyway, I look forward to getting a copy of this in your hands. It's this book that my daughter and her parents, me and my wife, got very inspired by.
Karen Fredette: That was key. That is a beautiful thing. Oh. It looks like an illustrated book from medieval times.
Hitendra Wadhwa: Yeah, yeah. You know, one can almost imagine Bimba channeling something. You know, she might have been transported back to that age and brought something. All right. So, we're at the point of closure. I mean, I know that some of the questions here have been moved around. Also, how can we be of service to those of us who are feeling lonely, who are feeling isolated today? You have been doing that kind of support and outreach any any kind of like just beyond the wonderful inspiration you've already given us, any couple of, like, practical steps or tips that people might take tomorrow as a way to help snap a little bit closer to that stage of deeper attunement within deeper communion with nature and an embrace of solitude.
Karen Fredette: Yes, well, I'm just going to go back to that the wisest thing I've ever heard. And it still is the one major. Form the major thing that helps me continue on this path and reach out to others, and that is being fully alive in the present moment, being fully here during the pandemic, I could feel, in a sense, the anxiety and the fear of people around the world, people in our own country, even if I wasn't didn't know their names or the impact of what they were feeling would hit us.
And it would hit us because we were attentive. We were attentive to how life was unfolding around us at that moment. And, you know, occasional stories in the newspaper, which were particularly poignant about deaths or so forth, it really touched me. And I allowed it to. We shouldn't try to avoid the pain that goes with being fully alive in the present moment. One of the recent pains was this friend of mine who lives in India, we met at the age of three. We were communicating by email, and suddenly I heard nothing from her since last March, and I knew if she lived in Pune and I knew it was really suffering from covid there. And I thought, have I lost this friend of seventy seven years?
And I just found out the other day from her daughter that she did get Covid, but she is recovering. And it's like this friend who knows me like no one else. Is still with me. And I I hope everybody has. Or tries to be a friend. I guess that's the way we find friends. And we allow their lives to impact us. Even in a hurtful way. And accept that hurt on their behalf. Then it may grow into something that is giving, loving, caring. I'm fortunate that I can share a lot of this with my husband. And we try to give back, but I think we receive more through the newsletter, through the people in our bread ministry groups of and in order to receive it again, we have to be right here and now in the present.
Hitendra Wadhwa: Karen, you are a real force of nature. I think one one could just keep going and going. And yet, you know, we want to bring this to closure for now. Unhappy that, this conversation with you doesn't have to be, in a sense, like permanently closed for our community here today because because of all the good work you and Paul are doing to offer up your thoughts and counsel through through the Raven's Bread Ministries work, the newsletter, the books, the videos.
And so, my friends, you know, all of us here in the intersections community, please know that these resources are available to you as anyone else because there is an inner hermit in all of us waiting to be nurtured and developed. Thank you so much for all the gifts you've given us today. I wish you Godspeed in the journey ahead. And I look forward very much to staying in touch and if we can be of service to you at any time, me and my team and mentor. Yeah, we would be honored. So a big thank you to Paul as well and supporting you and having this moment with us. So thank you so much, Karen.
Karen Fredette: Well, thank you so much for inviting me. It's been a privilege.
Hitendra Wadhwa: All right, folks, I want to just allow you to soak it all in. I mean, this is such a sweet and uplifting and. A form of communion, really, with the life Karen has lived, isn't it? It wasn't just, again, her words. It was the power of the lived experience behind it, the spirit behind it that I think has moved me the most.
And I'm sure you all as well. And it's so beautiful to see the possibilities for us to congregate from around the world, not even have to, you know, bridge our physical distances, but use some of these modern accoutrements like technology to allow us to feel that connection and to benefit from that Satsang that that special company of others who have discourses like this. So, thank you for joining us. It is through you that I and my team get so much energy and reassurance to keep doing this work.
I look forward to staying in touch. Write to us from time to time and you can follow Karen's writings and work as well if this is something you're doing due to cultivating more solitude. And Godspeed to you as well. We look forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks.