As we mature enough to really hear our minds and begin to observe life, we come up against many sufferings and confusion. I have often lamented the consciousness curse – it seems that to be aware of oneself is to pay the highest emotional price.
It is hard to put a finger on the deeply unhappy parts of ourselves – the thick cold rivers that slide even through a smile. This is the well from which philosophers and artists draw their materials.
We certainly seem to experience life in a series of complex thoughts and reactions. There are many levels of the mind – one who begins to search them may immediately feel that there is no end to the corners of ourselves that we round in sudden surprise. But to our agony we can never share our experience with another!
Loneliness is the curse of the self – our ability to be aware of life yet not completely share that awareness causes a deep sense of sadness. If only we could read minds and finally be understood by each other.
Becoming aware of this unending loneliness is a part of our maturing process. As we venture further from our families and try to maintain complex relationships as young adults, we are likely to spend many a dark night asking our ceilings why life is the way it is, and why we have to suffer so.
My first experience of true loneliness came when my brother moved out of the apartment that we had been sharing to go to university in the city. I was 16, and due to bumpy circumstances, was far from my family, and estranged from my friends. My boyfriend was dear, though he had moved into his adult working life and could not often come to visit me. I considered internet to be an unnecessary (or impossible) expense, so when my phone was broken I was left in true silence. As a week went by without anyone really noticing that my phone had gone silent, I realized that I was utterly alone.
I lived in part of an old building rumoured to be haunted. It was even equipped with a towered front window.
When my brother left I spent many nights walking through the rooms sobbing, sitting on the floor in the dark – not seeing the point of turning lights on if it was just me there. I realized that to a real degree, nothing I did was witnessed – and that seemed to devalue the very act of doing it. What was the point of anything when I was and always would be alone?
Eventually, this suffocating suffering brought about its gifts.
Loneliness is absolutely necessary for the development of our emotional and intuitive senses.
Feeling deeply lonely offers intense and lasting lessons that would not be traded by anyone who has experienced them. As I sat on the tile floor with knees wet from tears I was finally able to hear the aching call of myself. I was hurting, and I felt the human pull to want to help and comfort – as though I were separate from myself.
This is how we learn that we are not to be taken for granted. We must tend to our own hearts and minds as diligently (if not more) as we tend to any of the other relationships in our life.
This may seem obvious – and if so I am glad for you! If you have at the very least committed to listen to your mind than you are paying yourself some due respect.
But I found that this loneliness runs like a great sea serpent; there are periods of calm water in between the violent arches of it’s back. And just so, we learn things in bits, then come back to relearn them in a totally new way (much to our frustration).
So loneliness doesn’t seem to leave. It comes when you are surrounded by family and friends, it comes when you are kissing your loved ones, and when you are jostling on a bus with strangers. It seems logical to want to avoid it, and get rid of it.
We have invented wonderful technology to better understand each other’s life experience and to further reach our net of people we know to soothe our loneliness. Has it worked? Do you feel less lonely on Facebook? Sometimes, yes, but only while I am using it – as soon I set it down the loneliness comes back again.
Another invention to cure our loneliness is religion. I grew up as a strict Christian missionary – and I both heard and repeated that the lonely ache in my heart was proof of a calling for God. This may be a valid cure for many people, however I would suggest that it is not wholly sustainable. Since religious beliefs often require additional beliefs about the creation of the universe, it is likely that this loneliness cure may fall to doubts if information about the creation of the universe is proved to be opposing.
In fact, I have personal experience to show that filling the whole with religion, and then having to either leave it or fake it – because of irreversible stretches in my mind’s experience – carved an even deeper whole of loneliness for me. It made it far worse in the end.
But I would suggest that there are other tools to be used in parallel – that need not overlap with religion or the lack of it. Here is what I have found:
You cannot ignore it.
We have set up rigorous schedules for ourselves that make it very hard to take a day off because we are feeling “inexplicably sad”. But even if we do continue to work through these periods we cannot spend our lives running from it. That leads to short sided decision making, and an unending sense of wanting. Loneliness will not run out of breath, it will chase you till you die. The way “out” is through: you must finally stop, turn around and listen to what it has to say.
It won’t leave, so I would suggest that you find methods for dealing with it. Understand the experiences and paths that other people have taken. Develop a habit of meditating, or noticing your experiences fully so as not to be lost to their sorrow. You can become bigger than your thoughts and feelings.
Silence and solitude are sacred.
Once I had a taste of living alone I knew the value of it was immense. Since then, my method for handling deep decisions or for rejuvenating has been to search out silence and solitude – often going on a day long walk/bike ride or camping trip.
Treat it as if you were going to the gym or the spa – for your mind. Spending time alone – and feeling the features of “aloneness” are essential to our health and well beings.
Connections are vastly important.
After losing most of my friend group during that first lonely time, I had the privilege to rebuild my social relationships with a more intentional awareness. Getting to start over as an older person, allows you to begin relationships again at an even deeper level than they were before.
Humans are obviously social, and the depth to which these relationships touch us must be acknowledged and respected. It may be the most difficult part of our lives to try and live closely with other people who are complex and changing – but it is an essential task. Friendships deserve far more effort and support than we are usually willing to give them.
Each time that we meet with someone else’s eyes, we have an opportunity to increase our loneliness – or to soften into connection and understanding. Often the angriest among us are left so because of being unable to find open eyes to look back at them.
If left to fester, loneliness is a serious danger.
If a person suffers intense hardship at any age without the proper conditions, they may get stuck in it. They may identify with their loneliness and victimhood and think it offers them a coolness and an advantage. Their identity choices may make loneliness a necessary feeling – and they will not be willing to give it up easily.
But if a person is left to truly believe that they are all alone in their minds, they begin to lose the ability to empathize and be generous. We find these people hard to be around, and usually avoid them – further increasing their social loneliness. There are many loops in life to get stuck in and this is one of them.
The best way out of it may be humility. Being willing to admit that you are not alone (and therefore special – even if it is in suffering), demands a diminishing of the ego. To concede that any face looking back at you is capable of experiencing exactly what you do, is to give this person respect. It may feel prickly, but eventually it will lead you to search out other people with joy. One great practice of this is to imagine that everyone in the world was the Buddha, except you (you need not make any subscriptions to Buddhism or any faith for this exercise). This way you listen with more reverence. You know that they are wise, and you accept what other people do because you assume that it is done intentionally to teach you a valuable lesson.
Lonely people are often depressed, and it is usually loneliness that leads to suicide. This is no small feeling – it is the ache of humanity, and it has overwhelmed everyone. Again, I would stress the importance of friendships in combating the dangerous affects of loneliness.
You become part of the club.
There is a certain quality to some people that you meet: it makes them feel familiar to you, like they call you to remember something important. Something in the beautiful way our eyes reflect our loneliness is released when someone really goes through its hell. We meet people and become deep friends with them – even if they are just strangers, and it is because of this acknowledgment and understanding of the suffering that it is to be human.
Here loneliness shows is true gift. I would not give up the depth of relation that I can reach with those who have seen their own dark nights. I would not give up sorrow – mine or yours, because of this deep benefit.
The opening of a heart to encompass beauty and joy in life comes only through the pained eye of one who has seen their own longing.
Anyone who has suffered is instantly qualified to aid and comfort someone – where else do you think we could get the experience? I am grateful to the education that I received from hardship because I can look at a person’s pain and really understand – even if our situations have been completely different.
Creating is necessary.
Every word is said to try and share a view of what life is like – to try and connect our consciousnesses at last. We further science and health to try and get closer to ourselves and each other through understanding – and through communication of understanding.
Here we see that all work is valuable and necessary. Especially the vulnerable work that reflects a part of your inner experience. The drawer who sets the lines for a house with the desire to express some quality that he/she has felt puts a great value on that work, and we can feel it. It has been handmade.
Though it is discouraging to create without an audience, I offer you this encouragement – every expression is a necessary piece of the map that humanity is creating. Regardless if no one reads your blog or watches your videos, the act of sharing your experience may be the whole point. It has been said that our purpose is to stand witness to the unbelievable immensity that is our life in this universe.
This can be easily seen if anyone has ever had an especially low time and then is saved by some music that is thrown out to hold on to in the raging waters. How grateful do you feel to the artist in that moment? How necessary it is for them to have spent that time (no matter where and when it was) to write and create that music just for the moment when it reached inside your mind and connected you to them. We never know what will touch people but I think the more that we are brave enough to share, the more likely we are to connect in an important way with someone else.
Keep creating. Overcome your insecurities and feel our thanks.
Loneliness is dear and yet dangerous. I would not give up its sorrow, but I would let you know that we are here in the sorrow together. May we make a little more space in our homes and work for someone to come forward with the questions that ache: Do you love me? Do you exist like I do? Do you see it too? Search out the illusion of our separateness.
Loneliness is a sign that you are in desperate need of yourself.