There is speculation that Americans, for all of their proud self-reliance, actually promote some of the loneliest people on the earth. We are so interested in gaining freedom from the authority of our parents and the limitations of government; we balk at communal burdens and social obligations. We feel entitled to our own bedrooms, bathrooms and automobiles. We just don’t have much tolerance.
Still, there comes a time when people just need people. It is no secret we are pack animals. Also, even the most introverted people who long for solitude will eventually peek out of their caves hoping someone awaits.
Loneliness is at times so severe that one can lose their mental stability. Long term isolation in prisons and living off the grid in exile has been proven repeatedly to injure humans to the point of madness. Sometimes the elderly are neglected in homes. The soul slips away one day at a time until the shell readies for death.
But there are also lessons to be learned from loneliness.
To begin with, I have felt lonely much of my life, even when surrounded by people. I have often felt misunderstood, an outsider, and certainly experienced hostility too. This casts a shadow of disconnection and sadness. You show up, but no one seems to care.
Additionally, I have suffered with a longing for love as well. It is hard ground to be raised where one is never held, never told they are loved, or asked how they are doing. Or to sleep in a bed with someone you no longer know. This too is lonely.
Moreover, to exist without a partner in an empty nest is sometimes a loneliness that smacks of one’s lost worth. To recognize that no one cares if you leave for a walk or that you lie awake at odd hours, to see that no one wonders where you are at all…this is a new, quieter lonely.
The thing is, being lonely is part of being human. And, barring the cruelty of one’s imprisonment, we do not have to suffer so very much. I know this because I have figured out a way to lessen this emptiness. There are practices that bring succor, and it does not require a constant social network or popularity at all.
Obviously, one must reach out and try to make personal connections, even insist on actual human contact as opposed to the simulated social media. You don’t need me to tell you this.
But loneliness is not always about being alone. It is about intimacy. And the capacity for divine intervention.
Initially, we must promote our relationship with nature. Commune with our pets, commit to gardening, spend time walking or sitting in the wild, immersion in the natural elements is a spiritual lift like no other, even if we do it alone. I rarely feel lonely in nature. In fact, I generally feel as if I am where everyone else would rather be.
Furthermore, we can create. When we put our energy into the creation of any one thing, we forget ourselves. Something beautiful comes of it. And I hate to say this, but even when people choose to create something wicked, they are lost in a purpose that leaves them full. In the end, harmful creation will bring one’s own destruction. But to create something that serves us aesthetically, or in a practical sense, or for societal needs can bring solace to those of us who once felt nothing at all. We begin to feel seen. This is why we must choose to create. It lifts us to a state of pleasure, a higher spiritual ground, to sustain, to build, to rise to a place of satisfaction and deliverance. I create daily, often for hours, and it works.
Finally, and ironically, we can stop fighting it so hard. Sometimes, we can surrender to some moments of loneliness. As the sufi Rumi says, “Suffer the pain.” This comforts me to know that in my loneliness, I am growing. I come to know myself, and I can choose to love myself in it. I am not above dancing alone and laughing alone and cooking fine cuisine alone. I talk to myself and there is no shame in it. I am seeing that there is a time for me to be alone and sometimes, inevitably, it will feel lonely. And that is okay.
It is not natural to never feel sad or hurt or lonely. Lonely is part of the deal here on earth. I can cry or sit with it. I can even talk to it or write to it. I can bathe in a salt bath and watch the lonely run down the drain. I can put myself to bed with lonely and accept that this is not tragic. It just is. I can choose to believe that my lonely is not the enemy. My lonely is what makes my love for others more powerful and deeper than ever. I can see that people who are lonely know a wisdom that comes from all suffering. The preciousness of life and its living souls grows. The greatest connection I have ever experienced is when I look into the eyes of another human who is just as lonely as me. It is a gentle thing. Therefore, the lonely in me honors the lonely in you.