Sometimes we are alone, and sometimes we are lonely. When our aloneness gives us pain we say we are lonely. To be with people with whom we feel a connection is a strong human drive. To be alone is an inevitable human condition.
At the moment of birth we cry out in our separation. As we grow in infancy, we howl for our missing mothers. In our teens and beyond, we cry for the lost lover. In old age, we see our friends pass away, and face the ultimate dissolution of self that can only be accomplished alone.
At each stage of life, we desire connection. When we don't feel it, we experience pain. This painful loneliness is one of the most torturous of human emotions. Many of our social problems, from gangs to sexual addiction, have their root in the alienated loneliness of a mass society. Sometimes destructive and addictive behaviors are intended to create connection, sometimes they are to simulate connection, and sometimes they are to mask the pain of separation.
Painful loneliness is not an inevitable consequence of aloneness. Sometimes being alone is a welcome respite from the pressures of a social life. Being alone can allow you to take a breath and think more clearly. It can be an opportunity for creativity. It can enable a peacefulness that can be difficult to find in the presence of other people. In that peace one can find a connection that precludes loneliness.
When the mind is still and the heart is open we may sense a subtle, but imperturbable connection with all that is. We can gain awareness that in our isolation we are one with all beings. We can see and feel that our compassion reaches out to the world, and the world supports us in our individuality. With deep contemplation we become aware that our sense of a separate self is an illusion
Think about your own responses to loneliness.
What is your first memory of being lonely?This week, take some time for solitude. Allow yourself a period of time to be alone, and enjoy it. In solitary activity, remind yourself to be mindful of what you do. Seek awareness of your thoughts and movements.
What is a recent memory of being lonely?How are they different?How do you manage painful loneliness?
How are they similar?Do you seek out other people?When have you ever been alone and happy about it?
Do you get depressed?
Do you mask the pain through activity or addictive behaviors?
What part of being alone was pleasant?
Spend some time in solitary meditation. Contemplate your individuality and your connectedness. Smile inwardly at the individual person you are. Grant yourself compassion for the aloneness of your human existence. Be thankful for the many ways you are connected to the rest of life.
© 2002 Tom Barrett