Some Things I've Learned About Loneliness
At its core, loneliness is the painful experience that something (or someone) vitally necessary is missing. When we are able to hold that experience with tenderness and at the same time look into it with a steady gaze, it begins to unfold and reveal its secrets. The following is a partial list of what I have discovered through my own consistent attention and inquiry into the experience commonly called loneliness:
It feels terribly lonely to not know who you are - to be disconnected from the soulful nourishment, inspiration, and creativity that come from your core self.
Many of us go to great lengths to avoid the pain of loneliness. But avoidance keeps us stuck. Ultimately, the only way out is in. We must turn towards our loneliness if we wish to change it.
Loneliness can come up during solitude, intimacy, and in the middle of a crowd.
Sometimes loneliness arises in response to painful circumstances in the present moment and sometimes loneliness is a memory of past relational trauma - of being abandoned, neglected, rejected, ignored or left alone with unbearable feelings.
Loneliness is multi-dimensional and always changing. Getting to know the particular flavor and texture and mood and personality of this loneliness, right now begins to shift it.
When loneliness comes up, it is always helpful to ask the questions - what does my loneliness need? what does it want? what is is longing for? - and then to listen with tender curiosity to the answers and do what you can to provide what the loneliness is asking for.
Loneliness can be an ancestral legacy or a family pattern. It can be inherited and learned and unlearned.
Solitude, aloneness, and loneliness are not the same thing.
It is guaranteed that a seeker will encounter loneliness on any genuine spiritual path. For example, experiences of vastness and the unknown (both found in spiritual work) can feel lonely and terrifying.
Loneliness is essential and necessary to individuation.
Solitude, silence, stillness, contemplation, and undistracted free time are fundamental allies in a creative life. The ability to be alone in a fruitful way is an important life skill that many of us never learned.
An authentic, satisfying relationship with yourself is a pre-requisite for authentic, satisfying relationships with others. Trying to skip over the pre-requisite results in self-abandonment, i.e., loneliness.
Being an introvert is beautiful - and when is it too much of a good thing? Balancing solitude and connection is a fine art that can be cultivated with practice.
Ambivalence regarding connection with others often manifests as aloneness that is both consciously unwanted, and unconsciously wanted. Deep exploration of both sides of your ambivalence can be very illuminating and liberating. That said, some aloneness is beyond your control and truly unwanted.
An important first step in breaking free of self-limiting patterns is to become aware of the ways that small, daily choices, habits, tendencies and preferences result in the social isolation that you don't want.
Loneliness can be a doorway into experiences that are necessary for your evolution. Most importantly, loneliness contains the seeds of your most heartfelt longings, which guide you towards the greatest possible meaning and fulfillment.
Loneliness reveals a fundamental disconnection from your own deepest, truest self - what buddhists call Ultimate Bodhicitta (the basic, all-pervading goodness, love, and creativity of life) or ecotherapists refer to as the generativity and wholeness-seeking impulse of nature. Reconnecting with these essential qualities of your aliveness brings crucial support, nourishment, and vitality to the difficult task of healing and transforming loneliness.