“Loneliness is my least favorite thing about life.” Anne Hathaway
Roads, especially the beautiful, empty ones that wind through canopies of trees, hollow me out in a loneliness. I don’t know why. I just always confront that hollow feeling while traveling, which often presses its way past lovely dappled light, falling onto roads paved or not paved.
Yet, I yearn to travel, and have for most of my life. There is a hunger to gulp in everything the world offers, lest I miss something, lest I never set my eyes on that next wonder with the potential to guide me closer to ultimate truth.
I realize after years of Buddhist study and practice that one must look within to taste Truth. I get it. Maybe that’s why roads are beacons of lonely. Maybe they are telling me, “This is not the road, my dear. Your road lies elsewhere. What you are traveling towards is not reached by a road you can see, smell, touch, hear, or taste.”
Loneliness = Disconnection
I’m not the only one who faces loneliness. And if you struggle with loneliness, you are not alone. We can suffer loneliness because we live in a physical isolation. Yet, we can also suffer loneliness surrounded by throngs of people. You and I could walk down a Chicago, Bombay, or Paris street, and unknowingly pass hundreds of desperately lonely individuals. Their countenances would belie their suffering, and we’d assume they were confidently happy. So many of us wear similar game faces, which belie our cry to connect, to be seen, and to be heard. Posturing happiness and success hides the fact we are afraid we will be found out to not ‘have it all together’. But this only further exacerbates feelings of disconnect. How can we connect if we pretend? Connection require authenticity.
I fiercely believe loneliness to be a spiritual problem. As our collective human knowledge expands at lightning speed, we split apart at the same speed. Modern society pushes us into becoming specialists of a specialty until we forget we are part of a whole. We find ourselves focused on our works like a fine surgeon who only practices one specialized surgery for her entire career. This makes it too easy to lose our connection to our innate wisdom, intuition, and wholeness when we are only aware of a fragment of reality. Because much of our focus in the modern world has little to do with nature, we forget to look up to the sky and drink in the stars, remembering the wholeness and connection of all of life as our ancestors did.
Our ancestors were star gazers. All humans were. For most of human history, the eternity of the sky was the world wide web, and what blanketed us all in the same cloak of shared humanity, if only for a moment of remembrance.
Now we stare at screens, specialize in a specialty, learn one small sliver of a sliver of something, and thus, fraction apart from each other, not realizing we are all still connected, not by screens, but by the ethereal untouchable essence of life itself.
“The worst loneliness is not to be comfortable with oneself.” Mark Twain
Disconnection from others begins with a disconnection from oneself. And if, as Twain alluded to, we can find peace within, we rid ourselves of the worst form of loneliness. I’ve found that if I sit with the hollow empty feeling of loneliness with the same equanimity as watching a stream gentle flow past my bare toes, I cease to be a victim to the feelings, and the misery dissipates like mist lifting off a still lake. It’s as if, by releasing my victimhood, I’m gifted with the ache of wanting connection to others being transformed into an unshakable connection to myself.
By connecting to oneself, we awaken to the realization that all phenomena are impermanent, including our emotions and our bodily reactions to those emotions. Nothing stays the same. Not even those things which seem solid. The Grand Canyon seems solid, but it is changing each moment of every day. If you could rocket forward in time many thousands of years from now, the canyon would be vastly different. Observing this reality of impermanence is the first step for me in disrupting being stuck in an emotional whirlpool because I loosen the solid, heavy attachment to a particular feeling, knowing it, too, shall pass. As soon as I realize things change, it’s as if I pop out of the whirlpool’s hold on me. From there, it is easier to shift my relationship to loneliness, or any disruptive emotion, and find a peace.
I invite us all to examine if what I write to be true or not. Individually, we may choose to question and experiment with the idea that loneliness is the absence of connection. We may choose to experiment with different ways we can nurture connection to ourselves and to Source. And we may find the loneliness we are experiencing will transform into a passing breeze as we unveil how each of us as individuals can reconnect with our inner nature of wisdom and compassion.
What does this re-connection to self look like in real life?
When the rain of loneliness just won’t stop pounding down, soaking you to your bones, making you shiver until the will to nurture connection fogs over into a heavy darkness of not caring to try anymore, you have a choice. It is this choice that trips us all up, because to choose it means we can’t assume victimhood anymore. I understand this. I’ve never been an accepted person in any group: not the cool people tribe, or the nerd tribe, or the outdoorsy tribe, or the spiritual tribe. No tribe am I, so before you get angry with me talking about not staying a victim, let me assure you I understand the struggle of loneliness and disconnection.
The brave choice of not being a victim:
The choice is practicing non-resistance by allowing the hard as stone raindrops of disconnected loneliness pummel you. Turn your face upward and let the drops hit your eyes and mouth and throat. Let the water darken your clothes until you are facing it head on. Set your eyes upon the dragon’s face until it’s as familiar to you as a beloved’s face. Hold your warrior’s sword of self-compassion strong and keep observing your loneliness until the fear begins to lesson. As the fear softens, listen with a keen ear to your feelings every time a drop strikes your skin. Listen as if a frightened child is speaking to you and you hold the power to relieve their fear. Your fear is talking and you are listening with a tenderness that may spring tears to your eyes. These tears are connection to self. They are beautiful.
This is courage.
This is warrior hood.
This is an awakening mind.
Invite your lonely feelings to come and gently let those feelings go. They have a cycle, just like the ocean tides. They will rise and fall. If you can allow the rise and fall, you notice the impermanence of them and lose the fear of the discomfort they bring. At that point, they become more ethereal and transparent. In this way, we can use our loneliness as the portal to deep meditation, and in time we transcend our loneliness to enter a realm that includes, but is much grander than, our individual thoughts and sufferings.
If, for whatever reason, you are unable to connect to yourself, seek help from another. We are social creatures and we need each other, and sometimes we need to find help when we are struggling and can’t catch our breath. Asking for help often is a first step to creating emotional well-being.
Nature is medicine to loneliness.
Nothing helps me more than placing myself in nature. Connecting to the pulse of life beyond human interaction by tuning into the song of the tides, the talking of the trees, the dancing of the winds, reminds me of my true nature. When I merge into the natural world, the masks I wear on the stage of life as I attempt to make my way through and in society are stripped away.
In removing the demands of society for a spell by placing ourselves in the natural world, we become naked, our masks no longer fitting our faces. AND IT IS A RELIEF. I experience nature to be the best place to practice the brave choice of practicing meditation through watching pain. Nothing seems to come close to the healing properties of nature.
“Compassion that does not include yourself is incomplete.” The Buddha
To sit with our loneliness pain in order shift our dance with it may be one of the most difficult things we can do. It requires vulnerability because we can’t lie to ourselves any longer. When we need to sit with our pain, we should try doing so tenderly, and tend to it as a mother soothes her baby. In this way, we aren’t resisting the pain, we are allowing it to be as it is and hearing its message without slapping it down with a fearful hand. Listen tenderly, gently, calmly, and compassionately. This is transforming our dance with loneliness, and in return, loneliness becomes a great guru, showing us the road only our spirit can travel.
Once we are able to listen to ourselves and find our inner peace, we become a safe harbor for another because now our wisdom supports our compassion and we can listen with sincerity. We can listen to others with the same tender compassion that helped our connection to ourselves. How beautiful that a connection to our innate wisdom not only alleviates our own suffering, but also sets us on a path to better help ease the sufferings of others.
As I prepared this article, I meditated on the seasons in my life where loneliness gripped me and what I discovered on the other side of that pain. I believe I learned empathy for others and connection to self through my lonely years.
In an attempt to sum up the essence of what I am attempting to communicate I will end with this: Connection to self gives room for loneliness to be met with as much calm and acceptance as a stream flowing past our bare toes, and that the pain of loneliness can transform into a clear and compassionate call, able to enfold us back into our true nature of loving-kindness.
As always, thank you for being here and sharing your time with The Creator’s Compass. You are so very appreciated.
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