If you ever feel lonely, know that you’re not alone. Loneliness is so prevalent it would seem as if it’s an inescapable human condition. But what exactly is loneliness? Where does it arise from and how is it overcome?
Loneliness is a deep pervading, and often unshakable feeling, a sense of disconnectedness, a craving for affection and companionship. Loneliness is an overwhelming feeling of emptiness, and the desire to fill that void through relation and intimacy with other human beings.
It’s not enough to share physical space with someone. It is not enough to merely be acquainted or to have a healthy sexual relationship. It’s not enough to be in the company of others. Even in the company of good friends or a lover we can often feel a deep sense of loneliness.
Relationship means to relate; to share an intimate connection with someone that goes far deeper than casual acquaintance. But many relationships don’t go so deep. Communication remains shallow and there’s a lack of genuine intimate connection. And so, deep within there is a lack of fulfillment, and the craving for intimacy continues to go unquenched.
Even in long-term relationships, many couples find it difficult to develop and maintain this deep level of intimacy. They may rarely speak to one another, apart from the kind of casual conversation you might have with a stranger. It’s often uncomfortable to open up to one another because we’re not even comfortable with ourselves. There may be things about us that we feel are inadequate or which we feel shameful about. Speaking openly may bring up heavy emotions which we would rather not face or which we would prefer not to burden the other with. We might discover things about one another that trigger discomfort and can lead to conflict. So to avoid all of this we remain closed. We remain like strangers living in the same space, never truly connecting beneath the surface. And even if two people grow to resent one another, they will often remain together simply because of attachment. They will learn to simply tolerate one another. Clearly the relationship is not working. Both are unhappy and there’s always some sort of unresolved tension. And yet they remain together because it is better to be with someone—anyone—than to be alone.
We are so afraid of being alone. And so we’re always searching for someone to fill the void, to distract us from feeling lonely. As soon as one relationship ends we are already searching for the next. Or we go on holding onto the old relationship, even though the other person has long moved on. We cling like rats to anything that floats by in order that we don’t drown in loneliness.
And is it any wonder that our relationships suffer when they’re poisoned from the start? When we pursue a relationship from a place of loneliness, the other person is little more than a means to satisfy our craving, to fill an overwhelming sense of emptiness we’ve been carrying for so long. That person is simply a distraction. And if both feel empty, neither will be capable of fulfilling the other. In time they’ll realize that the other is incapable of satisfying them, and often we grow to resent one another because of that.
This kind of relationship is founded upon fear; the fear of being alone. But there’s only so much room for a genuine loving exchange, because love does not arise from fear, and where there is fear, there is little room for love. Even while the relationship persists, the fear tends to remains, if even just in the background. We’re always concerned that the other may leave us. We become paranoid and suspicious. We become possessive and jealous. We always want to know where the other one is, what they’re doing and who they’re doing it with. We’re so certain that they’re going to abandon us that we begin to push them away. We don’t even realize when we’re doing this. But because we’re acting out of fear, rather than love, we make the other very uncomfortable. We create unnecessary tension which causes us to become disconnected. Whereas love unites, fear divides. And often we’re left feeling more disconnected, more lonely then we were to begin with.
Loneliness makes us desperate, and when we are desperate we make poor decisions. We don’t think things through clearly and rationally. We tend not to be realistic or discerning. We rush into relationships without taking time to get to know the other person. Many people are so desperate to be married. They want to secure a partner so they’ll have someone to spend their life with, or someone to give them children. And even the desire for children is often fueled by the need for emotional fulfillment which arises from that sense of loneliness. The thought of spending the rest of one’s life alone is very frightening. So the first person who shows up and shows a little interest, we latch onto and then rush into the relationship without really taking the opportunity to get to know the person intimately. And it may be that we never reach that level of intimacy, even long into the relationship.
There is so much fear in being alone, and the craving for intimacy is so strong. This very craving itself is what we call loneliness. It’s extremely unsettling and so we try desperately to avoid having to feel it. We distract ourselves with friends, with sexual partners, television, games, drugs and drinking and so on. But in the end we find that we must once again face the reality of being alone.
And the reality is that we are born alone and we die alone. Such an idea may seem bleak to some, but that reaction is nothing more than one’s resistance to that very reality. And if it is a reality, then the only way to be at peace with it is to accept it. When I say that we’re always alone, I’m not talking about a physical phenomenon. How can I say that we’re born alone? The mother is there. The nurse is there. Many people may be there. So in what sense are we alone?
We each experience this life from a unique, individual perspective. It ‘s from this unique point of observation that we find ourselves alone. No one else can enter into that space. No one can sit with us in our mind and percieve the world through our eyes. It’s only for us to experience. In that space resides all of our greatest inspiration as well as our darkest fears. And it’s for the latter reason that we try so hard to avoid it, why we struggle so desperately against it.
Aloneness is our natural state. And when we embrace it, we find that there’s a completeness in it. It’s being content with oneself; no longer relying upon others for validation; no longer relying upon others to fulfill our psychological or spiritual needs. Aloneness is self-sufficiency. There is no dependence upon anyone for love or happiness. All is contained within the Self already. One need only open up and allow it to arise spontaneously and without obstruction. Aloneness is the complete acceptance of oneself, and the full radiance of love and joy that arises from within one’s own heart.
Through aloneness one discovers who he really is in relation to the universe; in relation to others. He comes to understand his fears and desires, and by thoroughly understanding them, they gradually dissolve. What is left is stillness, peace and clarity.
The feeling of loneliness arises from our resistance to our aloneness. And we try to resist that feeling by distracting ourselves. But ultimately nothing seems to work. Like quicksand, the more we struggle against it, the more we find ourselves stuck, sinking ever deeper.
I use this analogy because it is commonly understood that in order to become free of quicksand you must remain calm and passive and do not try to resist it. It is because of fear that we panic and begin struggling desperately to free ourselves. But doing so only causes us to sink deeper, making the situation worse. To become unstuck we must first realize that struggling is counterproductive. To escape the quicksand you must lie down. To escape loneliness you must surrender to being alone.
To go from a state of loneliness to aloneness means confronting your loneliness. It’s because we are always running from it that we never escape it. Regardless of circumstances, it remains with us. Even amongs friends, or with a lover, it somehow creeps back in. All the things we do to escape loneliness are really only temporary distractions at best. It’s like covering the symptoms of a disease without really curing it. If you want to cure the disease you don’t try to cover it up. You examine it. You find out what it is and what’s causing it. You go to the root of it and pluck it out.
The most effective way to overcome loneliness is to simply be with it; to go deeply into it. We resist it because when we’re alone there is no one to distract us from our own thoughts. And in our minds there is so much fear and insecurity that we’d rather not face. There’s so much uncertainty and discomfort. This is why being alone is so difficult and painful. But if we can embrace aloneness, and face these inner demons, we can overcome that discomfort and and actually find joy in being alone.
Aloneness offers one many opportunities, such as the opportunity for deep reflection and reassessment of one’s goals and desires, or the opportunity to find strength and courage, and to cultivate a deeper sense of self-acceptance. It offers one time and space to delve into the depths of one’s being; to overcome fears and feelings of inadequacy, and to develop the qualities we most desire for ourselves.
It is an opportunity to release attachments and relinquish expectations; to no longer require the praise and support of others, but to find inspiration and validation from within. It is an opportunity to discover wisdom and beauty within oneself; to find peace and contentment in solitude; to find stillness; and to discover completion and wholeness.
Embracing aloneness offers us the opportunity to love others more deeply, because love can flow freely when it’s not inhibited by fear and desperation. It’s when we’re able to be content in aloneness, and to love ourselves unconditionally, that we can then offer our love to others without attachment or expectation.
By embracing aloneness one is able to discover and cultivate the most important relationship; the relationship one has with oneself.