Loneliness Part III
June 27, 2011 § Leave a comment
“When you grow older a dreadful, horrible sensation will come over you. It’s called loneliness, and you think you know what it is now, but you don’t. Here is a list of the symptoms, and don’t worry – loneliness is the most universal sensation on the planet. Just remember one fact – loneliness will pass. You will survive and you will be a better human for it.” – Douglas Coupland, Shampoo Planet
“We are the first generation raised without God. We are creatures with strong religious impulses, yet they have nowhere to flow in this world of malls and TV, Kraft dinners and jets. How do we cope with loneliness? Anxiety? The collapse of relationships.” — Douglas Coupland, Life After God.
I have discovered some things about loneliness over the last few days, in my explorations: Loneliness is a universal experience because it is a phenomenon of the ego. That is why many who are surrounded by people, such as a friend of mine who is married and has two children, and a loving supportive extended family, often feels lonely. The recipe out of loneliness is not necessarily more people – though for some people this can be a good first step just to see if this does indeed solve your problems (most likely, it won’t).
Because it is so painful most people run from it and try not to look at it directly in the eyes. “Who are you and where do you come from?” we are too afraid to ask.
I believe that loneliness is much like any other dysfunction, say, alcoholism, depression, or an eating disorder, in that it is a particular manifestation of the ego gone awry. Like other problems, it can be solved through work and awareness that take place both psychologically and spiritually.
In his book, The Power of Now, Ekhart Tolle writes about his awakening, and the moments that preceded it: “It was not long after my twenty-ninth birthday. I woke up in the early hours with a feeling of absolute dread. I had woken up with such a feeling many times before, but this time it was more intense than it had ever been. The silence of the night, the vague outlines of the furniture in the dark room, the distant noise of a passing train — everything felt so alien, so hostile and so utterly meaningless that it created in me a deep loathing of the world. […]
“‘I cannot live with myself any longer.’ This was the thought that kept repeating in my mind. Then suddenly I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. ‘Am I one or two?’ If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with.” ‘Maybe,’ I thought, ‘only one of them is real.'”
While Tolle is not directly referring to loneliness, he is talking about how the ego perceives itself as separate from everything. When the ego gets carried away, as it often does, we can find ourselves waking up in the middle of the night, as Tolle did, experiencing the dark shadowy world as “alien” and “hostile” almost foreign and cold. We are at this point completely cut off from the truth, which is our interconnectedness with all life, and with the ultimate source of our existence. We have become convinced of an illusion. “Loneliness is only the surface of a profound human condition of ignorance,” says Phil Neurnberger, PhD who wrote a whole book on this subject.
I believe that we can get cut off from ourselves in many ways, some of them are very concrete, such as acting out of obligation, saying yes when you want to say no, saying no when you want to say yes, trying to constantly ensure that people like you, never asking for anything and not expressing how you feel, or not even knowing how you feel, or being fearful, and therefore resisting your natural impulses to try something or reach out to someone who attracts you, or feeling undeserving or guilty of connection, maybe someone in the past made you feel guilty for having “too much fun.” This is, again, what I talked about before, total self-abandonment. Don’t be surprised when you feel lonely if you have abandoned yourself.
All the experts agree that loneliness is not an emotion in and of itself, it is the symptom of an emotion, or the reaction to a thought. Mother Theresa calls loneliness and the feeling of being unloved “the most terrible poverty.” Perhaps it is the feeling of being unloved that is at the core of what we call loneliness, but the cure isn’t necessarily more friends or lovers, even though I do believe that fulfilling connections with friends, a partner, family and community, are invaluable cures to most of the painful aspects of loneliness.
I want to finish with a favorite quote by poet Rumi, who said: “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Dismantle the barriers to love that you have built, spiritual and psychological, and that is your way home to yourself, and the end of loneliness.