stormLoneliness is the damnedest thing.  We can sit alone in the middle of nowhere and be just fine, then be lonely in a room crowded with people.  And yet, loneliness is often identified with being alone, or worse, with solitude.  If you don’t believe me, Google Why do we avoid being alone? and you’ll see article after article about loneliness and how to avoid it.  And if you spend any time around self-help groups, you’ll likely be advised not to isolate when you feel down … but it’s my experience that sometimes a little time alone (usually to write) is just what I need.  So, what’s the difference?  Well, intent.  In isolating we seek to get away from others while in solitude we seek to be alone.  That can be a fine hair to split.   Our society abhors being alone, making it synonymous with loneliness and yet it’s essential to an inner life that makes our lives here fulfilling as well as busy.  Think about it … is He’s such a loner a complement?  When you see an old man (me, maybe) alone on a park bench, do you think, He’s a sage or He’s lonely?  We have become so afraid of loneliness that we keep ourselves surrounded by people and activity, even if it is via our electronic devices.

This week, I’ve been isolating, even though unless you know me well, you wouldn’t notice.  I’ve done most of the people activities I do every week.  But I kept part of me locked inside and part of everyone else locked out.  And I was lonely, even though at my center, I knew I wanted … needed, in fact … solitude.   Thinking about that, I wrote this unconventional definition of loneliness: Loneliness is thinking you want to be with someone, whether you really do or not.  There is something that runs deep in me, a life-axiom that says You should always want to be with those you love.  That nearly subconscious belief causes me to imagine some slight by others as the reason I want to be alone and that shift in attitude makes me lonely.

The truth is, it is impossible to avoid loneliness in this life.  As Mark Nepo says in The Book of Awakening, Indeed, we all share this mysterious fact – that nosunrise one else can go into our depth completely.  We must travel there alone.  It is where we commune with God.  I think that for most of us, going beyond what Nepo calls the glass doors of our experience** to that quiet place requires some transitional loneliness.  It is the simple but sometimes difficult shift in attitude from avoiding others to wanting to be alone that transforms isolation into solitude.  It’s worth the effort.

**On the August 2 page, The Mermaid, Nepo speaks of walking his partner, Anne, to surgery for cancer but not being able to go beyond the glass doors of the operating room.  He uses it as a metaphor for those places we can’t even take those we love most.

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10 Comments on “Loneliness”

  1. This is acutely insightful and I appreciate you sharing these thoughts. I struggled mightily with loneliness for a long time a while ago; blessedly, I haven’t felt it so deeply in a while. I remember telling my previous therapist that the damnedest thing about loneliness is that it’s the one kind of pain that gets worse with time instead of better (or easier to manage). Your new definition speaks a kind of truth I’d like to keep in mind, and possibly tease out.

  2. Growing up and through the majority too of my adult life, I have always felt lonely -probably much of that was due to being an only child and often feeling singled out a lot too in what often was actually the norm of childhood (two’s company, three becomes a crowd kind of scenarios). As I got older -not really that many years back now -I was finally in a relationship that was, at the time, one I thought was a good one, one for the right reasons and not because I believed inside that I needed someone, that someone of course being a male, to make me complete. When it ended inexplicably, for a long time I felt VERY alone and lost until I finally realized it was up to me to change things and determine where my strengths and weaknesses were with respect to my own well-being as well as with relationships within family and especially with friends. I was convinced for many months after learning my daughter was planning to move and take my precious grandchildren away from me but I steeled myself over those months too by working on myself and a bit of self-preparation. The end result when the kids actually left a couple weeks ago, the first couple of days were difficult in that the house was almost deathly quiet compared to what I had become accustomed to dealing with but gradually, I started doing other things -many things that I really never liked to do but were necessities -and then, last Wednesday when the kids returned to be here thru this coming Friday, I found myself getting frustrated with the noise and clamor being back on me! Go figure, huh? But I’m still working on that and it isn’t something that causes me the inner pangs of pain and loneliness that I had initially feared so much. Just a different approach to rebuilding myself to get back to being the old (not in age) outgoing, friendly person I used to be. Okay -maybe I should be the one writing a post about this topic but it’s now just a huge work in progress and here’s to hoping it works to my best interests in the process! Peace. Maybe that’s the term we’re both sort of searching to find?

    • oldereyes Says:

      Oh, believe me, Jeni, I know there is genuine unavoidable loneliness out there. We have to be flexible, don’t we, and not anticipate our emotions but just experience them when they show up. Every once in a while my daughter and her husband talk about moving to Colorado and my heart just sinks (and not because we own a home in Arizona). At this point, we’re done chasing our kids (in fact sometimes, we’d like to get away from them … I hope they don’t read that) but I’d sure miss those “babies.” Yes, peace would be good.

  3. I have read your post with great interest. Thank you for your insights.
    Personally I think that the loneliness and solitude may look alike only to the passersby (looking from outside) These states are the antonyms. Where the solitude is a dream full with mind travels, time travels -and always result in relax and deep peace. The loneliness is an unanswered wish: you want to go but the door is closed.
    Solitude is the spiritual feature and the light, the loneliness associates with the bodily pain…
    I would greatly appreciate your comments on http://arthiker.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/the-spirit-of-adventure/
    It would be great to hear your thoughts on the text bellow the picture.
    Thank you.

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