Few of us have not experienced the pain of loneliness. We have each had moments in which we have felt that we are misunderstood, disappointed, unsupported, deserted, isolated, left alone to face the world around us.
The feeling of «loneliness» is not synonymous with «being alone». We might be physically alone and feel contact with and unity others, while another can be surrounded by family, friends and society and yet feel a deep, penetrating, painful loneliness.
WE ARE CREATIONS OF UNITY
Our life begins here on this planet with the union of two cells – the ovum of our mother and a sperm cell from our father. We are products of the union of two separate beings. Our physical body is the result of the attraction and love which brought those two beings into union. We are born out of union; a result of love.
For the first nine months of our existence, here on the physical plane, we experience total union with our mother. We have one blood stream, one digestive system, one respiratory system. Whatever happens to our mother happens to us, and whatever happens to us happens to our mother. This is true on a physical and emotional level.
And then comes the traumatic experience of emerging from our warm, secure, blissful womb into the cold, foreign, and frightening world. It is not enough that we have to face this cold and hard world, but suddenly they cut our umbilical cord, our connection to our mother. It pains. They scrub us with an irritating sponge, the room is cold, too much light, and people act in mechanical and unfeeling ways. We are separated from our mother and suddenly find ourselves ALONE – strangers in a strange land.
Fortunately, nature has instilled in us the tendency to be loving and nurturing to young beings of all species. Thus, during our first months and hopefully years, we are more likely to receive harmonious, loving vibrations than negative ones. But this is not always true. Many of us are born into families in which there already exist much tension between the members of the family – i.e., parents, mother-in-laws, other siblings, etc.
Older children may react to us with jealousy, and parents with tension and anger, reflecting their own emotional problems onto us. We will become aware of the conflicts between our parents and between them and their parents. All this disappoints us, confuses us, disturbs us and causes us to feel insecure and vulnerable.
The less love we receive, the more insecure we feel. The more conflict we see and feel around us, the more confusion and conflict we feel within us. We are the product of the union of two beings. If these two beings do not have harmony between them, then it is difficult for us to feel inner harmony.
WE HARDEN AGAINST THE WEATHER OF LIFE
As we begin to grow and mature, we begin to develop our own personality with as many «emotional defense mechanisms» as we feel we need to have, in order to feel safe and secure. The more insecure we feel, the more defense mechanisms we incorporate into our personality. The greater the wall we build up around ourselves, and the more alone we feel.
As we move into adolescence, the need to develop a personality of our own becomes a «survival need». Our parents, teachers and society confront us with their models of who we should be and how we should behave. In our need to assert our own individual identity, we rebel. This rebellion creates a even greater feeling of separateness and isolation from our parents, teachers and society as a whole. This, then, leads to stronger feelings of loneliness, in which we feel that no one understands us or cares for us. No one is able or willing to listen to us, or, if they do, it is difficult for us to express what we really feel, and nearly impossible for them to understand what we feel and think. They are too full of what they think and feel.
We begin to realize that our parents are only people and not gods. We start to become disillusioned with the world. We eventually realize that, ultimately, we are alone, that we will have to face the world alone, that we were born alone, and will die alone.
These realizations, whether conscious or unconscious, cause the us to develop even stronger defense mechanisms, which isolate us even more from the others and even from ourselves. These mechanisms seek to establish a strong external ego structure, so as to protect the soft, insecure and frightened lonely individual inside that hard external shell. This is similar to the delicate and beautiful rose which has to create many thorns to protect itself, or the soft vulnerable turtle who would perish without his protective shell. We develop many thorns and shells, i.e., aloofness, indifference, insensitivity, aggressiveness, criticism, illness and cunning, so as to protect ourselves. These ego mechanisms create a thick wall around us which isolates us from others. Although surrounded by many people, we feel lonely, because basically we do not trust others.
FACTORS WHICH INCREASE THE FEELING OF LONELINESS
Thus the feeling of loneliness is based on such factors as:
a. mistrust in the people around us,
b. a feeling of insecurity
c. A fear of inability to face the difficulties of life,
d. a feeling that we are not lovable,
e. A belief that there is not really any true love in the world.
These feelings are further accentuated by some of the following factors, which are present in our modern civilization.
1. The Idolization of individuality in western and northern countries has led many to the heights of loneliness, as indicated by their high rate of suicide and impersonal mass murders.
2. The alienation of the generations has caused a general communications break down between parents and children. The rapidly changing way of life and values systems makes mutual understanding difficult between the generations. This leaves both generations feeling wronged and lonely.
3. The deterioration of the family structure, in which over 50% of all marriages end up in divorce, has seriously undermined the security and unity of belonging to a family. There no longer exists the deep, sure bond of mutual love and mutual help, which existed before. Brothers ignore each other’s problems, and children leave their parents to a lonely passing away in homes for the elderly. There is no longer a feeling of commitment in which the family will protect and support its members.
4. Our focus on money as a source of security and happiness causes many to grab whatever they can, even at the other’s expense. This way of thinking also creates the fear that others will try to do the same at our expense, and thus we feel even more vulnerable and mistrustful, and thus even more lonely. This fear however, causes us to react in such a way, that we isolate ourselves from the others even more, thus increasing our loneliness. Thus we have the image of fifty people riding in a bus, each feeling the need to communicate with those around him but each being afraid to “risk” it.
6. Our basic obstacle to unity and communication is ego-centeredness. This reminds me of a cartoon by Feiffer. The cartoon character confesses the following truths:
a. I was single and lonely.
b. I got married and discovered that I was still lonely.
c. We had children, and I was still lonely.
d. I had affairs, and was more lonely than ever!.
e. I got a divorce. I’ve never been so lonely in my life.
f. My daughter and her husband gave me a dog.
g. FINALLY COMPANIONSHIP.
How is it that none of those relationships were able to give him the feeling of companionship, that the dog was able to. The answer is simple. The dog does not have an ego with which to conflict. All human conflicts are ego conflicts. It is our ego which is the wall which prevents our unity with the others.
HOW USUALLY WE TRY TO OVERCOME LONELINESS
Our feelings of insecurity, vulnerability and loneliness create a sense of emptiness within us, which is like a hole which needs to be filled. We try, in various external ways, to fill that hole. In some cases we are able to fill that sense of emptiness for a period of time. However, as we grow emotionally, mentally and spiritually, those things, activities or people, which once helped us to feel whole and meaningful, lose their power to make us feel that way anymore.
Once a play doll, or a little toy car, was enough to fill our minds and our time. It was our whole world, and if someone took it from us, it was the end of the world for us – a traumatic experience. But the day came when naturally those objects no longer satisfied us, and we sought other ways of filling that feeling of emptiness, or lack of wholeness or completeness.
As we mature, we will obviously become frustrated with our old «toys» and experience a feeling of emptiness, until we are able to discover our «new toy». Let us discuss some of those «toys» which we use to temporarily fill that emptiness which we feel inside.
1. We seek union with the world around us through owning objects, land, houses, clothing, cars, etc. Through owning and having as our own, we at least feel a relationship with these objects, which fills our emptiness for a period of time. For some people this has great meaning and is enough for them. Others are not satisfied with these «toys» and find no fulfillment in owning. Others cannot feel satisfied, no matter how much they own – their need becomes an insatiable greed.
2. We seek to distract the mind from its feeling of emptiness by saturating our senses with sensual inputs. Thus we do not allow the mind to turn inward to feel its lack of peace. We fill the senses with such inputs as foods, drinks, sex, movies, T.V., magazines, senseless conversations, work, drugs, tranquilizers, alcohol, coffee, tea, cigarettes etc. All this, so as not to feel the loneliness, the emptiness. Often this need for sensual input creates addictions which have a negative effect on our health and our relationships.
3. A very common way in which we seek to remove the feeling of loneliness is to create relationships and a sense of belonging. We have a need to feel that we belong somewhere. That may be a social group, a religious group, a political group, a group which supports a particular sports team, a family grouping, or a personal relationship with someone. We gain a sense of identity through belonging somewhere. Even after fully satisfying this need to belong, we discover that we still feel separate and lonely.
When we try to fill our emptiness by focusing all our energies on one person, thinking, «that person must love me and give me attention in order for me to be happy», we make things difficult for ourselves. We limit our potential for happiness and for overcoming loneliness.
The other person whom we have selected may, or may not, be in a position to give us the attention and love that we need. He may not be attracted to us. He may be already attached to someone else. He may not be able to express his love or feelings. He may become ill. He may depart from his physical body.
There are at least 4 billion other persons here on the earth, all of whom have the same need to give and take love with the beings around them. When we focus only on one person, and believe that only he can remove my loneliness, then we ignore the other 4 billion people, with whom we can communicate and exchange care and love.
Another trap on this level is the idea that sex is the basic uniting factor between a man and woman. The sexual act can, in many cases, be an opportunity for a wonderful physical, emotional and spiritual union between two individuals, providing that there also exists an emotional and spiritual harmony between them. Otherwise it is simply a mechanical act which leaves both parties feeling separate again some moments after.
Sexual desire, in many cases, is a need union with another person, a need to break out of our feelings of separateness. When there is emotional harmony, love and affection flowing between two individuals, there is much less need for that union to be experienced through the physical act of sex. We can experience that unity through love, affection, touching, hugging, caring and actions, rather than exclusively through sexual union. Such a union will be more satisfying on all levels. Non sexual expressions of love and unity can be shared most beings, without creating the complications associated with the sexual, i.e. attachment, expectations, jealousy, etc.
4. Another way in which we try to fill our emptiness is to accumulate knowledge and information about the world. This gives us a feeling of power. The danger here we tend to develop more ego and pride because we believe that we superior or «important», because we knows more than the others. This might cause us to reject others «who are ignorant». This of course increases our loneliness.
5. Others of us might fill our emptiness through creative self-expression through which come into contact with others through our creations. At the same time, we cultivate a deeper contact with that creative source within ourselves, thus improving our relationship with ourselves. We discover that we are not empty after all; that their is a power and a fullness within ourselves.
After seeking that perfect unity, which we once felt as embryos in the womb, in these various ways, we are still left with a feeling that something is missing. We are not yet complete and have not yet found the one we are looking for. The various pieces with which we have tried to fill the hole do not exactly fit our emptiness. Finally it dawns upon us: we have been looking for our own selves all this time. We feel lonely because we miss our real self, the self for which Socrates was searching, the self of the reborn Christian, the self of the liberated yogi, the self of the self – actualized being, the Christ within us, the God within us, the spirit, the soul, our true Self.
We are something like the woman, who could not find her necklace and frantically searched everywhere for it, until she turned her attention to herself to realize that she was wearing it.
When we have tried to fill our loneliness in all the above ways and still find that there is a gnawing in our heart and mind for something else, we seek to know our real self, beyond our personality, beyond our conditioning, beyond our sex, religion, political beliefs, beyond all that we know about ourself.
In order to do this, we might engage in one of the many religious, philosophical or psychological systems which suit us for this work. We focus less on external solutions, and more on internal ones.
As this ultimate solution for loneliness is a slow process, let us look at some other more tangible ways in which we can face and overcome the feeling of loneliness.
METHODS OF FACING AND OVERCOMING LONELINESS
1. Thomas Merton has said that «Depression is the height of self-indulgence». Thus we feel lonely and depressed when our attention is focused on ourselves, our problems, our unfulfilled needs and desires, our sense of injustice and our unhappiness. There are of course many other causes of depression including chemical imbalances.
Never the less we will all benefit by thinking about how many other people are lonely, blind, handicapped, widowed, orphaned, seriously ill, mentally retarded, poor, homeless, on he verge of starvation. What about the others?
If we do this for a moment, we will instantly realize how egotistical our feeling of loneliness is. We can realize that almost everyone is lonely and desiring more contact with his fellow man. Rather than being concerned about what others can offer to us, we can start thinking about what we can offer others who need us.
2. We can approach others, rather than waiting for others to approach us. This will require that we overcome any blockages or complexes, which prevent us from easily approaching others. Some of these may be:
a. A fear of rejection, if we put ourselves in the position of the one who opens up first to the other.
b. A fear that we are not lovable or acceptable to others.
c. A feeling of pride; we cannot approach the other, but the other must approach us. d. A feeling that we have nothing to offer others.
e. A feeling of superiority which makes us look down on others and consider them not worthy of our company, or that we will lose our self worth if we keep company with them.
f. A lack of love and patience on our part.
g. A general fear and mistrust of others.
Overcoming such programmings, will free up our inner strength and allow more harmonious contact with others.
3. Remember that everyone needs love, affection and caring. In remembering this, we realize that our need is legitimate. On the other hand, we realize that all the others around us are wanting the same thing, and thus we are not afraid nor too proud to approach them.
4. When walking the street or circulating in public, we can look into other’s eyes, smile, nod our head. We can learn to feel our contact with the others. When we are talking to someone, we need to look into his eyes, focusing on the real self behind those eyes. We can remind ourselves that all the personalities you know are actually immortal spirits, presently occupying physical bodies.
5. We can develop a relationship with our inner Self which exists, before and after our short physical life. We are referring to who we are when all the ego complexes and games fall away. It is who we are when all fear subsides and we become aware of an inner voice, and inner strength, and inner power. When all emotions and thoughts subside we are in a state of being rather than becoming. The self who feels whole and complete in the present moment, and is not overcome with bitterness about the past and expectancy or anxiety about the future.
This inner self is in a state of latent potentiality just as the almond tree is latently potential within the almond seed. We simply need to nourish and attend to it, so that it may grow stronger within us.
Some ways in which we can nourish this inner self are through self-analysis, recording our dreams, prayer, meditation and creative self-expression. Techniques such as physical exercises, breathing techniques and deep relaxation may help to calm the disturbances of the mind, so that the presence of the inner self is more felt.
6. When we develop a relationship with God, life and nature or with the power which is organizing and sustaining the universe and even our own particular body, then we seldom feel alone anymore. Whenever we are, that power, that being, that presence is also there. Thus, loneliness disappears just as darkness disappears when a light is turned on.
In some philosophies it is difficult to distinguish between the inner self and this power – they are sometimes considered to be the same, i.e., the «God within us». Thus it is a matter of personal preference as to whether one chooses to develop a relationship with this divine power as something outside or inside ourselves. In either case, we considerably reduce loneliness by realizing that we are always in the presence of, and in relationship to, the Divine Being which is omnipresent and in all beings (even in plants, animals and insects). We are always with the Divine Being.
7. We can join with others who have similar interests. As we mature emotionally and spiritually, we will find that the company which we kept may not satisfy us anymore. Our interests and needs may have changed while the others’ may not have. Thus we may need to seek out those with common interests.
This can be done to the extent that it does not prevent us from fulfilling our duty to our family. Our family is our responsibility, which we cannot ignore, but we can choose our friends according to our interests and needs. Thus, one reason we may feel lonely is that we are seeking to make contacts with people who do not share our ways of thinking and feeling. Rather than look for some specific person to fill our loneliness, it might be better simply to join together with others who are seeking similar goals. We will be in the presence of people with whom we can communicate. 8. We can face loneliness by arranging to be alone some days each year. One of the most effective ways to overcome the fear of something is to put one’s self in the presence of that which is feared. If we fear loneliness, we can arrange occasionally to be alone and get to know ourselves. In this way, we can learn to love, accept, and respect ourselves. We can discover our inner fullness. We can take a more objective look at how we are doing, where we are going, and what we want to do with our lives in the near future.
Many of us run around like madmen chasing after «necessities», which we have created without stopping to ask, «Is it absolutely necessary, is it worth it, is there any other way to achieve that which I want from life?»
Occasionally retreating from life, whether it be an organized retreat or simply a personal one, at some home or hotel in the countryside, can give us the deep rest and perspective we need in order to put order and clarity into our lives.
In conclusion, we are all feeling loneliness or incompleteness to a certain extent. This feeling is increased by our sense of insecurity, vulnerability, mistrust of others, and lack of self-confidence and self-acceptance. On the other hand, the world situation contributes to those feelings, creating an epidemic of alienation and loneliness. We try to assuage that feeling of emptiness by owning objects, through sensual pleasure, creating relationships, belonging to organizations, seeking knowledge and creative self-expression. These bring momentary relief from that unpleasant empty feeling, but do not eradicate it completely.
Only Self- knowledge, or the experience of unity with the divine power of the universe, can completely satisfy that need within us. We can work towards that goal while, at the same time, opening ourselves up to others more and more, as we develop greater inner security, self-confidence, self-knowledge and love for all beings – including ourselves.