Leaning into Loneliness
The other night, I was mindlessly scrolling through IG stories - one of my many regrettable and sleepless late night habits - before stumbling upon something that really caught my eye. It said something to the effect of, “get comfortable being alone without being lonely.” I felt an immediate pull - an immediate resonance - not only within the context of my life and journey, but within the journeys of so many people who I know and care deeply for. A quick double-tap and a screenshot later, and I suddenly felt inspired to wanna delve into unpacking this idea further.
My initial thought... Well, there isn’t much about this sentiment that seems particularly revelatory or mind blowing. If anything, it appears quite simple. But the more I began to sit with the words and digest them, I realized that it’s actually a profoundly complex and messy concept to try to understand and, therefore, embody.
The Fear of Loneliness
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that the vast majority of people - myself included at times - are absolutely, unequivocally, scared of being alone. I’m sure there’s a plethora of reasons as to why this may be, yes. But I think it can all be reduced down to a singular common denominator. We’re scared of ourselves. Or shall I say, a piece of ourselves.
We’re scared of what we might find once we no longer have the ability to distract ourselves with externalities. We’re scared of the amount of work that is required for us to truly understand ourselves and all of our infinitely complex and messy elements. Of what might come up for us during that process. Of the pain we must sift through and sit with.
These very legitimate and real fears serve as barriers that hold us back from liberation from the “self.” I, for one, should know. I’ve been a master of outrunning myself for the vast majority of my life. It served me well for a set amount of time, sure. But in the end, the pieces of ourselves that we neglect and ignore will always find a way to outrun us. And when they do, brace yourself. It’s gonna get ugly.
Ask yourself this... Do I feel lonely when I’m single? Perhaps your answer is yes. If so, I want you to next ask yourself, why? What comes up for you? Sit with that answer for a moment and we’ll return to it here shortly…
As you’re allowing those thoughts to marinade, consider this... Let’s say that being single is seemingly analogous to silence. Yet another thing or entity that makes most people very uncomfortable. Now, what is it that singleness and silence have in common with one another? How about the fact that neither of them serve as a distraction. In fact, they serve as just the opposite of that. They offer spaciousness in a variety of ways. They force us to see and consider parts of ourselves whose existence we’ve tried to ignore and not acknowledge. If we slow down enough to listen and lean in, that is. Quarantine ringing any bells?
That’s right, people from all across the world talked about how much self-growth they underwent during the COVID-quarantine. How the opportunity to experience stillness and silence became a transformative tool for them to see and understand themselves in a different light. That’s beautiful, is it not? I, for one, certainly think it is.
...Now that we’ve allowed the question to marinade for some time, let’s return to it. Do I feel lonely when I’m single? For all intents and purposes of today’s blog, let’s assume that your answer is yes. Okay, now I want you to try and trace that feeling (or feelings) of loneliness back to an origin or source. Reflect upon the moment(s) or experience(s) that drive your loneliness. Many of us share common experience(s) of loneliness after not having received adequate love as a young person. Of not feeling seen or heard or understood. Of feeling silenced. Of feeling small and alone. Of having our basic needs as developing young people - nurture and love and care - unmet.
Unmet childhood needs leave behind gaping holes of emptiness - emptiness that, when unresolved, becomes a source of conflict in our life. A conflict - an inner turmoil - that we then project onto others. We subconsciously project our emptiness and pain - our unmet needs and feelings of loneliness - onto others in hopes that they, in return, might make us feel whole. This is a very dangerous myth and one that far too many of us fall into the trap of. The belief that someone else completes you or makes you whole. No, you complete; only you can do that. You are a whole person - point, blank, period. I’m no mathematician, but I know enough to know that the grand sum of two whole people is greater than the grand sum of two people who are seemingly half empty. Are you picking up what I’m throwing down?
From Understanding to Loving
One of the simplest ways to identify the healthy and whole people in your life is to look for the individuals surrounding you who are comfortable and at peace being alone. These are the individuals in your life who have embraced the practice and the process of stillness and of silence - both literally and figuratively speaking, that is. Figurative silence - freeing yourself up from the noise of distraction(s) - is to remove the people and the things from your life that are not serving you in a reciprocal and healthy manner. They are not life-giving. Rather, they are just the opposite. They are life-draining. When you remove the noise - the distractions of life - you are then afforded the time and spaciousness to get to know your truest sense of self. And it is in that very space that you will be afforded the opportunity to explore and sit with yourself. Within this space, you will begin the process of unearthing your unmet needs > your unresolved conflict. And as you return to this stillness and this space, time and time again, you will begin to experience reconciliation within the “self” and ultimately, healing. A process that moves the “self” closer toward the experience of feeling and being whole.
I use the word “process” here because it is important to note that wholeness is not a point at which one ever truly arrives. Rather, it is the horizon - the setting of the sun where the ocean meets the sky - that one sails toward on their journey toward discovering one’s truest sense of self. This is the path of both liberation and of suffering. Of capsizing waves and of gleaming skies. The fringes of your unchartered map where one begins to move from the known to the unknown. From discomfort to growth.
It is on this journey that you will understand what it means to embrace aloneness, and where you will begin to revel in all of its profound beauty and might. For this is the journey of self-love and of self-acceptance. This is the road less traveled. This is the road toward your inner kingdom of peace and happiness and joy. This is what it means to embrace the comfortability of being alone without actually being lonely.