February 17, 2017

Three Lessons I learned from Loneliness.

“Loneliness is poverty of the self; solitude is richness of the self”. ~ May Sarton


I’m a quintessential introvert, sucker for solitude, and a person who has needed time to herself like oxygen, since an early age.

I have always liked my my own company. As I grew up, I began to need my own company more than the presence of others just to process my emotions and make sense of my insides—the feelings, defenses, wishes and motives.

With my fascination to understand, I began to gradually develop an intimate relationship with myself. The path was daunting because I often had to traverse it with the co-traveler I was not yet fond of: loneliness. 

In my early 20s, I started noticing how I often felt triggered. It would be something quite simple that ticked me off, maybe I gained some weight, or someone having a bad day snapped at me. I might have met disappointment upon reaching out to people for support, or I failed at something I was new at.

The circumstances were random, but my responses to them were quite rigid. Back then, I felt irritation, anger, anxiety or callousness wall me up. These feelings were craftily fabricating truths about me that I wasn’t interested in knowing or taking action on. So instead, I took to numbing my pain or fear with the thoughtless pursuit of distractions. I conveniently used work, food, books, movies, exercise, hobbies, even the company of other people to distract me from myself.

It didn’t work because it was not meant to.

Eventually, I realized that I am the same sad person beneath the new clothes and the abused body (with too much work, food or exercise). Over time, as my arsenal of distractions ran out, I faced myself in the height of frustration. Right behind the facade of frustration, loneliness awaited me with bated breath.

Her mere presence scared me. I plotted how to get rid of her. I read books, listened to talks, and sought wisdom from other people. However, my attempts at running away failed miserably, and I learned my first lesson: We cannot out-run ourselves. All we can do is stop resisting and surrender—not on our knees in submission but standing upright, arms stretched out in welcome, trusting our sadness is not here to hurt or deplete us.

Loneliness is an expression of estrangement—from ourselves, or loved ones or the life we have created. At its core sits sadness, pumping enough suffering into our psyche to spring us into action, to take notice and hopefully to change something.

“Every next level of your life will demand a different you.” ~  Leonardo Dicaprio 

Loneliness often paid me a visit when I was in transition,both externally and internally.

When it was time to leave my parental home to start living independently, I felt terribly lonely. My PhD work required me to make changes to my social life. I was too upset to enjoy solitude. I dated emotionally unavailable men, my loneliness skyrocketed and my self-worth issues came to the surface. This was my second lesson: Loneliness is a messenger from the soul. It is infused with wisdom to guide me in the right direction.

Loneliness made me contemplate what I felt I missed.  How could I love myself more and how could I be vulnerable without collapsing under the weight of my own sensitivity.

Through navigating loneliness, I learned that I was actually scared of freedom because it came at the cost of taking full responsibility for my safety and well-being when I left my parental home. I learned that some sacrifices don’t feel good, but they can be fulfilling, eventually.

Loneliness pointed out to me how cruel my dating choices were. If I really loved myself enough, why would I stay receptive to someone I could not trust or feel safe with? The danger of living an unexamined life is that we unconsciously become a receptacle for our own unmet needs and those of others.

Over time, these feelings we have pushed aside or ignored block our flow and our capacity for joy, satisfaction, peace. This is where I believe loneliness comes from. This was my third lesson: Loneliness, if allowed, can cleanse us of unnecessary beliefs and narratives that no longer support our reality or well-being.

After I allowed my loneliness in, I became free to meet myself where I was—dissatisfied, hurting, scared or plain upset. As I continued to engage with loneliness, it refined and transformed my understanding of myself.

I discovered a disconnection within me—a gaping hole of absence, of understanding, appreciation, faith or meaning that nothing outside me could assuage.

We need to change how we look at and treat loneliness. In essence, loneliness is absence of intimacy with self, others or life itself.

Instead of suppressing or escaping it, it’s time we honor the truth it has to tell.


Author: Anushree Bose

Image: Raphaël Labbé/ Flickr  

Editor: Deb Jarrett

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