Sometimes I feel like Ive been lonely my whole life.
I grew up as a painfully shy child and would often feel left out, to nobody’s fault but my own. Thank god for those out going children that invited me into their group, because there was no way that I would ever take the initiative. It wasn’t low self esteem, it was just shyness. A comfortability with quiet. A reluctrance maybe, to act myself around strangers.
As I got older, I gravitated toward the “life-of-the-partiers”, always admiring their gregariousness in group settings. I attempted to have the same social life as them but always ended up feeling a little drained when I was in a giant group. I always had a hard time balancing my human interactions. I had the ability to be around somebody and be present and feel energized by the conversation but that also meant that I had a hard time separating myself from the negative emotions of others, unknowingly undertaking their energy for mine. Oftentimes I was left with a physical feeling of lethargy after spending time with someone who is apathetic, or a sense of anxiety after being around someone who was spinning out of control. Not knowing how to solidify my sense of self and realize my separateness, I backed away from large gatherings or chose to drink to dull my sensitivity, leaving me feeling; well, very alone.
However, it was loneliness that served as the same driving force that allowed me to have deep connections with people one on one. I earn to connect, not to entertain or perform. Because I was so shy, my listening skills increased, and I found that if you are truly listening to people, they can tell. Too often have I encountered people who seem to have never been listened to their whole life.
I’m not sure if it’s coincidence or causation but many shy people or self described introverts I’ve met have picked a path of creation.
I was reading a book by Rebecca Solnit the other day and she pointed out that the actual motivation of these crafts is to connect with people, but wasn’t it funny the irony that in order to excel at these crafts you must first subject yourself to a life of seclusion? She suggested that perhaps words and artworks actually create an even more intimate connection, one that is not reached by conversing face to face. To further that, maybe it allows souls to connect, not just minds and egos.
We all know that solitude can be painful and there are multiple scientific studies proven that homosapiens are social creatures and need a sense of community in order to thrive.
Unfortunately, sometimes our desperate need of social interaction can bring us around people who may not be the best for us. What do we do when we can’t find a community that isn’t vile to our health? How many of us have struggled to find something to do on a Friday night that doesn’t involve alcohol or self destructive behavior? Our family is supposed to be our community, but for many people, it actually is a world of anxiety, pressure, and limiting habitual role playing.
And in these cases, as the “Dhammapada” says:
“If for company you cannot find a wise and prudent friend who leads a good life, then, like a king who leaves behind a conquered kingdom, or like a lone elephant in the elephant forest, you should go your way alone.”
We must accept that loneliness is a part of our lives. And sometimes a very necessary one. People are amazing. Having a community is amazing. Friendships and relationships can be so meaningful and fulfilling. But sometimes life forces us to be isolated.
And instead of lamenting on how lonely we feel, we can realize that it is actually an essential time for growth and reflection.
Being alone can teach you who you are.
Sometimes we’re around so many people all the time, their voices can mesh with the voices in our own head. I know everyone has had that moment, where something chimes in their head and we instantly think; omg I sound like my mother.
In fact, it is your mother’s voice, your judgmental friend's, or an ex partners. You've just mistaken them for your own.
Loneliness can show you your strength. and make you realize, hey, you're not going to die for this. You are able to recognize your independence.
You will get to know yourself very well. What do you like? What is your ideal day? How do you practice self care. Most of our most recharging moments in life are when we are alone.
I’ve had times of pure ecstasy while driving by myself up mountain roads listening to music full blast and singing and I’ve had moments of complete contentment when I’m reading in the sun or running through a spring storm. Some of my most creative ideas appear when I am by myself doodling, thinking. And some of my most clear thoughts only appear on paper when I’m by myself, letting my mind flow.
We can realize what we are able to handle alone and when we need to reach out to others. It can make us appreciate friendships and find deeper connections with one another.
If we listen to our loneliness instead of distracting ourselves from it, we can tranform it into a tool for clarity.