On Loneliness

Everyone feels it. Heres how I deal with the cycles. 

Originally published in: The Ascent

I feel lonely. 

In the moment where I “reached” the moment I’d been waiting for, it (shock shock) didn’t quite measure up to expectation.

For a long while, I worked towards creating this situation that I longed for: traveling the world, working a remote job that covers my expenses, visiting places I’d only dreamed of… affording me the time and space to explore myself and this experience more fully. 

My intention, to practice presence and living a life largely devoid of distraction, is not exactly an easy endeavor. 

Setting aside time to be alone in nature, free of technology and the familiar faces and relationships and things that I’m attached to, forces me to confront things that have been comfortably ignored for a long while. 

Having finally “arrived” at that point where my obligation is limited, where I have the time and space to practice being, I feel lonely. 

Loneliness represents but a fraction of the challenges that I’m faced with in the more difficult moments, but is certainly amongst the most prevalent. 

Everyone feels it, and its such shared struggles that I think are worth exploring. 

This is not the first time I’ve felt lonely, and it’s something I know to be self-created. In the course of a day, an hour, or even a minute, I can feel completely isolated, stuck and alone one moment and then, just like that, similarly as connected, loved, and supported by all that surrounds me. 

Each time I transition from being around the thrum of family, friends and modern society to stillness and solitude in nature, these feelings arise. It’s expected, yet continues to surprise me on a level that is not entirely intellectual. 

I love spending time with myself. I’ve lived in vans, tents, houses, and apartments on my own. I’ve hiked for weeks without seeing more than a handful of people, and road-tripped hundreds of miles with no one but the passing cars bearing witness to my (not always) amazing singing. It’s empowering to have this level of comfort with myself, and I’m very proud to have cultivated it. 

Yet despite these moments of pure elation, of a truer and deeper understanding of myself, the habituated loneliness always tends to pop back up in some capacity. 

There have been many a stormy night, lying on the squeakiest sleeping pad you’ve ever heard, where I’ve found myself staring in fear at the top of my tent and the thunderous rain battering on it. 

In these moments I wanted nothing more than my mothers affection. 

There have been late night driving pushes to reach a given destination where I felt exhausted, lonely, and craving the comfort of a friend. 

The experiences I’ve had with myself have been the most rewarding of my life, and they wouldn’t be described as such if they hadn’t also been some of the most challenging, and loneliest. 

Because of the frequency of these experiences I’ve learned, at least to some degree, how to cope with this state. 

My bouts of loneliness tend to be cyclical. A few things happen: perpetuation, realization and, finally, escape. 

1. I perpetuate the loneliness

It’s easy to fall into victimhood. To listen to the little voices in our head that are so good at convincing us of the truth of our greatest fears. 

In the case of loneliness, this fear manifests in the form of the inner dialogue that no one loves me, that I am alone, that no-one really knows me. 

The longer I fall into this pattern, or any other such difficult habit for that matter, the harder it tends to be to break out. It becomes familiar. The beliefs that no one cares what I have to say, that no one wants to see me, steadily solidify and become normal until I make the decision to stop. 

To retake my power, and in doing so to return to appreciation of who I am. 

These beliefs deter me from the necessity of sharing our hardships, loves, fears, and space with others. They muffle my voice, making it hard to believe that I deserve any help. Accepting a world that is lonely can them seem like the only option. 

It is in the moments when it is the hardest to speak up that it is imperative we do so. 

It comes down to practice. Coming out of loneliness once likely won’t be the end to your troubles. But each time we do, it becomes more familiar, the connections with others deeper, and the inner-knowing that we are worthy of being loved and supported by community greater. 

2. I recognize I’ve perpetuated said loneliness

At one point or another, I choose to admit that I’ve fallen back into the habit of letting myself be lonely. 

I realize that I’ve convinced myself that no one wants me, and that this conviction has stripped away my outgoing, loving, open nature only to replace it with fear, self-consciousness, and anxiety. 

Instead of being encircled by friends, new and old, I tend to be sitting in the deep, dark corners of otherwise lively cafes. 

I become aware that I’ve stopped calling my loved ones just for the sake of it. 

I realize I’m not singing and dancing as I used to.

Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that I realize that I’m sick of all the stuff that I’m not doing. I don’t like being lonely. I want to get out of it, and I know that I can because I’ve been out of it before.

3. I break myself out of the funk 

Photo by  Steve Halama

Photo by Steve Halama

After realization comes something that triggers me to take action, and it is action that ultimately removes me from victimhood. 

Doing something helps me to remember the capacity I have in dictating my perception of the world. This remembrance forces me to come to terms with an often uncomfortable truth:

I am responsible for my reality. 

This sense of empowerment sees me return to the habits that I know, at least intellectually, will allow me to snap myself out of the funk. Whether it be breathing, vocalization of my internal dialogue, calling a friend, writing, singing, or another of the many wondrous life practices available to me, I do something that breaks the pattern that has perpetuated this feeling. 

My most recent endeavor to snap myself out of loneliness, for example, was to start writing this. 

The writing has helped me to look at my situation and my mindset more objectively. Describing my situation as a third person, I am aided in realizing that I needn’t feel this way.

My breathe steadies. In writing, I remember my heart and my love that knows no bounds, and that people can relate to my situation just as I can to theirs. 

The Transition From Being Lonely to Being Alone 

After a time, we transition from being lonely to simply being alone. 

For me, this happens when I allow myself to be still. Generally, this entails something along the lines of sitting by a river, an ocean (bodies of water quickly become thematic), mountains, fields…I suppose just anywhere in nature.

As I allow myself this time and space to be, I feel a return of my personal power. A return to the knowing that I, that we, are safe in our bodies. That we are guided by forces unimaginable, and that it’s ok to be on our own. 

To be with myself, instead of by myself

The process in getting here is, if not already conveyed, never easy. It’s cyclical. I struggle through all the pain that must come up before it’s okay to just be. To know that I am not wrong despite the mistakes made, that there is no other way to learn than to allow for the experience to unfold, guided by my intuition and those higher forces at play. 

It takes courage to step out into the light. It takes even more to keep doing it every time we forget that the light is there.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, this repetition is necessary.

If you think no one knows you, I believe you’re wrong. 

We’re all unique, sure, but still a part of the same. Everyone is doing their best. Everyone feels at times alone, misunderstood, and scared to show themselves.

This makes it all the more important that we express, actively and continually, who and how we are. 

Share your story. Share when feel when you’re lonely. Share the empowerment and strength you feel when the opposite is true.

I hope you enjoyed this piece! 

I’d be honored for you to explore my other work and to let me know what you think.