Now before you say: "I really admire Ivan's ideas but he's just off on this one. Even the greatest of philosophers misses the boat once in a while. I'm certainly not lonely," ask yourself these questions:
Have you ever wondered "Is this all there is?"
Have you ever been afraid to wonder "Is this all there is?"
Are you happy in all aspects of your life? In love? In work? In friendships? With your children if you have any?
Do you believe, perhaps secretly, that "something's missing?"
"Lonely" is not merely about not being in love at the moment. Lonely means not being connected to that deepest part of ourselves, of our hearts, to our destiny. If there is a gap between where we are and where we would like to be even if we cannot articulate where we would like to be, then we are lonely. And we are lonely in these circumstances because that gap is an indication that we are not being intimate with ourselves, our hearts and our destinies.
If you at all a searcher you are constantly looking for something else. Being intimately connected to another person is one goal for the searcher but, except in rare circumstances, an illusive one. For that intimacy can only arise when we first find it inside ourselves. We remain lonely because seeking intimacy inside our hearts is at the heart of our search, even if we are not willing to acknowledge it..
I have always had an abundance of love although there were many times when I was unable to recognize it. Indeed, some of the loneliest times I have experienced were when I was not alone. I had passion, I had emotional love, I had prosperity, but still I was lonely. Alone, after all, is about the mind, the ego. Lonely, on the other hand, is about the heart.
We can see alone but we can only feel lonely. Alone is about our "real world" life circumstances; lonely is about how we feel about those "real world" life circumstances. My experiences have been that the two ideas are frequently unconnected. Lonely has meant many things over the course of my life. It has meant being without someone whom I loved and who loved me. It has meant being with someone whom I loved and who loved me.
We get our definition of lonely from our histories. It is hard to see love when we are programmed to see "no love." Our programming comes from the childhood vision of the world we decided was "true" at that early age. If we grew up believing in love, we see love as we become adults. If, on the other hand, we grew up seeing no love, then that is what we see later on. And if our childhood vision told us that there was no love, or that we were not worthy of having love, then we find a way to see the world from those eyes as we grow. We may not like this view of the world but to us it is the reality. As we grow, we find "real world" life circumstances to make us alone or, if we are not successful in finding those circumstances, if we are not actually alone, then we find a way to feel lonely despite having others in our lives.
It is this vision that creates the sense that being lonely is bleak. We create bleak because that is how we envisioned the world as children and we want the world to remain true to that vision. We see the world from our lonely place because that feels right to us. Lonely but right.
And many of us so fear being lonely that we surround ourselves with people and things to keep us from being alone, mistaking the two ideas. And when we find that we are lonely despite our being in the midst of others, we get even lonelier. It is as though if we are lonely and alone, at least we have the possibility of meeting someone else. But if we are lonely and with another, we then have foreclosed even that possibility. We can and frequently do, lie to ourselves that we are not lonely because, after all, we are not alone. For if we were to tell ourselves the truth, that we are lonely despite what we have, we might have to face the internal demons that are causing us to feel lonely and that is simply too difficult for most of us to handle. So we go on surrounding ourselves with these things and people or we drink, or eat, or shop ourselves into numbness.
But there is another way to explain lonely, one that is filled with potential. We have a choice in the matter. Life is always filled with choices. We are always possessed of free will to choose how we will see the various events that the universe, God, puts in front of us to empower us, to encourage us to grow toward enlightenment.
We can explain loneliness and apparent no-love as being opportunities to grow to reach that end goal. If you believe that the universe provides us with the experience of loneliness, of being lonely despite being surrounded by love and abundance, as tools for the achieving of this purpose, then we have the opportunity to use "lonely" as a place from which to learn.
Life is always filled with choices. We are possessed of free will to choose how we will see the events of our lives.
It would be wonderful indeed if we could grow toward our goal through joy and love but it appears, at least in my life and in the lives of those I have met, not to be so. I suspect that we need pain and "no love" because the process of reaching enlightenment is so filled with change and change is so difficult for most of us, that it is only when we are sufficiently motivated by pain that we find the power to change. No one asked me what I thought of this "pain is a teacher" idea or else I would have expressed my opinion, as you might imagine.
And so, when we awaken to the reality of being lonely, no matter how much love we have in our lives, we have the choice of seeing this lonely in a painful way, in an existential way or to see it as a life lesson. If we choose the former, we can become morose, despondent, and these feelings then become our reality which we then take out into the world, perpetuate them and so find only more "lonely" to prove ourselves to be right. We may question the existence of God. We may doubt our self-worth. We may create relationships with others that satisfy our need not to be alone but we may remain lonely despite those relationships. Or we may seek out relationships with others who are simply not there for us so that we can say "See? I am right about the world being a lonely place."
When we choose this version of "lonely," we tend to hide behind it, feeling that we already have the answer to life and we need not bother to change it. Life is lonely and that is simply that. Painful but, for us, real. We are hiding behind this answer because we refuse to venture out, beyond the ramparts of our mind, and explore the territory called "not lonely." Many of us feel quite comfortable being uncomfortable. Uncomfortable has become for us a friend, one that we can always count on to be there for us.
This friend bring us no joy, at least no joy in the outer world sense of that word. There is some joy, I suppose, in the continuation of misery. It is the joy that comes from being fully acquainted with what is coming tomorrow and the day after that and the one after that.
We can choose to see lonely as a gift, a way to grow.
If, however, we choose to see "lonely" as a gift, then the pain of "lonely" can become an opportunity to grow. It is, after all, the mountains of our lives that are the gifts. We grow by scaling the mountains not by picnicking in the valleys.
But choosing this second version of "lonely" is scary stuff. When we choose it, we have no place to hide from ourselves. We have no mask, no walls, no "woe-is-me-I-am-lonely" to hide behind. The ease of being unhappy is taken away from us and we are faced with the uncertainty of not knowing what to believe in. We have lost the definition we have had of ourselves for all of our lives and now must find a new way to figure out who we are. If we are not the "woe-is-me-I-am-lonely" person we have always been, who are we? We are pressed to face ourselves. We cannot find answers in sadness even though we have defined ourselves for all of our lives by sadness. We cannot find answers in someone or something else; not even in love.
For the answers we are in need of, the answers to who we are and what we are about, the answers to what is our purpose in this life, cannot be found in someone or something else. They can only be found outside those same ramparts of the mind in the unknown territory of the heart.
In order to explore that territory, we must be sufficiently motivated and lonely is a powerful engine. We can be with another but we must recognize that, simultaneously we are also lonely. We cannot explore these territories with another because, in the end, it is up to each of us, alone, to grow. Others can provide us the love and emotional support to give us the courage to make the journey, but we must make the journey on our own.
In the end, we are alone with ourselves and our journey.
In the end, we are alone. We are alone with only ourselves and our individual journey. There may be others who appear to be sharing our journey but it is only the appearance, not the reality. For the journey is one that each of us takes on our own toward our own enlightenment.
Not bleak at all. It's all in how you look at it.
©1995 Ivan Hoffman