Personal Growth - Learnings from loneliness
by Mansi Poddar
It seemed like a never ending night, sleepless, dense and thick. After my divorce, I lay night after night, feeling the heat of the darkness smother me. The loneliness would creep into my bones, running endlessly as thoughts. Sleep would bring dreams, dreams that weren’t lonely. Every morning with a dull ache, I would live another day. Sometimes, surrounded by people but longing for those who weren’t, for a reality that’s now fantasy, for moments set in memory. Memories are ghosts, spirits of a living past and dead future.
This is the place for the lonely, a graveyard with sounds of laughter and fabric, twinkly tea lights, half opened merlots and music. Loneliness, like oil, always floats on top of your spirit, suffocating life below. It sparks a fear, and like all fears, slowly consumes.
Divorce, deaths, relocations, breakups, losses, all are solitary struggles of the heart. In my practice, I witness these solitary struggles; the girl whose lover left her for another woman, the mother grieving her empty nest, the widower who regrets his temper or a young girl living with an alcoholic father and his drunken insults. They all have one thing in common, their solitary struggle. How do they become whole again? How do we repair our minds? These struggles are inevitable, but they need not become life sentences. Loneliness can become a bitter poison that consumes lives through suicide or addictions. But what does it feel like? How do we cope with it?
Many philosophers, spiritual teachers and therapists discuss ways to combat loneliness. Sheena, a pranic healer in Mumbai, says she gets many people who want to “forget people or move on.” They feel lonely and sad and are unable to come to terms with losses. She says that this blocked grief energy stays in the body often causing physical symptoms like pain, high BP, etc. In order to become less lonely, one has to find wholeness within themselves.
My struggle with loneliness after my divorce was immense and spanned over three years. Now as I look back, I feel it was the start of my spiritual journey, a journey that took me inwards, to myself. Most spiritual literature talks about being with yourself, finding silence and learning to be comfortable with non doing. We do not need to fill our spaces, in time or mind.
Grief and loneliness often go hand in hand. For me, my divorce shattered my world. It opened my soul to explore alien landscapes, and the loneliness that came with it was breathtaking. But with this also came an opportunity to explore myself and the world. I began to heal the minute I was able to accept my grief and loneliness. Instead of shutting myself up from the world, I began to connect and reach out. Simple things like a cup of tea with a compassionate friend would bring me to tears, but also gently release some of the pain I carried.
Healing came in the form of art, reading, journalling and exploring spiritual texts such as the Art Of Happiness by HH Dalai Lama and books by Pema Chodron. I began to allow myself to ‘feel my life’. I recognised that it was feeling that gives life depth, meaning, and rightful weight. Running away from loneliness or seeking false ways of covering it, are merely temporary band-aids. It’s essential to surround oneself by compassionate, brave souls, who won’t be afraid to help you through this journey, who won’t shudder at the extent of your grief or leave you because you trigger feelings of fear and insecurity in them. This, for me, was the beginning of a lifelong journey into becoming whole. I had to be shattered open and remain open in order to truly be alive and overcome my loneliness and grief.
Alone, not lonely
Like me, many others have struggled with such negative emotions and many have made the journey to wholeness.
Radhika (27) a homemaker, called me crying, “I need someone, I need someone to love me, I am so lonely, so on my own.”
Shabuni (56) underwent a major depressive attack when she experienced the empty nest syndrome, leaving her emotionally drained and shut down, till she began to explore options that included a child-free life by connecting with others in similar situations as her.
We all have days when we feel lonely, but the idea comes from the false notion that we are separate from each other. Mother Teresa of Calcutta says, “It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start, and loneliness end.”
Bolt of truth
Loneliness caused by a loss of a loved one is a natural reaction to grief. We are attached to people and with their loss will come emptiness, a space which holds only grief. But when we are lonely, despite the presence of loved ones, what do we do?
A tough comment from Lama Yeshe in Becoming Vajrasattva, the Tantric Path of Purification:
“Why are we bored, lonely and lazy? Because we don’t have the will to totally open our hearts to others. If you have the strength of will to totally open your heart to others, you will eliminate laziness, selfishness and loneliness. Actually, the reason you get lonely is that you are not doing anything. If you were busy, you wouldn’t have time to get lonely. Loneliness can only enter an inactive mind. If your mind is dull and your body inactive, you get lonely. Basically, this comes from a selfish attitude, and concern for yourself alone. That is the cause of loneliness, laziness and a closed heart.”
A client of mine addressed this in a recent session; it was an unusually sharp insight, which has propelled her towards healing.
“I know this sounds vague and odd, but I’ve realised that we are all alone in this world. Time is borrowed and love is on loan. It sounds so sad, I feel depressed thinking like this, but even if you find someone who loves you, you are still alone. That love might be temporary. People die, people move on. Kids move out. I remember being in love with my husband and when he left me, I felt so lonely I thought I would die. That comfort was missing, but then I realised that all the relationships we form and cling to are to cover up our loneliness. My relationship with him was a blanket for my own loneliness. I had to learn to let go and deal with that feeling,” the client said.
How does one deal with that feeling? Simply by recognising and accepting that every relationship is a part of our life and not our life. By examining the balance of our life and seeing which areas need more focus and which need less. Why are we so obsessive about certain relationships? What drives us towards an incessant need for company and fun? How can we become more self-dependant and less externally driven? What is really causing loneliness? Are we in the habit of isolating ourselves? Are we hesitant to reach out? Self-awareness and examination is the key to mindful living, and mindful living helps us hold our lives gently and with ease. Pondering on our loneliness and processing it with a mentor, spiritual guide or counsellor can help you cope with such feelings and come to terms with losses that have left you feeling lonely. In time, with courage and hard work, we will arrive at a destination where we may be alone, but not lonely.
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