Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Continuing the Thread of Loneliness

Continuing the thread of loneliness, I want to explore the idea (mistaken, as it turns out) that we are ever alone in the first place. When we are not in the physical presence of others, it can certainly be said that we are alone. Loneliness is a state of mind, though, not a state of being. Feelings of loneliness come from stories we tell ourselves; what we make the “isness” of the being alone (not being in another’s physical presence) mean.

This idea that loneliness is a state of mind is borne out in virtually every Challenge Day I’ve ever participated in (dozens). One of the questions asked during the activity called The Power Shuffle is “Cross the line if you have ever felt lonely or isolated at school.” Most of the time, most of the participants cross. Sometimes everyone in the room crosses. Imagine that. In a school with hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, many feel lonely and isolated.

Another example involves numerous surveys and polls taken over the years. Time after time, many people report intensely debilitating feelings of loneliness even when living in cities with hundreds of thousands or even millions of other people. Why does this seem to be such a nearly universal phenomena?

Well, as Challenge Day and others point out, it’s not a lack of people that typically causes loneliness; it’s a lack of connection between people. Having pointed that out, and owning that I have personally experienced this apparent truth many times, I want to repeat what I said earlier: loneliness does not equal being without immediate human companionship. It’s a story. We have a choice about whether to experience being alone as the “suffering” of loneliness, or to savor the opportunity to think, perhaps meditate, read quietly, listen to some favorite music, write a letter to a friend (or reach out and call them!) listen to some favorite music (or discover new music). The list is pretty much endless. As with the experience of suffering in general, a story of loneliness can shift in the blink of an eye. All it takes is the willingness to Notice that we’re running an old story (in this case around loneliness) Choose to do it different, and Act by trying out a new story.

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