The holidays are a time when we are expected to be social and connected—which is exactly what can make it such a lonely experience. Bryan Reeves has learned to welcome the loneliness.
“If you want to get rid of something, you must first allow it to flourish.”
~ Byron Katie
Have you ever felt really lonely?
I mean that kind of loneliness where you lie awake at night and your chest pulses with soft ache and your heart slowly burns as some persistent thought insists you’re destined to go through this lifetime alone, misunderstood and unseen, that you’re never going to find someone in whose loving arms you’ll finally experience Home … or crushed over the loss of someone with whom you did know Home?
One late autumn, many years ago, I was canoeing on a vast lake in the Canadian North Woods when I heard the evocative cry of a faraway loon float despondent across the lake’s still, dark surface. The haunting sound of its longing sank into me like winter sadness. I’ve never forgotten it.
It’s the sound my heart whispers out through my chest when I feel my aloneness severe.
Have you experienced this kind of loneliness?
You might feel it surrounded by family who never seems to quite get you.
You might have experienced it lying next to someone. Maybe even your husband or wife. This kind of loneliness can be torture: to be so close to a bliss that refuses to let you in.
Maybe you’ve lost a loved one. They’re not here, and they can’t be for whatever reason. Your entire body aches for their physical presence.
We’ve all felt such deep loneliness, regardless how or to what degree. It’s a byproduct of the human experience called “separate.” I’ve felt it plenty. Alone. Even in bed with a partner. Even surrounded by an entire city of people. I felt it last night. It visits me for various reasons, whenever it wants.
For years I’ve distracted myself from facing the source of that ache, whatever it may be, by pursuing unhealthy relationships, engaging in empty flings and empty promises, desperate online dating, medicinal masturbation and eating sugar … lots and lots of sugar.
I’ve made girlfriends responsible for fixing it once and for all. As mere mortals who don’t have such powers, I would blame them when it showed up again in their presence. Then I’d blame them again when I ran away and more loneliness followed.
I’ve drowned myself with work, arrogance, porn, denial, spiritual seeking; all so that I would have neither time nor energy to acknowledge its gnawing presence. Since last summer, I’ve been cutting out most of that behavior (except much of that sugar).
As I discover ever more what it means to live as a mature Man, I realize I must turn into and face this loneliness that stalks me like death, that I can trace back to my earliest memories. Not to conquer it, but to embrace it and explore whatever wisdom must lie beneath its menacing mask.
I have decided to get intimate with it, to invite it in and ask it questions.
I want to know it.
A Mindfulness Practice for Loneliness
My loneliness story revolves around being single for the last 5 years, unable to deeply and sustainably connect with an intimate partner. During the holidays, that story gets deeply triggered: another holiday vacation alone.
When this loneliness ache shows up, I breathe into it. I ask what it believes. This is what it usually tells me:
“I’m unlovable. Not good enough. Unworthy. Forever separate from everyone else, from Life, itself. No one will ever deeply touch or know my true heart. I’m destined to be alone for all my days, and there’s nothing to do about it.”
Intellectually, I know it’s insane, this reclusive pain. Though it might be right about the last part. I might be destined to live out my days alone. How can I know?
Anyway, I just breathe with it. I give my chest freely to this ache and let it weep without trying to make it go away. I’ll even lean into it and agree with it, thinking, “Ok, fine, so this is basically how it’s always going to be. Me, alone in bed at night and through my days. No one to kiss on New Year’s Eve. Forever. So be it.”
And I let it cry.
I watch this passing weather. I continue breathing into the ache.
Within a short time, a few minutes, it dissipates like a dark storm cloud that has shed all its rain. The sun may not immediately return, but the ache settles and I feel my body whole again.
I notice I’m cozy in my warm bed, deeply grateful for the life I got to live today. I think of all the amazing friends I have and the brilliant, beautiful women I’ve been fortunate to know and experience love with in this lifetime.
At this point, I’ll think to myself, surely someday I’ll know companionship again. When I do, I silently plead, this ache will never return. But now I know better. This loneliness will almost surely return in a moment of sudden disconnect and fear. Such moments are part of the human experience, whether alone, in partnership or surrounded by throngs.
Hopefully, facing and embracing my loneliness now will help me breathe into it then and not make it my partner’s or anyone else’s fault. After all, it’s just weather passing through.
Then, as I lay thoughtful and alone in my bed, my consciousness quickly fading, I turn excitedly towards my nighttime Dream-Team, curious to experience whatever epic adventures they’ve prepared for me this night. They never let me down.
And I sleep.
—Originally appeared on ThisWildWakingJourney
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—Photo by JoeJukes/Flickr