This period of my life ended in a permanent relationship that lasted many years. Looking back I find it fascinating to realise how quickly this happened after leaving home. It seems like every young man looks forward to the freedom of going out into the world, but I quickly sought a way to restrict that freedom once I had it. What is going on here?
I have already talked about the loneliness of my years at home with my parents, the years in which I developed little contact with people. These were years of sitting in my room wondering what to do with my life. I escaped from that and launched myself into a world of activity and people, a world of excitement and creativity. This should have been so different, this should have been when I broke out and took the world by storm.
In a sense it was, but not in the way I expected. I met so many people, I found myself overwhelmed at times. In this decade so much happened to me and I grew so much. It was exhilarating and took me to undreamt of places. That is what I have talked about so far in this chapter, the amazing things that happened to me.
But inside there remained a void.
I was conscious of this void throughout these years. I tried to push into it by embracing my creativity, I pushed myself away and just lived, I sank into drink and drugs, I ran around working like crazy, and I ended by taking on a relationship; but the hollowness inside remained. This hollowness expressed itself as loneliness.
Many people have come to understand that the greatest loneliness can be when they are with other people.
When you're surrounded by all these people, it can be lonelier than when you're by yourself. You can be in a huge crowd, but if you don't feel like you can trust anyone or talk to anybody, you feel like you're really alone. ―Fiona Apple
This highlights the cruel irony that loneliness is not about being on your own, but about being unable to connect with the people around you. There is the dual sense of not knowing how to connect with them and sensing that they are not interested in connecting with you.
Not knowing how to connect with other people goes a great deal further than inexperience. It is does not stem from not knowing what to say. It comes from a profound sense that you are not interesting, that you have nothing to say and, even if you did, you would stumble over saying it.
For me this has always been in sharp relief when it comes to telling jokes. I am in awe of people who can talk for hours and entertain people with a flow of humour. I see people doing it without thinking and without pause. This terrifies me, and always has. It starts with not knowing any jokes. To be more accurate it starts with being unable to remember any. Like most people, I have heard and read countless jokes, but I am completely unable to remember them when in front of other people. When I do manage to break through this barrier, I fluff over telling a joke. I get the cadence and flow wrong and screw up the punchline. I miss the fact that it is the energy behind the telling that makes people laugh, not just the punchline. But I get both wrong.
Piled on to this is the feeling that other people are not interested in me anyway. An obsession with not having anything interesting to say feeds on itself. I would falter in expressing my view and people would drift off. That is how I saw it, despite the fact that my life showed the opposite.
I have talked already about how I became involved in unions and organisations and how I came to dominate them and powerfully express my view. I retain that ability to this day, I still find myself running committees and groups and bending people to my will, as well as having people seek out my view. There is a point though at which I separate being in a formal group from being with someone privately. This is what I was experiencing then. I had a terror of being alone with someone and having to communicate with them.
There was a lack of focus in me that dissipated my energies. I did not know what I wanted in life. I envied those who had a clear goal and went out to achieve it. They were often people who constantly sought out those who could help them and plundered them for help and advice. Everything they did was a stepping stones to their bright, new future. Beyond knowing that I wanted to be creatively involved in theatre productions I had no direction. I saw what others did and followed them to see where it would take me.
I worked with a theatre lighting designer who had decided at school that he wanted to be a lighting designer. He set about creating this for himself and focused only that goal. He became well-known and successful as a result. At no point did he divert from his goal.
I came upon lighting design slowly and eventually adopted it as a career. On the way, however, I was repeatedly taken off in other directions as a new shiny object came into view. I did become successful in the profession, but not in the way I might have.
Throughout out the activity of this time I was still a seeker.
In seeking after what the soul desires we become pilgrims with no home but the path the soul would have us follow. ―Michael Meade
I was a pilgrim, a pilgrim in a strange and hostile land. I had no map and no-one to guide me. I thought I was alone. I did not appreciate that this was intentional, in fact I had no idea that there was some sense behind what I was doing. I never lost my desire to find, but I also never found what it was I was seeking. I delved and asked myself questions, but had no answers for myself. I started practicing yoga but did not understand how it gave me answers. Once again I just felt inadequate. It is only now, over forty years later, that yoga is showing me the way, is giving me answers.
My soul was with me all along, my soul was guiding my search. What was extraordinary was that I never gave up or abandoned the search. I have met many people who gave up on their lives and accepted second best. They accepted relationships that were long dead, they accepted jobs that gave no satisfaction, they took alcohol and drugs to deaden their awareness. I did not accept these and continues to fight against them. It took many years for me to move on from my relationship, but I would not lie down and give up.
My loneliness had a purpose and was part of the big picture of my life. My loneliness ensured my isolation from influences that could have overwhelmed me.
I was lonely with a purpose.
—Photo Credit: Flickr/James Cridland