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When loneliness and feeling alone is no laughing matter

The Christmas season is usually a time when people gather and celebrate together. Paradoxically almost, it can be also a time when many people feel very lonely. The sense of loneliness can affect people who are single and in relationships, living with others or on their own. It transcends cultures, class and locality. It can affect even those who seem the most jolly and full of the joys of life. Particularly after Christmas, there’s a “let down” period. After the high adrenalin rush and the excess, there’s often a “down” time.

Christmas in the West is a big spending binge followed by a feast, a massive media-and-retail-fuelled hype, a collective energy that it’s hard not to get sucked up into. Not surprisingly there’s then a hangover, both physical and emotional. Families get together. Things are said. Agendas are revealed. Behind the jollity there can be other things going on too, ones we may not feel comfortable to address. There’s high expectations, especially for those raised on an idea of the “perfect” family Christmas, one remembered from childhood. Afterwards, when we once again find that those expectations don’t get met, there’s not surprisingly a sadness, even a depression for many.

Of course this is also a time for the religious to reflect on their connection to their faith, and this can be a time that that faith can be tested, as Christ was: “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)” (Matthew 27:46).

Allied to that, if one is aware of being alone already, this can be compounded. You’re not part of the fun. Not for you the sense of inclusion, of being part of something. Not the love that others seem to enjoy. The fact that a huge part of the human dilemma is that we are alone can still pass us by.

Existentialists say that this is after all one of the “givens” of being human, that we come into the world alone and leave it by the same route. They would say that we may dread our existence but it is for us to exercise free will and choice, to create the experience we seek. Famously, Viktor Frankl in Man’s search for meaning (1946) argued that for Auschwitz inmates to survive their enormous privations they had to continue to choose, to make meaning: “the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”. He said, “Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress”.

Thus, even in the midst of company, or on one’s own, we can feel alone, or, exercising choice, we can feel alone and, for example, at One. Our experience is our choice. We become not the victim but the master (or mistress) of our choice.

Therefore too, we can feel contented and at peace, just as much by ourselves as in the company of others.

It’s a challenge of life and living.

That’s not to say it isn’t difficult. The testimony of many thinkers and writers over time show that it can often be a very hard path. The demon of loneliness can spring out even with the hardened practitioner. So we need to develop a skill and practice so that we can recover and bring ourselves back on to our path, so that we too in time may feel contentment whatever is going on and whenever.