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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.

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Being alone or at-one

Perhaps as the weekend is almost upon us, you might be looking forward to time with others. But you might be going home to an empty house or flat. You might be going home to others, but inside you might feel alone. We can be in the midst of many people and feel utterly alone.

Being alone is perhaps a fundamental of our existence. Existentialists would say it is a “given”. Some enjoy it, but many fear it and try to avoid it. It can be a cause of immense pain. It often goes with the desire to be loved, with an accompanying fear of not being loved and of actually a fear of aloneness, “there’s nobody there for me”. So the experience of aloneness often goes with the fear of no love.

Unless we learn to face aloneness, we will continue to give it power over us. That’s one reason why people who’ve recently broken up from a relationships sometimes deliberately spend time alone, to become accustomed to it, so that they don’t immediately get another relationship on the rebound.

Like any activity involving facing our fears, aloneness has much to teach us. Aloneness is connected to the experience of the void, of nothingness, of which fear can be a major underlying driver for avoiding being alone. Not the best reason for a relationship, but often done.

Being present with the feeling of fear is a vital but very challenging way of dealing with this issue. When we face our fears they dissolve.

However, as we approach the weekend, you could also practice something much lighter, but also instructive.

If possible, go for a walk by yourself in nature, in the countryside or a park, or at least where there are trees and bushes. Plain rock and earth will also do. The point here is to spend time with these nature things. Stop somewhere and take some deeper breaths and allow yourself to connect with you inside, and be still. Perhaps keep your awareness on your breath as you do this. There, when you feel more connected with you inside and at peace, then allow your awareness to focus on the things around you. Be really present with them. Really attend to them. Imagine yourself feeling them, as if they are alive (which of course they are). Just feel nature around you. Notice its energy. Let the energy of nature flow into you. Breathe in the energy, and allow it to merge with you inside, perhaps in your heart centre. Allow yourself to love nature around and in you. And now be very present with the feeling. Allow it to grow. Enjoy.

When you’ve done this a while, perhaps notice how much part of you nature is, and how much you are a part of nature.

Are we really apart? Or a part?

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Aloneness in the New Year

Here you may now be, a few more days into the New Year, the festivities of Christmas behind you, getting back into your job if you have one, perhaps caught up again in the rush of busyness? Some may be wondering what happened to the break – where did it go? Others may feel the sense of let-down, back facing whatever isn’t working in their lives, maybe even feeling alone once again after the sense of connection that the feast period can bring.

This is when any commitment you make to have your life be different gets tested. This is when it’s important to have any intentions you set for the New Year forefront, to think about and refine and yet keep as a point of commitment. Any intention will surely be tested – that’s part of the process.

For a long time, I used to feel an anti-climax after Christmas. All that expectation and then what? Christmas after a while became false in my mind, as something that had really long lost its real meaning as a celebration of a birth. It seemed like a materialistic orgy, fanned by the advertising industry and our desire for more. Also, it was after Christmas that I would feel most alone. I remember once reading an Ernest Hemingway novel and then howling buckets at the seeming hopelessness of ever finding someone to share my life, that at one level I would always be alone. Then I found a nice philosophical basis for how I felt in Existentialism. Then I filled the gap by becoming a busy professional and busyness filled my life, until that is I got divorced and lost my mother to breast cancer and started to explore what my aloneness was really about.

I don’t know how much you resonated with the story described in the last posting. It has clearly impacted huge numbers of people. It’s been carried on almost all the major national newspapers and on a number of TV channels. And we’ve had a vast number of calls. Relatives have now come forward and so family will be at the woman’s funeral, along with a lot of well-wishers. However I was particularly struck by the people who said they could not bear to think of that woman having no visitors in the 5 years she was in a nursing home and have nobody come to her funeral. In the Sunday Times a columnist started her article with a conversation with two single friends about just this situation.

I finished my last posting by stating the point that unless we deal with our own experience of aloneness, in whatever way that shows up for each of us, we’ll very likely get that experience at the end of our lives. One thing we all share is our mortality. It is an existential reality.

I think one way this experience shows up is around relationship. We many of us search for another in our lives in order to fill the gap inside us, the fear of being alone, of not being loved, of feeling unlovable, of not being good enough or worthy enough, or what other way that is felt or thought about. Then we lose our partner and we are alone. I think a huge number who called us were alone and had lost someone.

My own take on this dilemma of existence is that we are never alone, we are at one. Our journey and our challenge is to re-discover who we really are all along. Also, for me, this is no mere rationalisation or belief but a felt experience. Our essence is pure joy, love, enthusiasm, aliveness, laughter, energy. To know this is to experience this in ourselves and to see it in others, whoever they are and whatever our connection with them. A lot of our personal development training is about this.

Your understanding might be different. But for both you and me, we have the same challenge, to transcend the human experience of aloneness, in whatever way that shows up.

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