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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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Do you love to be in nature away from other people?

Is there a part of you that prefers to be in nature, away amongst mountains, by the sea or in the countryside, where there aren’t any people and you have to yourself the splendour of nature? Do you get times when you want to get away from the stresses and strains of dealing with your fellow humans and the crowded cities? Just recently someone was telling how she comes into her own when in nature, in the silence and stillness of remote mountains and their vast and massive rocky majesty. I thought, “me too!”

Your special place, if that is what it is, is very important. My correspondent was saying that for her there was this raw force of nature that was powerful, moving and brought out her passion and creativity. For me, there is a sense of Oneness, like I am connected to what I behold, as a part of me. Many have written of how they are moved by nature; in fact it helped spawn a whole artistic and cultural movement, Romanticism. For Wordsworth it was also a spiritual experience, beyond the material. It touches your soul.

There’s also this feeling that people and nature are somehow separate. It’s as though we can only be who we are in the depths of silence and stillness, as one can also find in meditation. Of course it is us having this experience and we are people! Yet for those of us who feel like this, we feel that we have somehow to get away from other people for this to work. Hence so many go off to live in isolated settings, being the hermit or in retreats, or having a house out on its own.

If you have this yearning, then try it, and see what happens after a while. For some it works. Others can find that all sorts of stuff comes up for them. One person told me how suddenly he felt acutely lonely and longed to be back with his wife. The aloneness was scary.

However, the other side of aloneness is at-Oneness. It’s perhaps where you put your focus. It might also be your understanding. It can be also be where you go when in silence and alone. There’s the whole thing about how you manage your state, and connect with your Self within.

Then, when you go back, if you do, to be with others, you might resist it. Then again you might feel refreshed and more ready to face what comes. It is worth reflecting that there too is Oneness. In the middle of a busy street, crowded with people, there too is God, or however you conceive of an underlying Presence of Being. When we resist our connection with others, and keep ourselves away, we keep ourselves separate, and can potentially therefore prevent ourselves from connection once more. It’s harder to do, of course, since this connection with others so often brings up our stuff. Yet there can lie our real challenge and our real opportunity.

I coach people to develop their real purpose, direction and life goals. To contact me click here.

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Do you let loneliness get to you or choose to change?

After all the activity of Christmas comes the loneliness of January, in the depths of winter, with cold, grey, sunless days and long nights. What was all that festivity about if life is really like this? There are those who feel lonely in relationship and want a change, but there are very many today who aren’t in one and feel the lack of company very much at this time of year.

Statistics abound about the rise in the number of people in the UK living alone, around 16% in recent surveys, and in the US it is over 50%. Of course it will depend on what kind of singledom we are talking about, single parents, elderly retirees, professionals being consciously single, unmarried couples, young people, divorcees, etc. Yet, with this rise also comes increasing evidence of how loneliness is impacting people’s health and wellbeing. Such people are more likely to suffer from depression and other “mental health” problems, as well as poorer physical health and lower life expectation. As one writer states, it is the new, silent killer.

Curiously, we are social beings, having evolved over millenia in groups, the family, tribes, villages, friendships, etc. You can see how it works by observing human behaviour. When one person laughs in the room, others automatically smile. Equally one person’s upset triggers responses in others around them. We feel for others. People seek out partners in order to build the nest and have children. It is a biological driver. It is described by psychologists as a human need, to bond, connect and love. Much of a human’s difficulties in life can be put down to disconnects and breakdowns in those primal relationships early in life.

No wonder therefore that we feel the absence of such connection. We can avert our attention through distractions that abound in our current materialistically-driven society and yet it creeps up on us at some point, such as after Christmas. Some live with it, some make a virtue of it, some have given in to the reality of it reluctantly, and for some it is an ongoing pain.

Yet we can turn pain into a driver to action. This is why we have emotions after all, to draw our attention to what is perhaps out of balance. We don’t have to remain in resigned helplessness in relationship to how things seem. We can feel like we’re the only one having this experience, when in fact there’s countless numbers in the same situation. We have to find a way through what can seem like an impasse and shift our state and our attitude to one where we are motivating ourselves to reach out and make connections with others in some way. It is our own impulse to change that is the key driver for things to happen, rather than allowing ourselves to be the victim in relation to life.

It can be very hard when lonely to see where we are at. The great advantage of mindfulness is the ability to take a metacognitive approach, like the helicopter view, and observe what is happening to us and how we are thinking. We don’t always see how we are boxing ourselves in and not seeing where we have options and choices. Like the choice to connect. It is us who have to reach out, or to allow others in. It is us ourselves who change, in our minds. We can live in isolation, at the lonely end of the polarity, and then we can also live in connectedness, as One. It’s our choice.

I give life coaching to help people develop or change their relationships in some way, and create new direction. To read more, click here, and to contact me, click here.

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We seem to be becoming a very divided society – or am I dreaming?

Am I imagining it, or are we becoming a very divided society and alienated from one another? And if this is true, then how do we respond to this, to our fellow humans’ tendency to differentiation, of seeing another as different and as a threat? One area that has been concerning me for some time has been the growth of a tendency in society to separate off from one another in terms of nationality, religion, ethnicity, gender, physical ability and welfare dependency, among other differentiations. At one level this may not seem new, one might think “T’was ever thus”, but at another level it seems to me to be very strong at the moment. Do we get engaged and make one group or another wrong and “us” right? Do we make a stand for mutual respect, love and tolerance? Or do we do nothing, or “rise above it” and say, that’s all ego?

I’ve heard recently from an South Asian-origin colleague of a Muslim being spat in the face on a bus by a white woman. I read of disabled people who struggle to work and yet are being deemed fit to work, of people being obsessed by alleged levels of immigration which don’t fit the facts, of a rise in racist abuse, of women being abused by men, or of nationalists wanting to secede. What’s going on?

At one level we might comment on the effects of economic recession and how that stimulates an “us versus them” mentality and the tendency to scapegoat minorities. At another we might want to join in the battle, and get engaged around some sense of conflict. So our minds can get absorbed by awareness of one human’s disagreement with and alienation from another.

Then we might also take the route of the  bigger picture, challenging though that can be.

We could support love wherever we experience it, in ourselves and in another. We could note how much that can be positive and uniting that can emerge when people drop their guards and their distrust and suspicion – and feel the real connection that exists between one human being and another.

When we observe disunity, we experience separation, and we project on to one another what really belongs with us ourselves. We don’t take ownership of our own sense of alienation from life. What we make wrong in others is what we really make wrong in ourselves. It is a projection of our dislike of ourselves and feeling separate from and at fault with the One. What we really need to heal is our own psychic injury, our own primal wound. Otherwise the current alienation from one another is another playing out of that age-old ego drama, as we see for example in the doctrines of Original Sin and other beliefs in human kind’s basic “badness”, where it is always the “other person” who has the problem.

We could simply see God in each other.

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Feel the connection in relationship where we are as One

Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field. I will meet you there,” (Rumi). I always find this a deeply moving quote, because it holds out the possibility for a greater, deeper connection between humans, beyond our personal stuff, where we can truly meet each other and feel the connection between us as One.

Today I was forwarded this inspiring TED talk video about the Power of Connection.

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The speaker, Hedy Schleifer, says that, in line with the thinking of the philosopher Martin Buber, there is between two people a “relational space” and that space is “sacred space”. Of course many people don’t see it as such, and probably don’t sense it consciously, although I’d suggest they do subconsciously and they find it scary, such that they either get aggressive or withdraw and hide. She goes on to say that there is a bridge between us and our challenge is to leave our stuff behind and cross the bridge to meet the other in their world, to be fully present and aware and to listen with open eyes and learn each other’s landscape. Thus do we encounter one another and experience the resonance that exists between us and which we need for our own self-regulation. She says that every day we live in a survival suit but that inside is our essence and it is in truly being with each other than we experience it.

Such a wonderful expression of our potential. Out beyond our stuff there is a field where we can truly meet one another.

For me this is a great description of what is called in Gestalt the dialogic relationship and the transpersonal connection that can be experienced when we so meet one another. When you or I are being truly, authentically present and aware, we are grounded in who we really are. We’re connected with our Selves. We are sensitive to the “space between”, that subtle energy field where two souls sense one another’s presence and are tuned in to its commonality. In certain workshops it is a space between all present when awareness of the transpersonal is really there. We can sense it as love. It also vibrates very finely and feels very alive and rich.

The point here is then to be open and aware both of your own sensing but also fully aware of the other person or people. You can sense their presence too, and if they are really in touch with themselves too then you can sense their energy field. To cross the bridge is to consciously “move over” to be with the other person. It means, as the speaker says, to let go of whatever might be going on for us, so that we can be truly present. We allow ourselves to be open to their “map of the world” in NLP terms, and truly hear them. Finally, we resonate, being aware of what we have in common, and feel together, essence with essence.

What she doesn’t say and I would add, is that we feel that resonance as if we are One, and I’d suggest that’s one place where we get to experience Oneness. She also says that we need this connection with another for our own self-regulation, and I think I can hear the psychologist speaking here. I think this is an area for discussion, because we learn about ourselves from others, both parents and with loved ones in relationship. However, I would suggest we can also feel the connection within ourselves with Who we really Are.

However, this is such a fabulous description of the power of connection, which I also talk about on one of my Talks, and is a great reminder of what is possible between individual people, groups, communities, nationalities, ethnicities. religions and all the other ways in which we as humans get to experience separation in ego consciousness and can move through that to know Who we really Are as One.

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Where our values don’t translate into action

As this recession (really a depression) in the UK grinds on, the tolerances that were initially retained post-2008 seem to be breaking down and I wonder if we’re moving to a period where we need, where we really need, to take a good look at our values and what we want as a society.

I’ve been noticing how people have been struggling individually in the face of what for the vast majority of us is an unprecedented contraction in the economy. I say contracting, although on the face of it we seem to be “flat-lining”, in other words bumping along with no real growth, and every now and again a “dip down” followed by a “flip up”. Yet, we’ve not recovered back to pre-Lehman’s levels of production and so are technically in depression. Furthermore, businesses are struggling, as we can see with low consumer spending and retail bankruptcies. People are experiencing repeated redundancy and job insecurity. Their living standards continue to contract, as real wages fall.

At the micro level, there is that depression mentality seen in the 1930’s, hang on to your job, cut back, stick it out. There’s a grim endurance, rather typical of the British spirit under pressure. Yet this ties in also with “don’t worry too much about your neighbour”. For them, it might be for example foreclosures (eg. repossession) and the threat of homelessness. Food banks are apparently struggling under the huge pressure of demand. The state meanwhile seems persuaded that people on hard times are really scroungers and they should, in Tebbit’s infamous early ’80’s words, “get on your bike” and get work. So the support being given is being pulled back. Talk to people in the voluntary sector and they’ll tell you that a massive crisis is about to hit a whole chunk of the population, both working and out of work, as benefits are pulled back.

At the macro level, politicians want to pull out of the EU, and others want to pull out of the UK union. They seek to curb immigration, and thus hinder the import of specialised skills on which hard pressed manufacturing depends since we don’t have it here. The prevalent phrase is “austerity”, a reminder of the balanced budget obsession of Chancellor Snowden in the 1930’s. Where, one might ask, is the inspiring vision that might take us out of this?

It feels like the free-market philosophy on which a whole political dispensation was created in the 1980’s is coming home to roost. The “me-first” outlook of Thatcher’s Children, in political generation terms as characterised by our current leaders, is being confronted by the realities of power that stir up forces that don’t fit the now-expiring vision. Socialism as an alternative seemingly died with the fall of the Berlin Wall. A new one needs to be formed, and will no doubt form itself as a result of the experiences of these times.

I hope that as it does, we move on from the “me first” outlook and start to become more compassionate and caring towards those less fortunate than ourselves. Alex Salmond, forever cleverly upstaging Westminster politicians, has promised a constitutional right to a home, for example, in his Brave New independent Scotland. In much of the UK we have a housing crisis, and he’s hit the nail on the head. In this age, knowing what we know, it should not be that people have no support if they find themselves homeless. There’s been a lot of focus in recent years on things like human rights and respect, to take two examples one from politics and the other from many a business values statement, and yet this does not translate into compassion and support for our fellow humans. Running alongside such statements is a prevailing selfishness in our society, where individualism clashes with social need, epitomised for so many people by the behaviour of investment bankers leading up to the Lehmans crash of 2008.

So, it is worth checking out for yourself. How do you respond when you next walk past a beggar in the street? And just think what lies behind that situation and the history and life issues that has perhaps brought that person to that point, and reflect on your own values and beliefs and what part they play too. Because at one level we are all One, and that person begging is me too.

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Be really alone and find what’s really there

Aloneness is at one end of a spectrum of awareness, at the other end of which is At-Oneness. They are polar opposites. Aloneness has a variety of associated experiences, the understanding that we are separate being the underlying condition. We may at times feel lonely, on our own, abandoned, unloved, sad, miserable, depressed. Not surprisingly, we fear it. It can be such an unpleasant place to be that we’ll do all sorts of things to avoid it. Many will cling to the company of others and even go into relationships for fear of being alone and unloved, not necessarily the most positive basis for a relationship.

What people don’t so easily contemplate is actually allowing themselves to go through the experience so that it won’t have any hold over them. The point about facing one’s fears is to discover that they are illusions. Fear will dissolve itself if faced.This does however take practice.

This is where retreats can be so useful, or going off somewhere by yourself and being alone for a while, with nothing to distract you and where you see nobody, and don’t have even the internet or books or TV or anything to occupy  and distract your mind. Imagine it! Challenging, but useful.

Aloneness has a mixture of feelings in it, and it is the feelings, and particularly the fear of aloneness that gives it its power over us. So it is in part about learning to confront and let go of the feelings.

Underneath there is At-Oneness. If you’ve already become acquainted with At-Oneness then that helps. Because when you go into aloneness and let it go, there is At-Oneness. But you might reach a different understanding.

This is very existential work, all about who we are at an existential level. One school of thought would have it that we are nothing and that life is meaningless. One could have a belief that it is otherwise. Then you could go and work on it, by experiencing aloneness, and discover a different experience, which might put a very different gloss on it. There is something very important in there about facing yourself, and meeting your Self.

They say that when people have done this work, and are as a result much more comfortable with themselves, they are then much happier in the company of others, because they’ve let go of neediness, needing others for fear of being alone and outside. They are comfortable in their own skin, who they are.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer wrote, at the end of her superb The Invitation, which went all round the internet a few years ago, “I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you can truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.”

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Why do people cry at weddings?

I attended a wedding last weekend in the august surroundings of the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral in London,  at which someone my wife had known a long time was getting married. It was a traditional Anglican wedding, during which we were treated to a sermon by the priestess. Her subject was “Why do people cry at weddings?” I was initially absorbed by her range of psychological explanations, until she settled on a religious explanation as the real reason.

Well, if you are a devotee of that tradition, or others for that matter, I can imagine that her explanation that it was the celebration of the union of two people solemnised by the priest(ess) in Christ’s name that did it, would be a very likely one. However, I found myself asking the question more generally, since, as per the last post, I’d doubt that most attending would see it quite like that. Most probably wouldn’t know why. They’d just do it, and generally I’m not aware of people having a problem with it. Rather the reverse. Such tears are often accompanied by smiles.

For some, the tears might be one of regret. Dad might possibly be mourning the loss of a cherished daughter, as might mum (and ditto sons, let’s not forget). Then they might just be very pleased for her. Given that about half of couples get wed today, and often after a period of cohabitation, people might not be so bothered. Except that weddings fascinate. At the wedding I was at, when it got to the point when the couple were exchanging their vows, the children, especially the girls, stood in the aisle watching intently. Now, that might be plain simple curiosity, and children will stare, except that there was an intensification of emotion at that point, since I’d suggest everybody was firmly plugged in. Children are very sensitive to such things.

There is something hugely poignant about this moment in the service, when the emotional level goes right up and people start gently mopping their eyes. Is it sadness? Are there those grieving, about people lost or who can’t be there or whatever, or about what might have been or had been but isn’t now? Well, it can be mixed and we can cry for mixed reasons, and when the emotional channels are open we connect with deeper stuff than perhaps is usual. However, I’d suggest rather that these are mainly tears of joy, in the happiness of a couple with whom we all share a moment. Because there’s a part of us there too. We want that joy for ourselves, and somewhere inside we know that joy, and we appreciate it in others and we share in their joy. We feel it as if one, and here’s the key point. It is a Transpersonal moment, when we are as One. We are all re-minded of the essence of love within each of us, being played out in front of us, as in a mirror.

So, next time you get invited to a wedding, explore this. It’s another way to connect.

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How can Christmas be meaningful for you?

Now we’re getting very close to the Christmas break, it’s perhaps a good time to reflect on what Christmas is about. For many of us in the UK it is a feast day, time with the family, when we traditionally give each other presents, or a holiday. For some it is a traditional religious occasion, and this might spill over to impact more people than is usual, to judge by the larger than average turn-out in churches up and down the land. There’s a debate going on about how many people are actually Christian, but somehow the underlying cultural identity seems to leak out at this time, despite our attempts at multi-culturalism or secularism. For very many others however, the spiritual aspects of Christmas are overlaid, if not obliterated, by the rampant materialism and secularism of today’s society.

Whatever you might feel about Christmas, and you might not be Christian, it might be worth reflecting on what Christmas was originally about. It is traditionally a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, one who was regarded by his followers as a saviour come to redeem the sins of human kind and who would rein forever. Now, you might not be particularly attached to that message, and you might, but if you aren’t and yet want some aspect of spirituality in your life, then it can be useful to reflect on the symbolism of the commemoration. Many celebrate a birth, we might think a re-birth, which offered hope of a new life, something that would endure for ever, in which we could be redeemed and re-born. Now it might be useful to think on the symbolism of that, the birth of something new, offering hope to us all, a new Self even, or a re-birth or a re-connection with Life, one that endures forever. When we let go of ego, and connect with who we really are, our Self, we connect with what feels real, our Truth, and it has the sense of joy, bliss and permanence, of how things are and always will be, life ever after. Such is the awakening experience.

As with all the great traditions, they all hold underlying truths that apply to all of us, wherever we are from and wherever we are, the essence of undying love. Let’s reflect on and meditate on That this Christmas. Beneath egoic division, we are all One.

Happy Christmas.


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Seeing the essential good in others stems from thinking well of ourselves too

I was today reading about an aspect of Indian philosophy that regards the Self as divine and about its logical consequence, that that same divinity would belong to other people, and the further consequence, that it was ethically intolerable to think, say or act in any way that would be adverse or harmful to another being. Or, as my guru puts it, “See God in each other.”

Quite apart from any religious position here, and this blog seeks to rise above that stuff, I’m struck by the undercurrent of fundamental respect for my fellow humans implicit in this philosophy. They are not alone in this of course, witness for example the traditions of hospitality world-wide or the Muslim obligation to acts of charity, or the Christian injuction to “love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Yet I’m also curious about how we still, despite these traditions, still manage to knock hell out of each other, if not for political, religious, social, sectarian or criminal reasons. There are today published some graphic images from a photographic essay by my son in this matter, the hardships experienced by one minority at the hands of their fellow refugees from another religious persuasion. You would have thought they would have been in solidarity as fellow refugees, but not so, such is the legacy of old thinking.

Perhaps this is yet another reminder of how as humans we perhaps need to continually re-mind ourselves of who we are, both as inherently worthy beings but as also capable of much evil. It is so easy to think ill of another person, and yet this can so easily escalate.

For the self-aware who seeks to manage the ego, it is important to keep this in our minds. Each time we find ourselves starting to think ill of another, we are replicating this age-old pattern, and creating yet more bad karma, to borrow once more from Indian philosophy, or to put out more bad energy. We need to constantly re-member, re-connect, with ourselves, and this re-connection, this making contact with our centered Self, brings us at some level into contact with core love. When in touch with that energy, it naturally flows to others, and our love for other beings is natural and spontaneous. Then thinking ill of others does not occur.

This is the gift that our fellow humans continue to offer us.