Everyone is lonely. This is the truth.
I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t felt lonely at some point of time in their life. Some may experience it longer and more frequently than others, but, regardless, it’s an emotion each one of us has felt. It is particularly important to understand the nature of loneliness because it triggers and magnifies another powerful emotion: sadness.
When you feel lonely, you feel sad. Everything appears meaningless then, everyone seems distant and life feels like a drag. Loneliness is a discomforting emotion. If you observe others or even your own life, you’ll discover that most of us are working incessantly to avoid feeling lonely. We are so used to having people around or living in groups that we have lost sight of our individual and independent nature of bliss.
From the moment we are born we are surrounded by people. Parents and siblings at home, teachers and students at school and so on. As we grow older, our relationships become more complex and diverse. At work, in the mall, in a shrine, we are always surrounded by people. Many come home and spend their evenings in front of a television. The more lonely you are, the more TV you’ll watch. The more lonely you feel, the greater will be your urge to shop. If you think my observation is far-fetched, then please take a moment to meditate on it and see the truth for yourself.
Loneliness is an inner void and most of us make the mistake of filling it with external experiences. We want to forget about our inner voice, our real self, so we may not feel lonely. To do that people engage in all sorts of activities — from spending time on social media to window shopping, to watching TV or even working long hours when not necessary. These activities tire you out, they make you forget about you. And, forgetting about yourself is the same as ignoring yourself.
When you learn to love and accept yourself, a sense of self-esteem and self-acceptance builds automatically. You start to get in touch with yourself, your talents, your capabilities. With that, you begin to get comfortable with yourself and as that happens, the fear of loneliness disappears like freshly minted dewdrops do upon sunrise.
Once you gain a certain ease with who you are, the need for external affirmations, the desire to acquire more, the urge to be surrounded by people diminishes drastically. And, when your desires subside, the world looks beautiful and you feel full. Because, in that blessed moment, you realize that you already are a complete person, a beautiful person, that there’s no need for anyone else to endorse or approve it.
A disciple asked his master if there was any way of measuring one’s spiritual progress.
“Yes,” said the master. “Just see how many times you get disturbed in a day.”
Just like spiritually evolved people don’t get perturbed easily, emotionally evolved people don’t experience loneliness as much. A simple test to ascertain how lonely you are is to see how active you are on social media. Just analyze a stretch of 24 hours and see how many times you’ve communicated on Facebook, WhatsApp etc to say nothing significant. I’m not suggesting that social media is bad or wrong; I’m simply showing you a way to help you see where you stand. The more active you are on these networks, the more lonely you are. Unless, it’s a part of your job description, of course.
There is an important distinction I must make here and that is the difference between the fear of loneliness and the feeling of loneliness. You can feel lonely even out of a sense of boredom (although there’s more to it) but the fear of loneliness arises directly from a sense of insecurity and inadequacy. In the former, you simply feel disconnected or even directionless. You may have a large group of friends and family, yet you may still feel lonely. But, when you have the fear of loneliness, it often means you don’t want to live by yourself, that you long for company.
If you are not afraid to be on your own, you can have no fear of loneliness. And what if you have this fear but you want to rise above it? For another time.
After a long and arduous journey, a rich man reached a revered healer in a tiny village set in the snowy mountains.
“Why don’t you live in one of the cities?” The visitor asked.
“Because I like it here,” the healer said.
“But, it’s so far!”
“Far from where?”
This is one of my favorite anecdotes for it so beautifully illustrates that the more you are in touch with yourself, the less you feel the need to be in touch with others. The one who basks in the bliss of solitude dives into the inner ocean of tranquility. Such a person is never far from herself. When you are close to yourself, you don’t feel lonely. And when loneliness walks out of your life, sadness does too. Birds of a feather flock together.