Last Sunday I schlepped myself home from a friend’s place at 5:41 am. My “I’m going to have one drink! ” night turned into a runaway — an outcome I rationalized as necessary coping following hands-down the most traumatic dating experience I’ve had in this city. My usual go-to of Jivamukti and Acoustic Covers merely wasn’t going to cut it with this one, so I gave myself permission to help my friend clean out the dreg of his alcohol cabinet( liquor shelf *), and we danced our route through 80 ’s, 90 ’s and early 2000 ’s playlists respectively. Following a flashing of lucidity in which I was reminded I’d prefer to wake up in my own bed, I congratulated myself for my responsible decision and embarked on the twenty-or-so minute stagger from The West Village to Flatiron.
It wasn’t until the door of my friend’s build latched behind me that I realized I was stepping into a classic New York monsoon( you know the various kinds of I’m talking about — extreme, like everything here ). I of course didn’t have an umbrella as that would’ve required foresight, so I haphazardly layered my phone in my sweater and surrendered to the downpour. And, the album gently massaging my battered heart, I surrendered to the overwhelming loneliness I felt in that moment. No longer anesthetized by five different kinds of hard-bar, the familiar hollowness softly to increase by my chest.
Loneliness tends to catch me off her guard: a visiting friend departs and I’m overwhelmed with anxiety and sadness; I see a couple strolling hand-in-hand on the Westside Highway and vaguely recall what it was like to be in love, truly skeptical I’ll have that experience again; I tap open the Instagram stories of my best friends in Vancouver-being their goofy, wonderful selves-and I question whether the solitary track I’ve chosen is worth it.
Now, I doubt I’ll ever come to enjoy loneliness, but it no longer catapults me into depression like some feelings do( whattup dishonor ). Loneliness is sticky and fatiguing and tells all sorts of lies (); but I’ve learned over the years to go into the loneliness rather than try to push it away. As Rumi says, “The cure for the ache is in the pain.”( I believe “cure” is ambitious ).
Loneliness is a pervasive topic with my clients. Whether they’re presenting with an eating disorder or depression, loneliness lurks beneath the surface. It usually takes us a few conferences to identify the feeling — especially with my male clients, who struggle to let themselves feel anything of an uncomfortable nature. But regardless of gender, we’re not supposed to feel lonely, society says. We’re supposed to independent; “alone but not lonely; ” confident in our singledom and solitude. An admission of loneliness is an admission of neediness; of immaturity; of pathology. And thus, the pain of our loneliness is compounded by self-judgment-by trying to run from our prickly inner world.
The sobering reality is our culture breeds isolation( and therefore loneliness ). “Success” means living alone if we’re single, and in a freestanding home( generally in suburbia) if we’re not. We value productivity over socializing; confidence over vulnerability. The way we commute is isolating. The style we parent is isolating. The route we work is isolating. We’re privy to seemingly connected group photos on social media that leave us feeling like shit; we choose our telephones over dialogue with the person or persons next to us on the airplane; we date people’s resumes rather than their hearts. And yet we bury our loneliness, wearing veneers of happiness and perfection and touting gratitude and positivity.
I have a masters in psychology and more than a decade of experience speaking with people about their most intimate challenges. I’ve had ample therapy. I’ve done more than a thousand yoga classes. I’ve taken several intensive meditation courses and have analyzed Buddhism and its complementary philosophies for years. I’m buddies with Deepak. And you know what? I still experience loneliness. And I imagine I always will at times, even if I ever do get into a relationship again( in fact, the loneliest I’ve ever been in my life was actually when I was in a relationship ).
So rather than vainly attempting to achieve eternal connectedness, I’ve learned to deal with loneliness when it arises. Here’s how 😛 TAGEND
1. Pause before pathologizing loneliness.
Feeling lonely is a normal, natural part of being a human. It means you yearn for connect, which is essentially what’s maintained the human race alive( I believe online dating is going to extinguish the human race before climate change does …).
But here’s the thing: I bet you’re responding to( healthy , normal) loneliness with decision. And now you’re not only experiencing( healthy , normal) loneliness, you’re experiencing shame and nervousnes. We tend to internalize the voices of society( and mothers, partners, siblings, bullies, etc .), construing loneliness as a sign of pathology or weakness. This is no bueno. Play with giving yourself permission to feel lonely for a moment, and notice what happens.
2. Instead, get to know it closely.
As I mentioned, I wouldn’t say I enjoy loneliness, but there are hours now where I’m not mobilized to run from it; to continually suppress or numb it because perfectionism has led me to believe I don’t have the skills to cope with emotional discomfort. There are time now where I can make space for the feeling and approach it with curiosity and compassion. So pull a Rumi and to continue efforts to notice loneliness when it arises-maybe even welcome it, knowing it’s temporary. Instead of trying to be superhuman and never experience loneliness, explore with compassion, “When do I feel the loneliest? ”( for this gal, following a’ situationship’ breakup ). “What does loneliness tell me? ” “Where do I feel loneliness in my body? ” “What do I require right now? ” More on this shortly.
3. Don’t let dishonor take the reins.
For me, loneliness can quickly transform into dishonor. I have my theories: perhaps on an unconscious level I’m making sense of my loneliness by ascertaining “I am bad” and “I am unlovable; ” perhaps in my childhood I experienced loneliness and shame together, and one stirs up the other. I’m not sure. But the reality is if I don’t attaches importance to it, an innocent A apparently benign Instagram scroll becomes a hotbed of rejection and dismay. So hear loneliness’ message that you’re impression disconnected or isolated, but question the interpretation that feeling unplugged or isolated means you’re bad or broken.
4. Remember impermanence.
It may have taken me 43,9721 experiences with difficult feelz to learn to keep this one at the vanguard of my mind when I’m in emotional ache, but none of our emotional experiences stick around forever-neither the pleasurable or painful ones. Life is a series of momentary experiences strung together; it’s by making room for the ever-changing weather and discovering compassion for our humanity that it is possible to remainder in the uncertainty of it all. So after you become aware of what my daughter, Pema describes as “hot loneliness, ” make room for it and trust it will pass.
5. Insure loneliness as an opportunity for awakening.
Our difficult feelings are some of our wisest educators. Each moment with them is an opportunity for practising self-compassion( intentional , non-judgmental acceptance to our present experience, saying to ourselves what we would say to a friend or loved one, acknowledging loneliness is an example of the universal human experience ). And the more we practise self-compassion, the more we rewire our brains to default to it over self-criticism.
Loneliness is also an opportunity for deepening our faith in a collective consciousness. We can choose to see the discomfort as an experience in awareness; we can see our inconvenience as a modulation of consciousness shared by billions-from whom we’re not actually separated.
Finally, loneliness is an opportunity to look inside and ask ourselves what we need. Connect? Belonging? To feel insured? To feel relevant? So many of us our to turn from our needs. We live our lives doing what we think we “should” do , not realizing how isolating these “shoulds” can be. In turning inward to our loneliness, we can explore different avenues to authentic connection.
6. Hold which allows you designer moments of connection.
My go-to’s with any difficult impression are generally 😛 TAGEND
–Music( I cycle between old-school hip hop that brings me back to my angsty high-school years, Acoustic Covers, and a handful of Beatles sungs ),
Thoughtful strolls on the Westside Highway with said playlists( these usually involving moments of curiosity about what my fellow New Yorkers are struggling with ).
— Bubble baths with said playlists, and sometimes Bumble or Hinge( fight me ).
Yoga, preferably not the “fitnessy” kind.
— Dancing on my own, oftentimes to” Dancing On My Own “.
— Emo writing-sessions at Argo Tea.
This list excludes moments of numbing, when I deem a pint of ice cream, uninvested date, or liquor shelf destruction permissible( I’m a big believer in flexible, realistic, intentional coping — meaning we let ourselves to be adults and cope in the way that serves us best, however awake to the potential consequences ). The former are routes I connect to myself and to the collective consciousness in moments of loneliness. If you’re new to this idea of making space for your difficult feelz, consider adopting my listing or coming up with one of your own. It’s nice to have one handy for those working low moments everything feels hard.
Of course, loneliness is also there to tell us we may be missing deep connect, especially if we experience it frequently. We all go through periods of disconnection in life, and the vulnerability necessary for intimate connect is more difficult for some than others. If the thought of widening your social network or deepening existing relationships is scaring, hold working with a therapist as a first step. I help my clients notice where dishonor, anxiety, and unhelpful faiths are getting in the way of opportunities for connect. If “youre feeling” equipped in reaching out, hold 😛 TAGEND
–Sending a Facebook message or text to person you haven’t reached out to in a while letting them know you’re thinking of them
— Signing up for a REC Team, book club, improv or MeetUp group( my weekly soccer holds me sane)
— Joining an online subsistence group( I’m aroused about Campfire)
— Trying out Bumble BFF or one of the other “friend apps” out there
— Volunteering for a cause “youre feeling” strongly about( a double-shot of connect and meaning !)- just Google “volunteer opportunities” and peruse what comes up in your area
I write this while on a bus to D.C. to watch my brother and his family. Surrounded by fellow pensive-looking travelers I know are treated with their own life challenges, I feel less lonely than I did on my soggy stroll home last weekend. Yet I’m not naive to the loneliness site visits might evoke-the Everyone else is a most important person in the world to person except me kind of loneliness. But I don’t fear it. If said loneliness develops, I’ll try not to judge, resent, or run from it. And I urge you to do the same. And then even in our loneliness, we’re in this together.
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