“We must become so alone, so utterly alone, that we withdraw into our innermost self. It is a way of bitter suffering. But then our solitude is overcome, we are no longer alone, for we find that our innermost self is the spirit, that it is God, the indivisible. And suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the world, yet undisturbed by its multiplicity, for in our innermost soul we know ourselves to be one with all being.” ― Hermann Hesse
Yesterday a friend texted: “Do you ever experience the feeling of deep loneliness and the simultaneous desire to be completely alone? I call it ‘alonely’. You ever get that?” Yes. This is me right now. Wanting so much to be alone. But unliking the Loneliness that accompanies me like white on rice. My walk with Loneliness is taking me farther into rarely-explored, tricky-to-maneuver territory, and I’m not thrilled about it. I’m going in…but I’m going in with resistance…and some fervent kicking. So what that I’m 40? Forty-year-olds are not immune to kicking/screaming. Haven’t you watched The Real Housewives of anywhere?
Can’t say I’m stoked to share the following. First, I don’t want to sound desperate or whiny or like I’m passive-aggressively fishing for affirmation. Second, I don’t want the people who DO care for me deeply and express it openly to feel insignificant because of these words; I wonder if my dearests will read this and think “What am I, chopped liver?” To which I would reply, “You are grade-A, organic, grass-fed filet mignon, my friends” and also “Liver is actually good for you.” But this is my present reality right now. It is not a veiled cry-for-help. It just IS. If you feel the need to affirm me, put it into prayer-form and whisper it over your keyboard or phone. If you simply want to say “yep, I get it”, by all means, please share THAT. Because that encourages not only me, but anyone else reading through the comments.
Because I’ve been pondering a book-on-friendship idea for about ten years now, I sent out an informal survey the other day to several folks (ages 17-72) and asked them to list the five people (outside their home) with whom they correspond the most and how often they correspond with each. After I received about a dozen replies, I decided I should try to answer the question myself, and I had a hard time naming someone with whom I have a legitimate back-and-forth conversation (texting, phoning or in-personing) on a fairly regular basis. Part of this coming up empty-handed is self-imposed; I am smack in the middle of purposefully trying to practice stillness. Part of this is because — in our community brimming with teachers — there are lots of folks out-of-pocket during the heavy-travel summer season. Part of this is because several of my personal relationships have been in transition over the past year (a couple groups of which I’ve been a member have petered out, close friends have moved away). Add up all those parts and I feel…LONELY. My present life circumstances have gathered together and resulted in feelings of stark isolation.
It’s not that I don’t have people. I do. It’s not that I don’t correspond with people. I do! It’s just that I don’t have people with whom I correspond regularly (many of my surveyees had a couple people they corresponded with a few times a week). So there I was, sitting on my bed with that thought, mulling these things over when the hubs flopped next to me and said, “FYI…” and gave me a LOOK. “Don’t freak out, okay?” He said he had been asked to play lead guitar in the new instrumental service at our church. I love this for him. LOVE this. Playing guitar is one of his favorite pastimes and he’s very talented. But if he does this, it means he’ll be on stage on Sunday mornings and gone for two evening rehearsals a week. Translation: MORE TIME ALONE for Jana. I can think of nothing more to exacerbate my already-distinct loneliness than my closest ally – the one I talk to every day – being less available. Freak-out COMMENCING.
The thing with Loneliness is that it tries to convince you that your flawed humanness is why you’re alone. An extreme circumstance — death of a loved one, divorce, moving to a new town, celebrity — understandably contributes to feelings of isolation. But what if Loneliness IS the circumstance? What if you can’t attribute it to any specific event? When my people aren’t available like I want them to be, Loneliness can feel like the worst kind of dismissal, even abandonment. I imagine Loneliness settling next to me on the bench with that face — that FACE — and mumbling, “Maybe…there’s something WRONG with you.” To which I reply, “Dude. That’s a very uncool thing to say.” He shrugs his shoulders and gives me a sorrowful look.
But, like Bad Cop-turned-Good Cop in The Lego Movie, Loneliness has a softer side too. This kinder one suggests there are treasures to be found on a stroll through a land deserted of companions. Maybe this wide-open space in my journey is doing just that…giving me space. Space to think. About all sorts of things. Space to get to know myself, as unnerving as that can be. Space to evaluate why I’m so terrified of being abandoned. Space to reassure myself there’s no need to panic when people are unavailable. Space to learn how to more truly love others…and how to love myself, period. Space to breathe, write, read. Space to HEAL.
In Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke writes: “Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away…this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts….believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”
I know Loneliness will turn Bad Cop at some point again, making me feel like the reason I’m here in this desolate place is something for which I should be shamed. But it’s not. It just IS. Like some roads lead through the lacking-of-green landscape that is west Texas, some inner journeys lead through the lacking-of-companions tundra that is Loneliness. There is beauty here. You have to work hard to see it, and it’s often not visible until you’re through the desolation and can look back on the land in its completeness. But it’s here.
After Brandon leaves for his first evening of rehearsal, I corral the kids into bed, then sit on the front porch in the evening calm. The cicadas buzz their tune, the edgy heat of a summer day having already dissipated. I am surprised to not feel the lonely ache that has filled up my insides the previous two nights. Right now it feels like solitude, tranquility. I love the moment…the quiet, the demands and expectations of no one, the settling of the sun behind the blue clouds, the settling of peace into my spirit.
Loneliness sits next to me, enjoying the sunset too, and says, “See, I’m not so bad.” I narrow my eyes at him, unconvinced. He shrugs. I breathe out deeply. I can do this. I can walk this road. I CAN. Breathe in the arid desert air. Breathe out the mistaken belief that I’m lonely because I’m less-than. Breathe in Love. Breathe out fear. Try again tomorrow.