“We're all lonely for something we don't know we're lonely for. How else to explain the curious feeling that goes around feeling like missing somebody we've never even met?”
-David Foster Wallace
I want to belong. I don’t want to be an outsider. I don’t want to be a loser.
I want to be seen.
I sit here. I am alone. I realize that for the first time in years, I haven't been paralyzed by loneliness.
I've spent most of my adult life tormented by it. It's come and gone, always to return. It's been with me at my highest highs and seen me through my darkest valleys.
It's ripped me open and broken my mind and desecrated my heart.
It's been the pain that erases other pains.
Yet in this season of my life, its grip has been weakened.
I have not cured anything. There has been no transformation. The loneliness will return.
But a series of shifts have occurred. In this life I have chosen for myself I feel welcome to be without walls. This means that I feel welcome to be broken.
In living amongst monks and those they serve—the marginalized, the grieving, the forgotten—I am free to be the wounded, lonely me. And I will not be judged for it. I will be loved for it.
Loneliness is the most potent killer of them all.
It is responsible for more avoidance, denial, addiction, procrastination, self-sabotage, hatred, jealousy, boredom and intolerance than any other single force.
And it isn't just a feeling. It is a dis-ease. A malady of the soul.
It is everywhere. And in that everywhere, it is hidden. It is probably the most ignored force on the planet.
It is the absence of all that is. As in, we've turned it into a nothing, an unspeakable. By labeling it so, we’ve alienated ourselves from each other, and from ourselves.
It is the absence of connection. The absence of connection is the absence of being human.
I now live in a community of less than 20 people. Our visitors are often in silence, in pain, and navigating chambers of their own turmoil.
Yet I have a place here. A seat at the table. In this environment, I am free to expose myself to the possibilities life presents when I'm not shackled by material wants. By the lust for power. By the insidious nature of more.
This is not to say that all of the above don’t still don’t still attempt to perverse my story. They do. But I am free of their coercion, so long as I choose the freedom before me.
What this really means is that I've been given the space to do something remarkable: I am free to meet my loneliness. To speak to it, saying:
Don't flee from me, but stay with me. Be with me.
Stay a while.
Let me hold you. Let me see you. Don’t be afraid.
I’m choosing not to avoid it, but to greet it. To collect and draw near to it, as if it were a small child.
To allow myself to feel compassion for it. Com (together) passion (suffer).
To suffer with it.
Loneliness is suffering. It nearly destroyed my life. The loneliness led to isolation, which led to avoidance, which led to self-sabotage, which led to disappearance.
It took me years to return. This was not guaranteed. But I'm here now. And it is my Calling to share these words with you.
In this monastery I don't know my brothers well yet. I don’t have a lot of contact with the outside world.
Yet what I feel is not loneliness. I sometimes feel a lack of connection. But what I feel is, above all, grace.
I am offered the opportunity to wreck myself with community. To shatter myself with understanding. And to unhinge myself with tenderness.
Sounds lovely doesn't it? It is, except it comes with a catch. It's brutally difficult. It's anything but easy. In many ways, it's the most demanding environment I've ever lived in, because it insists on responsibility. Responsibility to take care of ourselves, and each other.
The world tends to operate in a perverted inverse: take care of yourself by focusing on your external desires. In the process, avoid caring for your interior life, or those around you.
In other words, take care of nothing at all. No wonder we're always chasing. We're chasing something that isn't even there.
I can’t tell you how to rid yourself of loneliness. I wish I could. But I’m not a conventional blogger. If I told you how to rid yourself of one of life’s greatest destructions with a few words I would be lying to you.
What I can do is offer a few practical words; tools which might be of help:
Limit social media
I'm not exaggerating when I say that strictly limiting my time online has been one of the greatest joys of my life. Facebook and the like are easily indulged. They increase our vanity, expand our narcissism, heighten our tendency to compare, and engender isolation. Their greatest danger is that they create the illusion of connection. The same applies to reading the news, obsessively checking email, or doing “research”. So much of this is harmful and unnecessary.
Try spending only an hour a day online. You’ll be amazed at how much you’re not missing.
Don’t argue with people
There is a strong institutional and financial incentive to get people to be offended by everything. This is a preposterous waste. Arguing over beliefs almost never changes minds, but it almost always alienates. And remember: those who most wish to argue are least likely to be open to what you have to say.
Cultivate caring indifference
This means that you become indifferent towards that which you cannot control.
Indifference is often conflated with apathy, but it’s not the same. It is merely the act of choosing to not care about that which is unimportant. Much of what you encounter in daily life isn't important. Much of it is irrelevant. Ignore it.
Our time is precious. Our care is a resource. We have so very little of both.
We must be indifferent towards the trivialities of life. They are enormous, and they will never go away. Be vigilant, and practice ignoring the hatreds of the world. The hatreds found right in front of us: the slights, the petty jealousies, the unnecessary judgments. Ignore them, particularly when they're directed at you. This isn't easy, but it can be done.
Ignorance isn’t bliss, but it is powerful.
Don’t worry about “self-love.”
As well-meaning as self-love talk is, it’s usually nothing more than generalized nonsense masquerading as wisdom. And it has paradoxical effect of enhancing our loneliness rather than alleviating it. Because it focuses on the Self. Focusing on the Self for extended periods leads to absorption. Absorption with our own world, our own stories, our own supremacy.
It's easy to feel that you're the center of the universe when you're the only person in the universe.
Allow your world to be small
I currently live in an insulated world. I am literally cloistered.
I don’t care about audience building or finding new clients or connecting with supposed influencers. I don’t check my website analytics or Facebook followers.
This is not because I’m free of vanity. Far from it. It's because I know that by giving my attention to these things, I will become more vain. I will want to attain more, to be superior to others, to win the game.
Yet by accepting this world for what it is, I am free to learn to want what I already have. To give of myself freely, because there's nothing to fear.
Above all, acknowledge
There is no admission more achingly beautiful than to give voice to your loneliness.
It’s so scary it feels as if it’s practically asking for exile. But it's liberating. There is great power in acknowledging your own loneliness, and the loneliness of those you love.
This means taking a risk. It means putting yourself on the line and exposing yourself to pain. This can be unnerving. It can also save lives.
After all, why is it that I remember the message Peter sent me telling me he missed me after a period of absence? Or the unprompted voice message AJ sent me even when we had not even met in person? Or the time Megan shattered one of the darkest weeks of my travels when she called me out of the blue, her voice emitting tears of love?
Why do I remember these instances so vividly? Why do they move me so, even years later?
I think it's because these memories are the vehicles by which we meet our loneliness. By which we come face to face with it, endure it, and live with it, thus freeing us of its torment.
The torment doesn't turn to joy. But it can give birth to empathy and forgiveness. Forgiveness of ourselves.
As I sit in my cell on this chilly, beautiful Fall day, I ask these words to reach out to you. I pray that they reach your heart, that they provide refuge for your soul.
I believe that words have the power to befriend us; to shelter us with tenderness. But they can only do so if they’re really heard. If you are feeling lonely, I offer these words to you:
I acknowledge your loneliness. It's real. And I'm right here with you.
No solutions. No fixes. Just acknowledgment.
Is there a secret to alleviating loneliness? Some would say yes, but I believe the answer is no. Life is messy. Easy solutions to life's messiness are dangerous.
Loneliness isn’t something to try and cure. I don’t think it can be cured. It merely needs to be acknowledged.
You may never feel like you’re enough. I often don’t.
But the goal isn’t to feel whole. It is to be alive in your brokenness. To carry your wounds—your loneliness—and choose to live anyway.
There is no greater love than that. Why? Because despite what so many of the gurus say, love is not borne of completeness, but out of brokenness.
Love is an offering, and it is most freely given when we don’t feel like giving it; when life gets in the way of life; when our hearts our full of viciousness, but we choose to carry on regardless.
You may always feel as if you are alone; as if a part of you is always alone. I do. It hurts like hell sometimes. But I choose to live. I choose to meet it.
Please friends, meet it as well. Every time you do, you will find that you are not alone.
I can say this with confidence, because,
I am here and I feel alone too.