On being alone
After a relaxing Saturday, I was lying in the hammock towards the evening with my dog, I was swinging back and forth, and watching Jupiter shine in the twilight sky as the sun crept over the horizon. It was eerily quiet with only the random dog bark heard in the distance from probably a half mile away, just enough to pique the interest of my Flat-Haired Retriever's ears for a second. There were no other sounds for the next fifteen minutes, only golden silence, until I heard a lone goose flying above in the dark sky, alone, making frantic squawking noises searching for its lost gaggle, now only a lop-sided V flying somewhere through the inky-black sky. I soon realized that everything is searching for something, man and animal, perhaps all living things are looking, desperately trying to find something in this life.”
We are all ultimately alone in our lives, this is our singular journey, we repeatedly try to connect with people, to find friends and lovers, we will try to join with others, both emotionally and physically, we inherently move towards this goal of union with others, however it is never completely possible, we are alone, conceived into this world alone and upon our exit from this world we will leave alone, it is a harsh and bitter reality to swallow, the notion that, to a large degree, we will always walk alone.
We are, when born into this world, a lone rider; our life is just a curious journey that we must undertake ourselves, feeling as though we’re just an island in the vast sea of life. And so when we live our lives we vacillate between the two feelings of alone-ness and loneliness, although these words sound bitter they can be sweet if we learn to embrace them.
Alone-ness is the feeling of being present and loving towards ourselves, for when we truly love our self, no other is needed, we are full and complete, you can envision aloneness as existing as complete and closed circle, at both times empty yet full. Loneliness is the void, it is a lack of something, we can envision loneliness as a circle drawn only halfway, with a missing other half.
We are taught to believe that both of these states are negative, that is how we perceive them, as inherently negative. Both alone-ness and loneliness are parts of life, they are two states that we cannot ever hope to avoid, but yet we are taught that these two states are negative, this sets us up for potential failure in our formative and later years. What would happen if we embraced both of these natural feelings and states?
The idea of alone-ness does not imply loneliness; it implies rather a satisfaction or a contentedness with oneself, however we are taught that this is bad or negative, for even God said, "it is not good for man to be alone" (Genesis 2:16) and God made Woman From Man to be his companion. This is not to say that being “alone or lonely” should be a condition that is strived after but rather they should be viewed as natural elements in one’s life that should be embraced. We are talking about the ideas of being alone and lonely as a natural course of life and not for instance Major Depressive Disorder or Dysthymia, the former and the latter are very different concepts.
On being alone, history and mythology is replete with stories capturing the essence of magic in moments of time where one has wandered alone. In Buddhism, Gautama Buddha sat beneath a tree where he confronted Maya in a state of meditation with only himself, we can think of Jesus with his spiritual struggle in the desert, alone, or the beautiful world of dreams that present us with such jewels with which to explore ourselves all existed when alone.
Existential philosophers teach as that we alone are responsible for creating a meaningful life in an absurd and unfair world. We create our world by choosing paths, we alone do this, and no one helps us. We find that being alone brings us into our sacred space, into our temple, where magic rituals and personal alchemy take place. When we accept alone-ness, we enter into that sacred space, which acts as a counter to the delusions brought on by society and other outside influences. It can be said that by accepting the idea of alone-ness it helps us to mature and evolve as both emotional and spiritual beings. Being alone is the classroom that teaches us most about ourselves because there is no one there to project our own struggles or issues onto, we must accept them as parts of ourselves.
Alone-ness is a void, the space for creation, the land that Hermes has not yet tread. In the Christian faith, it is stated “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” The sacred space of alone-ness allows for creation, to create ourselves in the same manner empty lots allow for creation of societies buildings and monuments.
A cup purpose is its emptiness, it has possibilities. The Japanese Zen Koan “A Cup of Tea” warns us against filling our cup with all our ordered and unordered thoughts and preconceptions, for true learning to takes place the cup must be empty. Life contain light and dark elements, life is full of joys, times of bliss, happiness but is also containing loss, grief, sorrow and alone-ness. These dark elements, of which, alone-ness, is a dark element, must be embraced by all equally without disdain for one or the either, indeed we need to be empty, we need only to reflect that which is around us, our goal, is to be like a still, calm pool of water in which everything can be reflected but nothing obtained. Embracing the opposites helps us to individuate, to evolve ourselves to a more enlightened spiritual being. The Pythagoreans and other Greek philosophers believed that all was sprung from the Monad or the First Absolute.
Solitude, a synonym for alone-ness, means a state of being alone without being lonely or “being with one’s self”. Many religious sects and other ways of living emphasize the value of being alone, being alone is considered being closer to god. The Native Americans practiced their vision quests which usually occurred alone, the Australian aborigines practice the idea of the walkabout, and many cultures all over the Earth contain this same theme of the magic of alone-ness.
Although inherently alone, humans are also social creatures to some degree, we rely on others for help, resources and social bonding, but how does this work in a world where true connection is not possible, how humankind can be a social animal but yet at the same time be alone with themselves is quite a paradox. Perhaps this is the crux within our civilization, the Achilles Heel of the modern human, the imbalance between our sociality and our limits on connected-ness. What a paradox it is, to constantly suffer our needs to connect with our inherent alone-ness. History and myth is drenched with mystical places such as Shangri-La, Tír na nÓg, Nirvana etc which can only be achieved on our own in our alone-ness.
Living with an inherent alone-ness means that we deal with loneliness, the difference between these two concepts is astronomical in meaning and often times I’m sure the two ideas become crossed and misunderstood but yet also vastly intertwined. Loneliness can be defined as one who has no friends or company, they are without companions. It can also be defined as the quality of being unfrequented, remote or isolated. Loneliness is related to sadness, we spend much of our life in a state of sadness or loneliness. We are born alone, alone we pass through the barrier from womb to life and we pass the veil of death with only ourselves to guide us, although there is some help which we will discuss further in our study. Everyone at some time has felt that loneliness, and the depression or sadness that comes with this human state.
I’ve treated many people who feel this way, and it would seem that over the years it has increased tenfold, many are afflicted with classic textbook depression that stems from loneliness, which stems from alone-ness. In almost every case it is someone who seeks the necessary idealizations on the outside; externally they seek love and belonging, never really embracing their own alone-ness, which then seems to become the monster of loneliness and depression. Depression or loneliness could be lessened by the acceptance of our alone-ness; accepting one would lessen the other.
Now it just so happens that life is made up of a mixed bag of good and bad, light and dark elements reign supreme over our life and we can never truly avoid depression or loneliness in much the same way we could never avoid “not breathing” for far too long. We must learn the ability to live within the opposites that are given to us, joy, suffering, happiness and depression are just some of the opposites that we must deal with throughout our lives, there are many others examples but for every beautiful element of life that we treasure there is the opposite that we abhor, but we must learn to embrace each equally.
There was a woman that I worked with a while back she was unhappily married to a narcissistic man who made himself the center of the universe and she was verbally and mentally abused for the span of a 20 year dysfunctional marriage and wanted a divorce, she knew this was the right course of action, she was very unhappy, but she was scared to be alone, she was scared of that unknown, cultivating her concept of aloneness enabled her to not be scared of being lonely and she was able to start living her life, her way, much happier, without her abusive husband. Her fear of loneliness kept her in her abusive relationship but when that fear was made common and accepted life changed for the better.
Aloneness and Loneliness are facts of life not just for human beings but it is being documented throughout the world in many studies and research articles that honeybees can become depressed, ants can become depressed and have lower rates of mortality, abused dogs and cats suffer from depression, fish have been observed having sentience, many animals have sentience and it is found that they suffer with similar forms of very human problems. Aloneness and Loneliness can be thought of as an imposed instinctual state, a condition that life imposes on us from the very start of our lives, it is a life state that we strive so hard to fulfill with relationships, drugs, activity, religion and philosophy but nevertheless Aloneness and Loneliness will never be eradicated, for they are essential parts of life. Being alive creates angst towards many inherent natural states that will always be present in our lives, why do we spend so much time and energy avoiding these natural states?
Human beings and other life forms are pleasure-seekers, we love to feel good, and our pleasure seeking is based in part on biology and psychological avoidance. We are taught at a young age that feeling good is good for us, that we should always be happy, that if there is one sign of sadness there is something off or something is wrong with us and we are told that there is a pill that will change all of these horrible feelings. In this age, any slight change of mood demands a pharmaceutical cure; many medications that work on our biology are out on the market, even advertised in commercials between your favorite television shows.
This and many other things such as social media warp our sense of what is natural and unnatural, leading us on an everlasting quest of pleasure and joy, a state that can never fully be reached and as such we will continue to struggle with this paradox of natural states versus unnatural states always striving towards an impossible goal.
The Human brain and, I would safely assume other living beings have pleasure centers in their brain, these centers release dopamine in bursts whenever we engage in pleasurable activities, all drugs of addiction operate to release dopamine in the brain, and a little dopamine burst feels really good. Pleasure is also a reward, however not all rewards are pleasurable; some can be “not pleasurable”. Many of the great things (ex. evolution of the soul or psychological maturation) that happen to us in life happen in times of despair, sadness, turmoil, or hardship. When we face the forge of life growth happens, change occurs, and lead is turned into gold. What happens if we continue to strive to avoid the natural states of the burdens? It seems to follow then that our growth as a species would halt or stop. In seeking only pleasurable rewards we lose the “non-pleasurable rewards” that really do change lead into gold.
When we cultivate the idea of being alone with ourselves it forces us to look towards ourselves as being our best friends, our loyal companions and in that intimate personal relationship with ourselves is where the growth happens, that Individuation occurs, when one individuates, it knows well and harmonizes all of its components. Individuation is difficult to achieve when we live a world that is driven with external rewards and reinforcements. We are searching for something and that something is not outside of ourselves, but inside ourselves, we are enticed by the false reflection of ourselves that we see in other people and this leads us to stray from our true nature.
It is quite a dilemma, that in being a social creature, and wanting that deep connection, we can never truly feel it with someone outside of our body; we can only truly enter that deep of a relationship with ourselves. I think that once we embrace Aloneness, Loneliness becomes easier to deal with and even the relationships that we have with friends and family, that is relationships outside of ourselves, become deeper and richer. Paying attention to one’s own self brings into focus the clearer image of others.
So, in a nutshell, we are social beings, there is no denying that, we love company, we like to be around people who make us feel good, however, the quandary is that by nature and design we are destined to truly be alone with ourselves. Cultivating our Aloneness with ourselves enables us to find that depth of connection that we are looking for and in turn helps to deepen those external relationships around us. In mastering tha ability to sit alone with ourselves, paradoxically we realize that we are not alone, but surrounded by life all struggling to define the mystery that we live in.
“Learn to be alone and happy with yourself, content in your own company, love yourself deeply, and take care of yourself”
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Cory Ian Shafer