I was speaking with one of my students today about the experience of loneliness. “I miss home,” he said. “I find it difficult to connect with people sometimes.”
Loneliness is one of those things that can make us feel like something wrong with us, like we should be different. Inherent to the experience is the feeling that we can’t talk about it because, well, we feel disconnected from others. Who would we talk to about loneliness?
We live in a culture preoccupied with things like “fixing,” “improving,” and “changing”, and I want to suggest that loneliness is not something that needs fixing. Broadly, it fits into the category of experiences that we might call “unpleasant,” and most of us grow up unconsciously keeping unpleasant experiences at arm’s length. We assume that discomfort automatically means “bad” or, more importantly, lacking value.
A radical proposition: all experience has value.
One of the things I wish I had learned earlier is that the vast majority of our experience cannot be controlled. The reality that feelings come and feelings go is much more true than “I control my feelings.” Some of us learn to disconnect from our feelings, but that doesn’t mean we control them, it just means we’ve developed a particular coping strategy.
The trouble with relying on coping strategies is that we lose out on the opportunity to learn from the experiences that we have pre-determined to be useless. What does it mean to be lonely? What is it really?
Most of us already have a preconceived idea about what it means to be lonely, but what about this loneliness right now? What about this moment? Is it different from other loneliness? Does it have a different shape or texture? Does it live somewhere in particular in the body? Does it move?
The truth is that we very infrequently allow ourselves to feel something like loneliness just as it is. Purely. Alongside loneliness – or any uncomfortable feeling – is almost always the desire to control or alter. For me, that has looked like an ounce of resistance alongside the uncomfortable experience; a buffer to keep me insulated from feeling the loneliness completely for fear that it might swallow me up.
Taking even 1 minute, however, to drop resistance and become curious about the true nature of your experience, whatever that might be, can allow it to open. The mind’s accumulated history of knowledge is no longer a single reference for understanding this moment. This moment has everything it needs to be whole.
What if we let the resistance go – even for a moment or two – and asked “what is this, really?” without knowing the answer already?