The True Nature of Loneliness
Many clients have been talking to me recently about their feelings of loneliness. Of course, this isn’t particularly uncommon. The desire for interpersonal connection, intimacy, and companionship are an intrinsic part of what it means to be human. Indeed, no one enjoys feeling lonely. Consequently, the question of how to transform feelings of loneliness is certainly an important one, which is why I decided to give this topic some extra attention lately.
As is my habit with most things, I like to challenge myself to see beyond the obvious, investigating whether what seems to be true is actually true. Regarding loneliness, I’ve concluded that it absolutely isn’t what it appears to be on the surface. In fact, I’ve become convinced that loneliness doesn’t actually exist. Here’s why.
First, let’s quickly make the distinction between loneliness and aloneness. Aloneness is simply the state of being physically separated from others. Loneliness, on the other hand, is a matter of subjective experience, the feeling of separateness that may occur with or without aloneness. Many people can feel lonely within a crowded room, while others may feel perfectly content in solitude. As such, it’s clear that aloneness and loneliness are not synonyms, nor do they inherently accompany one another.
The implications of this are that feelings of loneliness are not actually caused by being alone, not caused by lacking a lover, or more friendships, or healthier relationships with loved ones. In truth, whenever we feel a way that we have been taught to identify as “lonely”, what’s happening is that we are having an unenjoyable emotional experience that we attribute (mistakenly, I might add) to being alone, likely declaring something like, “I feel so lonely right now.” In truth, during such moments, we’re not actually lonely; we’re something else.
We’re bored! Think about it, when our attention is firmly engaged in something, be it our work, a show on television, a passion or hobby of ours, even if we are completely alone, do we ever feel lonely? We don’t. We only potentially feel lonely when there’s a lull, when we’re not sure what to do with ourselves, when we’re doubtful or uncertain of our purpose in the present moment. What we’re really experiencing isn’t loneliness, it’s boredom–which, by the way, is really great news.
It’s great news because, in any moment, we have a lot more power over our boredom than we do over our ability to immediately connect with others. If we misunderstand our emotional experience as loneliness (rather than boredom), then how might we attempt to remedy it? We might start texting or calling people to see who’s available, reach out, attempt to socialize. Maybe people will be there for us and maybe they won’t. Either way, we’re putting ourselves in a very precarious position, depending upon others for our personal sense of happiness and emotional stability. If no one answers our invitations, we’re in a pickle, stuck feeling even lonelier.
What if, instead of labeling such feelings as loneliness, we recognized that we are not–at least in the moment–actively engaged in something truly meaningful or enjoyable to us? What if we were to instead proclaim, “Oh, I’m just bored right now!” If we did this, we’d understand that we had the power to transform this unpleasant emotional experience, all on our own. Now, rather than feeling weak and dependent upon others for our joyfulness, we can make a conscious decision to cultivate happiness by attending to our boredom, which is oodles easier than conjuring up relationships out of thin air. If we’re alone, so be it; that doesn’t mean we have to feel lonely.
Tips for kicking “loneliness” to the curb, once and for all
- Whenever you feel “lonely”, understand that how you’re really feeling is bored (and that’s okay). Instead of attributing this boredom to the fact that you’re alone, let it remain simply what it is: a lack of engagement in something that captivates your interest.
- Resist the temptation to reach out to others, at least for now. See yourself as the solution to your boredom. In the immediate present, ask yourself what you feel like doing. It can be anything. You can get on YouTube and learn any new skill that catches your fancy. Why not learn to juggle? Or knit? Or do Tai Chi? You can start a blog, write poems, or turn on some music and dance blissfully around your home. You can go for a walk or jog around the block or take a road trip somewhere, all by yourself. You can build something, be silly or spontaneous, be creative. You can express yourself through any form of art. The sky’s the limit. You can get engaged, not to another person, but to yourself and your own life.
- While you’re at it, take a moment to look at the bigger picture of your life in a non-judgmental way, asking yourself if there is some passion of yours you haven’t been fully nurturing or pursuing. I suggest this because I know many artists, musicians, writers, entrepreneurs and the like, all of whom rarely (if ever) feel lonely. Why is this? Because they’re always chomping at the bit to find a little free time to sink their teeth into this passion of theirs. Loneliness–a.k.a. boredom–is pretty much a foreign concept to such people, and rightfully so. They’re simply too entertained by living their lives fully engaged. There’s no reason why you cannot be this exact same way.
- Give yourself permission to enrich your life in myriad ways, both in the moment and in the long run, focusing on whatever appeals to your unique personality. Allow yourself to discover what it is you’re truly passionate about, what thrills and excites you, what draws your attention so profoundly that you thirst for opportunities to spend time doing it. Only in this way can you create a life that is immune to loneliness, which is to say, immune to boredom.
- Recognize that boredom is a matter of attention more than anything else. Where you place your attention does not have to be grandiose. It can be as simple as paying attention to the feel of your palms as you rub them together, or the warmth of a hot bath, or the vibrant taste of something you eat. Even the simplest things offer a remedy to boredom, when you tune into your present moment experience.
- Become a friend to yourself, supporting your passions and interests and liking yourself for who you are. When you are a friend to yourself, you will also never feel lonely, even when you’re totally alone. By building internal friendship, you’ll never lack companionship. (I talk about this extensively in The Two Truths About Love.)
- Know that, the more you take responsibility for your own happiness, the easier it will be for you to build the types of relationships you might feel are missing in your life. So you say you want more friends, a romantic partner, or better relationships with family members? Fantastic! Focusing on your own joyfulness and sense of fulfillment is the fastest–and most enduring–way to make this happen. You don’t have to feel “lonely” to pursue more rewarding relationships in your life. Discover that your life can be complete regardless of who is (or is not) in it from one moment to the next.
- Lastly, instead of exclusively seeking connection to those immediately around you or people you know personally, embrace the amazing truth that, as a human being, you share a connection with every soul on the face of the planet. Cultivate a sense of belonging and connection to this greater family of yours. Meditation is a superior means to invoking this sense of interconnectivity to all things. The Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh calls this “Interbeing”, how we are all, each and everyone of us, part of a singular whole, one. It’s the same truth that 13th century Zen master Dogen alluded to when he stated that, “Enlightenment is intimacy with all things.” Know that this level of intimacy is available to you. Awaken to the indisputable fact that you are not–and never will be–alone. Love yourself, love your life, and loving relationships with others will follow.
Like I said at the start of this article, the desire for interpersonal connection, intimacy, and companionship are an intrinsic part of what it means to be human. I want and expect you to honor within yourself this natural desire to have an abundance of rewarding relationships of all types in your life. Just know that loneliness/boredom need not be even the tiniest part of this process. Go ahead and cultivate these relationships you desire, not because you’re bored, but because your life feels so immensely full that you cannot pass up the chance to share it with others. This is the path that is possible for each and every one of us, once we understand the true nature of loneliness.
You can get a copy of Jason’s book now:Purchase
Or learn more about it by clicking HERE.