Loneliness is a state of mind that occurs when a person feels emotionally disconnected.
Contributing factors are physical isolation (like-minded people aren’t nearby), low self-esteem and shyness (which keeps you from reaching out and accepting overtures from others), technology (such as texting and email which decreases face to face contact), feelings of uniqueness (which contribute to feeling like you don’t belong), and mental health problems like depression.
Lots of people think it’s just about getting out more. However, it’s not about being around people. We’ve all heard the saying, “A crowd is the loneliest place.” Being in a crowd can intensify the feeling because there are so many opportunities to be seen, yet it doesn’t happen.
So, what can you do?
There is one thing that anyone can do that addresses all of these contributing factors. It’s easy. It’s something everyone can do regardless of age, ability, or time available. That is to be more connected.
The Samburu have a belief that “Until you see me, I don’t exist. When you see me, you bring me into existence.” I think this is the single most important thing to keep in mind if you want to overcome loneliness. The feeling of disconnection comes from not feeling seen. If you practice seeing your world, feeling your connection to spirit, then expanding that to other people, there can be no space for loneliness.
It just requires that you be willing.
Start with noticing what there is to notice for ten seconds. You can choose any ten seconds. It doesn’t really matter what you choose to focus on because it’s just practice. Empty your mind of chatter, distractions, and judgments. Breathe slowly and deeply as you use you senses to experience all that is there. As I type, I am facing the window that overlooks my back yard. I can stop right now and look out the window and notice that the sky is a brilliant blue. There is a soft breeze blowing the remaining leaves from the trees. My breath slows down. The tension in my shoulders release and I sort of become a part of the scenery. The thought occurs to me that the scene is perfectly balanced and watching it sort of balances me a bit. Then my ten seconds is over, and I’m back to writing to you.
What’s different is that I’ve now seen my back yard. It’s not just the same view I’ve seen over and over and take for granted. It’s alive with energy that I have just experienced and shared.
I could have just as easily focused on the sensation of eating an apple, reading a book, painting my fingernails, or listening to some music. It really doesn’t matter, but the experience of tuning in can, over time, help us to feel more connected.
Tune in to your feelings.
Once you get the hang of that, try it with yourself. Notice how your body states are different depending upon what you are feeling. Notice the temperature differences throughout your body. Notice the muscle tension or feeling of relaxation associated with different emotions. Notice your mental chatter or peace associated with different emotions. Remember not to judge. This isn’t about doing anything. Just being.
When that feels comfortable, try it with other people. When you are talking to someone, look at them in the eyes. It is part of western culture to look at someone directly, but not for too long. If you are having a conversation where you want to be understood, look into the other person’s eyes mindfully for five to ten seconds. Be open to what is there. Let the heart speak. Take down your guard and allow the other person to see the truth inside of you. Does that change the conversation? Does that change the relationship?
Don’t eat with the tv running, everyone’s talking, and nobody is listening. Be still. Savor your food for a few seconds. Focus on the aromas, the taste, the experience of sharing that with someone else. Add your emotions and then give words to that. Has the experience changed?
Where do you find God? In prayer? In reading religious text? In ritual? In your dreams? In the silence? Stop and pay attention for ten seconds to that experience. Don’t let it just be about what you habitually do. Really experience it. Does that change your experience of your connection to God? How about your connection to your environment and all God’s creatures?
There is no disconnection.
Our emotions, expectation, conditioning, and judgments just make us feel as if there is. All life is connected, but it’s like the Samburu saying until you see it, it doesn’t exist. When you bring presence into your life, connection happens automatically. I understand it’s hard to practice that with people because they are scary, judgmental and unpredictable. Practice with easy things first. Build up to it. Or just focus on plugging in to your God. When you are connected to the All-That-Is, there can be no disconnection to anything. Loneliness depends on isolation. Where there is connection, there can be no loneliness because you realize that you are a part of the vibrant, living, breathing All-That-Is.