Many Sixty and Me articles discuss loneliness and the myths that go along with it. Here is another light shed on that topic.
I encountered loneliness in my late teens. Even though I was born into a large family and connected with friends through school and university, I felt the acute existential loneliness that comes with an inquiring mind.
As I explored the meaning of living and practiced techniques for emotional and spiritual happiness, I found that my loneliness wasn’t tied to having or not having intimate contacts. It was true that my intimate relationships fulfilled me enough most of the time to not feel lonely.
However, at times I felt deeply lonely living with loving people. At other times, I felt totally connected when hiking solo, and I felt totally happy and connected alone at home. Am I an exception to the norm? I don’t think so. The many different reactions people have to being alone indicates that the feeling of loneliness is a highly individual one.
“But you will cease to feel isolated when you recognize, for example, that you do not have a sensation of the sky: you are that sensation. For all purposes of feeling, your sensation of the sky is the sky, and there is no ‘you’ apart from what you sense, feel, and know.”—Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Insecurity
At the time when I had lost my husband of 20 years I felt out of balance, vulnerable to the point I couldn’t stand to be around others. To cope with the pain, I felt inside me; I went back to practicing meditation.
I sat down on my cushion, wrapped myself in my blanket and started watching my breath and the sensations in my body. After doing that for a while I felt held, wrapped in the arms of my own attention.
I no longer felt alone, lost and vulnerable. The change in how I felt was so radical that I put two and two together. Mindful attention in the moment, I realized, was the essence of connection.
We are social creatures; we reach for others in the hope of getting their attention. Throughout the ages, being part of a social structure has meant survival. In our wealthy Western society that premise is no longer true. Our systems of survival are being automated more and more by the day. We can live alone and survive. Can we live alone and be happy?
I’ve found that by filling my time with activities and people that require mindful attention I have safeguarded my happiness. I spend some time meditating to sharpen my mindfulness abilities. Creative endeavors also put me in the Flow, a state of absorption similar to a meditative state.
I connect actively with nature, which creates a sense of belonging to something bigger than me, bigger than the vicissitudes of daily living. And yes, I spend time with people who can give and take attention and caring. Living alone has become a choice, a way to explore myself in ways I never could in a daily partnership.
Living alone has given me the tools that I need to avoid feeling lonely.
What activities help you to feel totally connected to life? Which ones are your flow activities? Do you find that meditation helps with loneliness? What are your thoughts on living alone and being truly happy? We invite you to join the conversation.