Aloneness: Its Blessings and Its Curses
Being alone can be tough sometimes: the loneliness, the heavy-hearted weight of not having someone to connect to, can be profoundly painful.
On the other hand, being alone can be deeply rejuvenating when we use that time for connecting to our own beingness. We can take our alone time and open our awareness and hearts to ourselves verses extending our hearts and minds towards others or getting caught in the variety of distractions and attractions our minds can be pulled into. This opening of our heart to our very own self can lead to choices of activities that are healing like meditation, yoga, or a walk outside.
Being alone and experiencing its blessings and curses came alive for me this summer as I went on a “forced vacation.” I’ll say more about my personal experience a bit later in this article.
The challenge for most of us, as I pointed to earlier, is whether we use that time of being alone to connect to our inner being through reflective and rejuvenating practices. The other challenge when we are alone is that it can open up feelings of loneliness, depression and isolation. In those moments, we may get caught in the eddy or quicksand nature of these feelings and not know how to come through these painful feelings.
Many of us find ways to medicate these feelings with a buffet of distractions to fill the void of emptiness whether it be overeating, drinking, TV watching, “recreational” drug use, meanderings on the internet, fantasies, spacing out, dissociating—defenses to buffer our pain.
What’s most important to know is that when we are lonely, depressed and heavy-hearted we are simply out of touch with love, with being loved, with our own lovability—we are disconnected from the heart of love and compassion.
I bolded and italicized the statement above because it is such a powerful truth. We are out of touch with the sense of love, of being loved, of our own inherent lovability when we are in the quicksand of loneliness, depression and isolation.
Here’s a mantra that can open up and heal our loneliness when we feel caught: “This too, deserves love,” could be the most powerful and portable mantra or phrase that we carry with us. When offered with kindness to our loneliness or for that matter any painful emotion; we open a path towards healing! Try it the next time you feel anxious, frightened, sad or lonely.
Will our body believe our mind when we say, “this too, deserves love”? Remember, it’s within our body where we feel these painful feelings. And our mind is offering this thought: “this too, deserves love.” If you can connect to your heart’s intention as you say this too deserves love, then it isn’t just an empty phrase, but one that is based on our heart’s deepest nature and its healed presence.
We all have two hearts—healed hearts and wounded hearts. When we are caught in the body experience of the wounded heart it can be very difficult to access the healed heart within!
I believe in investing time and energy to cultivate our heart’s inherent love, compassion, guidance, inclusiveness, acceptance, gratitude and presence. Planting the seeds of our heart’s presence takes a commitment.
We also need to know practices or activities that can open our hearts in a real way. Different meditative and movement practices along with simple acts like saying something kind to the cashier at the grocery story can be the ways we plant seeds of heart, that we strengthen our hearts.
In the Awaken Your Heart workshop at Kripalu this October, we will deeply explore a variety of ways to cultivate our hearts presence and power.
As we invest in awakening and opening our hearts, we can later draw upon this investment when the going gets rough. “This moment of feeling isolated deserves love.”
Once our heart is awakened for that brief moment in time, we can then “record” in our body memory what an open heart actually feels like. Creating a body memory out of a moment of softening or freeing our hearts requires holding that felt sense in our awareness for a short period of time.
Rick Hanson, in his work that integrates neuroscience and positive mind-body states, reports that we need to hold in our awareness these positive feeling states for 30 seconds in order to create new neural networks that can be vital resources for us.
That way when we are swept away by a difficult, painful emotion we can not only know the immediacy of our pain but we can recall a heart that also knows love. We can access this love from our loving heart, our healed heart, EVEN in moments of encountering our wounded heart with its depression, fear, isolation and loneliness.
Now back to the “forced vacation” that I mentioned earlier and its relationship to this topic of aloneness:
I have been on a journey of exploring aloneness over these past three weeks as I am at the tail end of a 3-week “alone” expedition. No, I’m not doing a solo hike on the Appalachian Trail, but am visiting different people and places and going alone and often being alone.
This was a “forced vacation” as the landlords of the house I’m currently renting in the Berkshires have spent these 3 weeks in their house, my home—something we worked out in the terms of my lease.
Before leaving I kept hearing inside myself, “What am I going to do for 3 weeks?” This was my mantra that was filled with fear, worry and obsession. It felt like most of July was spent contracted in a state of fear. What I started seeing about myself is how much my work and my relative staying put in the Berkshires was hiding a deep fear of being alone, along with a fear of the unknown and not being in control.
Maybe some of you can relate to this very human challenge—many of us gravitate towards the familiar, towards what we know verses travel into the world of the unknown.
Also this marks one year of separation from my wife and traveling without a travel partner also stirred up further insecurity… “you mean, I’ve just got to be with me for 3 weeks, making decisions, doing things alone, asking myself ‘what do I want to do today’ vs. asking someone else ? Yikes!!”
Here’s what I came to know through traveling into the world of the unknown. I came upon some very gracious hosts that extended their generosity to me.
So, when giving up control as a way of feeling safe by staying put in my routines in the Berkshires, I gained the experience of people’s generous hearts as they invited me into their homes.
This opening to people’s generosity at times was challenging since it unveiled a place inside me that can be quite uncomfortable with receiving! I know how to give through the work I do which is wonderful and I truly love giving in that way.
However, for many of us caregivers we can use giving as a way to hide our discomfort with receiving, with giving up control and opening to our inner vulnerability and realize, we too deserve love!! In my inherent aloneness on this planet, I too deserve the love and connection with others.
So, consider that you too deserve love! I hope that this month you find ways to nurture yourself and touch the experience of love.