Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"When I get lonely these days, I think: So BE lonely, Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. But, never again use another person's body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings." — Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love)

I wasn’t planning on posting anything pre-Christmas, but an episode of The Today Show the other morning, featured a segment on the Loneliness Epidemic. Apparently, surveys show ten years ago, 20% of the 45-49 year old population, claim to  suffer from loneliness a good majority of the time.  Today, that number has increased to a shocking 35% suffering from Chronic Loneliness.  These figures do not include the demographic who are recently widowed, unemployed or divorced.... life events which could justifiably trigger loneliness.  The lonely appear to be people in relationships, with children, and great careers. What’s going on?  Folks have the mobility and opportunity for more engagement than ever before.  Our calendars are stuffed full and we  are busier than we’ve ever been. Combine that with the social networking capabilities and it hardly seems there would be a second of the day whereby we couldn’t have all the socialization and connection our little hearts seem to desire.  So, what’s the deal? 
This episode coincided with a party I was at recently and the question was posed, “Aren’t you lonely?”  It took me by surprise, and even more shocking was my immediate, thoughtful, response.  I said, “Sometimes...  Mostly not.  I am as busy as I want to be, and I am really comfortable with the stillness and my own company.”  Later, at home, alone, lying in bed, I thought about my statement and wondered if I was just convincing myself.  Most of my life I have crammed way too much work, activity and people into my overflowing days only to feel tired and sad a good percentage of the time.  Why now, when my life is so quiet and simple, and I am alone so much of the time, do I feel so satiated and content?
I remembered Elizabeth Gilbert talking about loneliness in her book Eat, Pray, Love and found the quote.  It’s a beautiful statement of acceptance, mindfulness, and growth.  None of us are exempt from the FEELING of loneliness, and, what really is so bad about experiencing the FEELING of loneliness?  It’s really no different than feeling sad, when we are sad, or content when we are content. They are just feelings and don’t define us.  In actuality, they are all meant to be felt in order to engage introspection, catharisism, or push us to towards acceptance or change. 
There have been many times in my life, I have felt incredibly lonely lying next to someone else, in a crowd at a party, and sitting in a facility bustling with people.  What causes the feelings of loneliness when we are surrounded by people, have a significant other, or chatting away on Facebook?  
The key is authentic intimacy.  We all want to connect with people who accept us, know us and really, really get us.  This kind of intimacy can only be achieved when relationships are functioning in a healthy way.  Facebook and all the technology gives us a false sense of connection that will never fill us,  because it’s all about illusion, the image we want others to see of us. The Today Show moderator related it to being on a diet and eating celery to fill us up, when in reality it creates more hunger.  Real intimacy is about experiencing the good, the bad and the ugly and still accepting the other’s humanness.  We can only achieve that by looking into the eyes of another, taking their hand, listening and really hearing them; providing a safe haven for them to be who they are, as they are.  Yet, if we are unable to do this with and for ourselves, how can we expect to have the capacity to do this for another?  
A light bulb went on.  I discovered why I am not lonely these days.  I have developed an intimate relationship with none other than myself!   I know this woman (me).  I know her defects (she has plenty).  I know her attributes (she has plenty).  I have spent quality time with her. I have looked her in the eye and been able to see her soul, the Godly part of her that has taught her to cut herself some slack, drop the goal of perfection, be herself, authentically feel what she is feeling, eliminate the shoulda-coulda-woulda’s,  be honest with herself and others, and have some fun- because she is fun.  I “get” me now.  I’m great company. And, that makes all the difference in the world.  
Elizabeth Gilbert states her desire to no longer use others bodies or emotions as a means to feel better. It’s only temporary.  For the first time in my life, I no longer feel the need to suck the energy from others in order to feel the rush of a false completeness.  I have found it by becoming best friends with the eyes in the mirror, and the holiness within.  Being alone may be a state of being from time to time, but loneliness is really just a state of mind, and the mind can be always be changed.