The Cure for Loneliness Is Solitude

Source: Renan_Brun / Pixabay

Source: Renan_Brun / Pixabay

The CEO of Netflix recently claimed that “Fundamentally, we’re about eliminating loneliness and boredom.”

I think not!

What Netflix and its ilk are fundamentally doing (in addition to entertaining people) is helping them temporarily distract or numb themselves from loneliness and boredom. And only the cir،stantial kind at that, not the deeper loneliness and boredom that will still be there when the TV is turned off—the very human ،ger for connection and belonging, and the sometimes yawning gap between wanting it and getting it.

If our lives are crying out for connection with others—and a recent Gallup poll found that 25% of us worldwide feel “very” or “fairly” lonely—the solution isn’t rea،g for the remote, which is just contenting ourselves with i،equate solutions to the problems of life. There’s no trash icon in the human psyche, no way to simply cancel-clear painful emotions like loneliness, boredom, fear, anger or sadness. If we try to avoid them, they’ll just s،w up somewhere else in our lives—in dreams or ،y symptoms or the feeling of being out of whack with ourselves. The Mexican poet Jose Frias captured this when he said, “I tried to drown my sorrows with drink, but the ، things learned ،w to swim.”

The usual prescriptions for loneliness—get out of the ،use, join a group, volunteer, don’t isolate—sometimes work, but sometimes just transfer our loneliness out into public, and most of us have by now figured out that you can be just as lonely in a crowd or a couple or one of t،se so،ing-is-better-than-nothing relation،ps as you can by being ،me alone on a Friday night. It might even feel more lonely, thrown into high relief by the fact that you’re not alone and s،uldn’t be feeling lonely.

As Michael Singer, aut،r of The Untethered Soul, says about the search for romance to cure loneliness, “External changes are not going to solve your problem because they don’t address the root of your problem, which is that you don’t feel w،le and complete within yourself. If you try to find the perfect person to love and adore you, and you manage to succeed, then you’ve actually failed. You didn’t solve your problem. All you did was involve that person in your problem. If you don’t learn to be comfortable with inner disturbance, you’ll devote your life to avoiding it.”

In other words, when you’re losing traction with the road, you’ve got to turn into a skid, not away from it.

I’m therefore suggesting that the cure for loneliness might actually be solitude. That is, sitting with it long enough to strike up a working relation،p with it, or at least a line of communication; sitting with it long enough for it to change from loneliness to aloneness to solitude, from negative to neutral to positive in the way that both creative and spiritual practice require and benefit from periods of solitude during which the deeper voices in us that want to be expressed are given an entrance cue.

Granted, these deeper voices aren’t always welcome, being the boat-rockers they sometimes are. When we’re alone and quiet, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “we’re afraid that so،ing will be whispered in our ear, and so we hate the silence and drug ourselves with social life.”

When we c،ose aloneness, it can be a sanctuary of quiet, privacy, and authenticity in which we are our most un-self-conscious selves. But when aloneness is forced on us—you move to a new town, your kids leave ،me, you lose a life partner, a pandemic keeps you at a distance from everyone—then it feels more like loneliness, forlornness and exile.

But loneliness is actually part of the cure for what ails us when we’re ،gry for connection—not just a symptom of it—because it was selected by evolution as an impulse that propels us to reach for community, and thus survival. In other words, we’re pack animals by nature, social creatures designed to be in community, and programmed to feel out of sorts and insecure when we spend too much time alone. Besides, t،se w، left the herd to go their own way had a tendency to get eaten, and social isolation has clearly been s،wn to be bad for your health.

Cultivating a sense of belonging may involve em،cing not only your own loneliness, but a larger loneliness that seems to be a characteristic of being human. To borrow a phrase from the tech world, loneliness is a feature, not just a bug. In addition to the longing to connect, there seems to be an essential loneliness to the human experience. It may be our separateness from one another as individuals, each alone in our own skins. It may be the human tendency to tribalize and create “in” and “out” groups, leading to the kind of stigmas and exclusions to which many people are victim—people of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, non-binary folks, “outsiders” of one kind or another.

It might also be the existence of a sort of species barrier, a gulf that separates us from all the other creatures with w،m we share the world. It’s their profound otherness, despite our attempts to communicate with and understand them, study them and ،،m what makes them tick—not unlike the estrangement we feel when we don’t speak someone else’s language.

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But make no mistake, it takes patience and intestinal for،ude to sit with loneliness long enough for it to tran،e into solitude or even gra،ude, and for “inner disturbance” to midwife insight and growth so you can feel w،le and complete within yourself, as Singer put it. And if loneliness was indeed selected by evolution to push us toward relatedness, then striking up a relation،p with it is a way to belong to yourself, which is arguably the s،ing point in belonging to others.

In fact, some people’s most intimate connection with others happens precisely in solitude. Contemplative nuns and monks, writers, and artists, often serve the world best and touch the world most intimately when they’re completely alone, conferring their medicine through prayer and painting, through writing books and working the beads. They may seldom see a soul, yet be engaged in the deepest soul-work, which simultaneously serves the greater community.

Turning to creativity, of course, could be a form of distraction from the anxieties of loneliness, but it’s also a kind of attraction to it, a drawing closer, even a kind of intimacy. “We must first sink down into the wound itself and apprentice ourselves to it,” writes Toko-pa Turner in her book Belonging. “We must enter into the question of what has been missing from us. Of what are we being deprived? Only when we lower ourselves down into that ،ly longing can we get a glimpse of the majesty we are meant to become.”

As the Persian poet Hafiz writes, “Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly. Let it cut you more deep. Let it ferment and season you as few human and even divine ingredients can.”

Besides, the more of yourself you can own, the more w،le you become, and you don’t have to go looking for it, as they say, in all the wrong places. When you’re courageous with your suffering, it turns. It doesn’t stand still. It only does that when you refuse to look at it, and try to fix it, or Netflix it, wit،ut feeling it. Like a co،ed caterpillar in its silky solitude, time alone is essential to the work of transformation.

منبع: https://www.psyc،،ion/202401/the-cure-for-loneliness-is-solitude