Feeling lonely?

13 February 2018 - inspiration

Feeling lonely on Valentine’s Day? While you recognise that Valentine’s Day can be a silly commercial day, you may still feel a twinge of loneliness. You’re not alone.

To many of us, being alone feels terrifying. We’re unfamiliar with it because we live in societies that prize social interaction over solitude. We’re also innately social creatures who fear exclusion. So we actively avoid it. We keep our phones close, fill our schedules to the brim, and pursue romantic and platonic relationships that may not make us feel our best.

While connecting with others is a wonderful and important thing, learning to be alone acts as a healthy antidote to our busy lives. “You end up isolated [i.e. lonely] if you don’t cultivate the capacity for solitude, the ability to be separate, to gather yourself,” writes Sherry Turkle in Alone Together. “Solitude is where you find yourself so that you can reach out to other people and form real attachments. When we don’t have the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people in order to feel less anxious or in order to feel alive. When this happens, we’re not able to appreciate who they are. It’s as though we’re using them as spare parts to support our fragile sense of self.”

Loneliness is a necessary part of life and it’s part of being human. To accept that is an important step in learning to be comfortable with solitude, and perhaps to even see the benefits of it. You don’t have to head to the woods to learn about solitude (but go ahead if that’s your thing!). Start small. Set aside 15 minutes of ‘alone time’ daily. Unplug from social media. Go to the bookstore by yourself. If you feel uncomfortable at first, remember that it’s part of the process. You could even try to embrace it! 

If you need some inspiration, this video-poem by Tanya Davis called How To Be Alone is a beautiful ode to the process of learning to be comfortable with being alone, offering both philosophical and practical ways to rethink loneliness and solitude.

If you are, at first, lonely - be patient.
If you've not been alone much or if, when you were, you weren't okay with it then just wait,
you'll find it's fine to be alone...
once you're embracing it.

We could start with the acceptable places: the bathroom, the coffee shop, the library.
Where you can stall and read the paper,
where you can get your caffeine fix and sit and stay there,

where you can browse the stacks and smell the books
you're not supposed to talk much anyway,
so it's safe there.

There's also the gym. If you're shy you can hang out with yourself in the mirrors, you can put headphones in.
And there's public transportation
- because we all gotta go places -
and there's prayer and meditation
no one will think less if you're hanging out with your breath
seeking peace and salvation.

Start simple,
things you may have previously avoided based on your avoid-being-alone principles.
The lunch counter, where you will be surrounded by chow-downers,
employees that only have an hour
and their spouses work across town
and so they, like you, will be alone.
Resist the urge to hang out with your cell phone.

When you are comfortable with eat-lunch-and-run, take yourself out for dinner,
a restaurant with linen and silverware.
You're no less intriguing a person when you're eating solo dessert
and cleaning the whipped cream from the dish with your finger;
in fact, some people at full tables will wish they were where you were.

Go to the movies
where it is dark and soothing
alone in your seat amidst a fleeting community.

And, then, take yourself out dancing,
to a club where no one knows you
stand on the outside of the floor
until the lights convince you more and more
and the music shows you.
Dance like no one's watching
('cause they are probably not)
and, if they are, assume it is with best and human intentions,
the way bodies move genuinely to beats is, after all, gorgeous and affecting.

Dance until you're sweating
and beads of perspiration remind you of life's best things,
down your back like a brook of blessings.

Go to the woods alone and the trees and squirrels will watch for you.
Go to an unfamiliar city, roam the streets,
there are always statues to talk to

and benches made for sitting
give strangers a shared existence
if only for a minute
and these moments can be so uplifting
and the conversations that you get in
by sitting alone on benches
might have never happened
had you not been there by yourself.

Society is afraid of alone though,
like lonely hearts are wasting away in basements,
like people must have problems if, after awhile, nobody is dating them

But alone is a freedom that breathes easy and weightless
and lonely is healing if you make it.

You could stand, swathed by groups and mobs or hold hands with your partner
look both further and farther
in the endless quest for company,
but no one's in your head
and by the time you translate your thoughts some essence of them may be lost
or perhaps it is just kept,
perhaps in the interest of loving oneself,
perhaps all of those sappy slogans from preschool over
to high school's groaning
were tokens for holding the lonely at bay.
'cause if you're happy in your head then solitude is blessed and alone is okay.

It's okay if no one believes like you
all experiences unique, no one has the same synapses
can't think like you
for this be relieved,
keeps it interesting, life's magic things in reach.

And it doesn't mean you aren't connected, that community's not present.
Just take the perspective you get
from being one person alone in one head
and feel the effects of it

Take silence and respect it.
If you have an art that needs a practice, stop neglecting it.
If your family doesn't get you
or a religious sect is not meant for you
don't obsess about it.

You could be, in an instant, surrounded, if you need it.
If your heart is bleeding make the best of it
there is heat in freezing, be a testament

If poems are your thing, we recommend May Sarton’s heartening words about solitude.

What do you enjoy doing alone? Inspire us at hello@mindful-company.com.

- The Mindful Company Team