My last post was on Spiritual Friendship and in this one I will be looking at Loneliness, all kinds of loneliness, including Spiritual Loneliness.
I found the inspiration for a deep dive into loneliness when a dear client spoke about a bout of loneliness and the shame she feels for being lonely!
I’ve certainly had my lonely times, some quite traumatizing, but I had never spent hours developing an understanding loneliness till the last few weeks. Facing loneliness with equanimity, wonder and discernment can heal, liberate and empower your soul.
Loneliness is a universal experience. Most of us, like my client, are ashamed of our loneliness. We believe if we are lonely then there is something wrong about us. Wrong!!! Loneliness is not a fault! If there is a fault in being lonely, it is not understanding loneliness.
I’ve never had a friend, a teacher, a lover, or a family member suggest we have a conversation about loneliness. I hope you will find this post a guide for talking to others about loneliness…we need loneliness education that is about being human, not about being weird or socially undesirable.
Just take a minute and think about all the negative judgments you have about loneliness and yourself. Even look at at how you react to lonely people.
Yet, loneliness and all the other “shameful” feelings like doubt, confusion, anxiety, grief, ambivalence, and obsession are the labor pains for birthing a more awakened sense of compassion for yourself and others. “Wisdom is crystalized suffering” as Steiner says.
Let’s begin to crystalize loneliness.
Let’s seek the wisdom in understanding loneliness.
I find understanding often requires a breaking down into parts and differences. And it’s not just about the difference between extrovert and introvert! There are many parts and differences to the universal feeling of loneliness. Let’s work through them.
I’ve spent 40 years researching selfhood from so many perspectives. The starting point for all my research, teaching, and counseling is Rudolf Steiner’s imagination of the fourfold human being and the threefold soul. This picture of the archetypal human being is a blessing that has helped me see my way through much suffering.
Also, I read a lot of scientific papers and books on physiology, neuroscience, biology, psychology, physics, etc. And lots of philosophy and theology. Then I translate it all into the fourfold and threefold imaginations of selfhood. After decades of doing this I can promise you that understanding the fourfold human being would move all scientific and scholarly research into humanness much closer to what it is really all about.
Briefly, here are descriptions of the fourfold human being:
A Physical Self in Space: which is separate, visible, measurable. I call this the Self as object.
An Etheric or Life Self in Time: There are two ways we experience time: our biology which survives through fluid and energetic rhythmical movements and processes including aging, and our biography of memories and habits that unfold in the time between birth and death. This is the Self as story.
The Astral Self or Soul that dwells in Relativity: which consciously relates, perceives, thinks, feels, intends and acts. It makes choices that impact us and the world practically, morally, and spiritually. I call this the Self as Consciousness.
The Spirit or Ego Self that dwells in the Absolute: that is free of all earthly limitations and is the divine element of Self that has no story. We find this self in moments of Freedom, Love, and Wisdom. I call this the Self as Inner Divinity
Then there is the Fifth Self: The Self that Observes, Redeems, and Embraces the four other Selves.
I want to look at loneliness in each of these realities or realms of Selfhood. I am not being definitive, just offering a few thoughts that I hope will inspire you to encounter loneliness with deep wonder and to know yourself in your shadows.
Physical loneliness:Wandering in no-man’s-land.
Traumatizing isolation…When I was 9 1/3 years old I was physically alone for two days. Other adults were available behind closed doors but they did not interact with me. I have since read that it is traumatic for a child between 9 and 12 to be alone for more than 6 hours. I was in a solitary prison that had no walls but I couldn’t go anywhere else. For two endless days there was no one loving me.
Left Out – There is something about sharing space and having your own little piece of that shared space. Those who are sharing the space, know you and welcome you. What if you are not invited in?
Then there are locked doors and the feeling that there are invisible signs shouting “Keep Out!” everywhere you look. No shared space, just physical loneliness.
Most of my life I have been anxious when I am alone in strange places. Are you? I think the anxiety is related to my experience when I was nine. If it weren’t for my traumatic sense of loneliness, strange places would be lonely adventures, not threats of loneliness.
Etheric loneliness: Feeling lonely
The biological variations on loneliness are reactions to chemical or energetic challenges. Maybe your blood sugar drops, your oxytocin (the bonding hormone) is low, maybe it’s serotonin or dopamine. Maybe you are about to come down with a bug but there are no perceivable symptoms. Maybe you’re tired. Maybe you are anxious and inflamed. What this means is that you feel strange to yourself. You don’t feel fit for company or care.
A sense of isolation: Now come the biographical memories which get triggered by smells, sounds, images, and combinations of perceptions. Suddenly, the present is overshadowed by a loneliness from the past.
Then there are the habits that become beliefs. Meals must be shared, therefore when I eat alone I am lonely. I have certain rituals/behaviors that shape my sense of self. If I cannot follow the ritual due to circumstances, I feel I have lost myself, my identity, and I suffer loneliness.
Astral loneliness: No one gets me.
When your thoughts, your feelings, your intentions are not recognized, comforted, or supported loneliness darkens your soul. Maybe your opinions , your perspectives, and your worldview are negated, ignored, or, worse, ridiculed. Who listens to you with reverence?
And do you hide, withhold, keep silent? Do you isolate your soul? Do you pretend? Do you please others rather than be yourself and risk rejection?
And when we pretend or please, we are sustaining the loneliness of self, because we are not being self. We are being “a false other.”
Spiritual loneliness: God has left me.
Loneliness is a dread, a despair, a feeling within. Solitude is a sacred state of being alone and all one. We might imagine a beatitude, Blessed are they who dwell in loneliness for they will become all one.
We might contemplate our existence, the creation of the human being, happened because God became lonely.
Religious loneliness: Most religions and spiritual paths consist of beliefs, belonging, and behaviors. If you share the beliefs, surrender to and serve the rules of belonging, and conform to the expected and modeled behaviors you will not be lonely you will be just like all the others on the path. You are defined by the elements of the religion.
If you develop your own differing beliefs, seek other ways of belonging, and behave differently then you will be cast out. To be included you must be an object that fits in.
To belong to yourself, to believe in yourself, to behave as yourself you will be a religion of one. Would that be a religion of loneliness or fulfillment?
Recently, I told a client that “Your angel will never abandon you.” This is true but so often the self as object meets rejection. The self as story gets ill or loses the way in a dark memory. The self as consciousness feels crazy, unrecognized, and unsupported. And then you abandon you and you forget your angel.
Loneliness and all other “shameful” feelings lead us to feel victimized, that our feelings are the perpetrators. But once we start contemplating these feelings and engage in conversations about them and with them they can transform into essential lessons offering insight, transformation, and compassion.
The Fifth Self, the Observer, the Redeemer, the Embracer, is never lonely. Observe your shameful feelings, your sufferings. Redeem them. Embrace them. They bring gifts, adventures, and blessings.