Aloneness - to accept or avoid?
One of the things which makes humans unique, is not just our ability to be alone, but to be able to realise that aloneness is actually our very nature, even as we are with others, whether it be as lovers, as friends.
It can be a blessing or a curse. On the one hand it can give us a lot of freedom (relative to say, a dolphin in a pod, a sheep in a flock, a herd animal, with no real choice, however illusory that may ultimately be), while on the other it can create feelings of separation, loneliness; that I am different to everyone else, that my needs, desires, pain, are all mine, and no-one else can know how I feel.
It is true, nobody can know how we feel, no-one can really get inside of us, really know how it is for us to wake up each morning, or how we feel when we make love, jump in a cold pool, whatever.
As a child, I used to have dreams which haunted me, and I was never able to see what they were. Just the feeling would be there, and the dream alternately relaxed and frightened me. Later, in a meditation, I experienced and was able to identify the same feeling of being utterly alone in an infinite space. Then I thought, “Great, I am feeling the emptiness of existence, tuning into my birthright, feeling at home in the vast cosmos”, like every seeker is supposed to, and so started valuing this experience, feeling blessed.
One day I realised that it was actually a lonely place I was calling home. It was beautiful, it was incredibly peaceful, it was a long way removed from the day to day dramas of living in the body, undisturbed and untouchable, but it was empty.
The reactive side of this is fighting this basic aloneness; “I am lonely”; “I need someone to love”; ”I want to be seen, to be known, to be acknowledged”. All of the things which, having decided to be here in the world, we need or want from someone else; ie the recognition of our humanness. Sometimes we run the idea that “I don’t need”, “I don’t care what others think of me”; “I am happy to be alone”.
This is basically the same game cause it has comes from being largely in denial of the need for the other but looks different. And of course, ultimately this does not work, as we can often, in this space, just be using another to make us feel better about being alone because the world feels too big.
Then there is the space of being alone. Not making any idea around it, that it is the place to be, or the place not to be. Even tho I have been apparently alone for most of my life, I can’t really say I have been alone. Always there has been some entertainment, whether it be in outside apparent stimulus, or just my mind with all of its strategies for taking me, apparently, out of the present.
I am experiencing in my life right now a place where I am usually not alone, in the physical sense yet paradoxically I feel perhaps more alone than ever. Not in a lacking, a lonely sense, but rather in a sense of being more and more responsible to just myself, where when I regularly relate intimately I get a stronger and stronger sense of my uniqueness, of my individuality, of my differentiation from the other.
This actually surprises me, as for most of my life I had skirted around intimacy. I had left or avoided intimate situations because I felt (or would feel) smothered; that I had lost my freedom, or searched for it in places where it was not really happening, which had something to do with being afraid of losing my freedom which is nothing else but my individuality, my identity. So it is a strange phenomena. It seems like we have to able to really be alone to be with someone else, and when we are involved with another that aloneness is even stronger.
There is such an incredible freedom in realising the fact of our aloneness. Personal achievement is always something that happens alone. Being on stage, climbing a mountain, even if it is with another, you are always alone. Knowing this aloneness lets us say “I am responsible”, “I did it”.
Of course being alone does not always look easy, as any mistakes can only be laid at our door. But actually there isn’t any choice. As much as we try to pretend that we aren’t all alone in the world, it doesn’t change anything. We are.
Published in the Here & Now magazine, August 2001
By Mark O'Brien