“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
Sometimes I feel lonely. Lonely in a way where it seems like there is this giant hole in my cavernous heart. It feels like it will never be filled. A drop of isolation could echo resoundingly in this place for days and days on end, or at least that’s how it feels in the moment. Like an echo that aches for something I don’t always know how to answer.
Sometimes I feel connected. Connected to every person, every tree, every flower and every heart with every fiber of my being. My skin shivers and pricks with the goosebumps of Life. At those times I feel so in love with the world and my life, I think I will burst with the joy of it all, utterly overwhelmed in all the best ways.
These experiences, antonyms to one another, are both me.
This deep longing which pushes me to keep stretching my fingers tips ever further, grabbing at the cusp of something I can’t quite see.
This deep abiding love with life which makes my heart thrum in vibration with the world around me making me feel like I belong.
I have to admit though, that the later experience is much more pleasant than the former. It is hard to learn how to be lonely. Hard to learn how to hold our own hands.
Loneliness can be a highly uncomfortable space in which to sit. A dark cavern with little light to be had. We don’t know where the walls end or begin. We don’t know just how far this space stretches. We don’t know where the entrance or exit is. It feels like we will never find our way out.
We have a lot of choices as to what we can do in this cavern.
We can throw a big party and bring other people in with us. Sometimes it doesn’t matter who they are, just as long as they give the illusion of crowding our space. A vague sense of unease persists that we are missing something, but we brush it aside and keep adding to the crowd.
We can bring stacks of things to do in with us. We will stay so busy we never have time to look up and take measure of this space. Our heads down, we go from one task to another refusing to notice the darkness of the cave even though it’s presence looms over us.
We can bring in another person. We don’t discriminate who, we just want someone there. Somebody to make it seem a little less lonely. They might be all wrong for us. Perhaps they might even make us feel more lonely, yet we cling to this person for fear of what the cave might hold, and fear of how our life might look without another person in that cave.
It is normal to want to fill our caves. Beyond normal, actually. It’s absolutely human to not want to sit in that dark space alone. Our desire to connect with others and fill our lives is a tremendous part of being alive and wanting to belong to something bigger than just ourselves. So is loneliness, though.
The art of inhabiting a solitary space. The ache that sometimes creeps in during unexpected moments reminding us no matter how connected we are, there is something inherently lonely about being human, being an individual.
We are all connected, and we are all individuals. We are both. And both of these states of being have something they can teach us.
The problem is that many of us become so good at trying to fill the space of loneliness, we are never challenged to sit with our sense of feeling lonely, and we miss out on learning something about our walls, our dark places. We inadvertently use others for a scratching post, bringing them into the cave with us, but it really doesn’t fix things.
It often magnifies our sense of feeling alone.
It also becomes increasingly difficult to turn the light bulb of presence in our lives off and on. We expect ourselves to fully embrace the joyful moments that make our heart thrum, yet want to flip the switch to the off position so we don’t feel the lonely moments that make us yearn. Life doesn’t really allow us to pick and choose what we want to feel.
When we are engaging in life, we will FEEL all of life.
This includes the experience of feeling alone.
I have found that experiencing the cave of loneliness in life makes me infinitely grateful for the times where my fibers vibrate with love for the world around me. I have also found that the knowledge of how deep the rivers of my joy and love run, is what gives me the courage to stand up and make my way through my own cave when I feel alone.
It is not a comfortable space to be, this space of loneliness, but I do my best to try to BE in that space when it comes. To bravely stand up and walk around, feeling for the walls. To realize there ARE walls and it is not quite the cavernous void it initially seems, but simply another room in my inner house that I will occasionally visit from time to time.
It is okay to learn how to inhabit your space of loneliness. To learn to find your walls and be comfortable in the size and scope of your cave.
This space has so much to teach us:
How strong we can be. How wonderful and terrifying it is to be human. How we relate to the world around us.
How we relate to others. How we relate to ourselves. How we can find light and love, even in our lonely space.
The thing about engaging with life is that if you are going to engage, you might as well dive into every experience wholeheartedly. The good, the bad, the joyous, and the lonely. Loneliness by itself, is not so bad.
It is our fear of the cave that is really our worst enemy. It may not be the most comfortable place to be, but when it comes, it truly is okay to just BE lonely. It is simply another part of you to experience, a part that says you are open to being fully human.