A man goes into a cave, alone, to meditate for 3 months, with no contact with the outside world except to receive a small ration of food once per day.
At the same time another man in prison is sent to The Hole to spend a week, alone, with no contact with the outside world, other than to receive a small ration of food once per day.
One of the men suffered, and the other did not. Which one, and why?
The man in The Hole suffered, and the man in the cave did not. As for why - it all comes down to perceptions and how we CHOOSE to perceive things.
As the days get shorter and darker, the nights colder and longer, some people start to struggle. That, combined with the added challenge of being in lockdown again, and suddenly it's 3am and we're scraping at the bottom of a tub of ice cream.
We are social creatures, it is well documented. Sometimes (in my opinion, a little too much - it sends people the wrong message that we NEED people more than we do). Yet we can be surprisingly resilient and some of us even relish time alone, but not everyone.
So what drives loneliness? And what if you're someone who doesn't enjoy being alone?
A lot of what drives loneliness is a belief or expectation that we should have people available to us when we want them. It can also come from comparing our situation to other people's, especially around Christmas time when many people are (begrudgingly) with their families. It can be a misguided belief that we're better off with company.
If you're one of the people not with friends and family on or around Christmas, knowing that other people are with their families is likely to cause you more problems than just being alone. You can manage perfectly fine alone any other time, it's only the expectation that Christmas equals company, and comparing your empty house to your friend or neighbour's that creates suffering.
Scroodge in "A Christmas Carol" was not a fan of Christmas and was perfectly content to be alone on that day. Make all the excuses you want for why that was (ie "he was evil",) but it all comes down to how we choose to perceive things.
Often loneliness comes from believing that we would be happier if we had company. Is this really true though?
When I was younger, I used to experience a lot of loneliness. As a young adult I would go out at night, have a raucous time partying but go home alone afterwards feeling lonely and depressed. I believed that because I didn't have a boyfriend to go home with/to, that my life was somehow empty. Now I think that sounds completely bonkers!
Even until relatively recently I would experience moments of loneliness when I would be going through some challenge and want to speak to someone about it. I'd phone around to all of my friends and nobody would answer. With each subsequent phone call - from best friend, to second best friend, to boyfriend, to parent, to sibling, to another friend and another - I'd start feeling a little more depressed, alone and unloved. Was that true?
Of course not. I was and am well loved. They were just busy but I CHOSE to take it personally.
There were occasions when someone would finally answer but the conversation we had didn't help at all - I got more worked up and depressed because I had someone comfort and over support me and therefore encourage me to sink deeper into the hole I had created for myself.
Sometimes we think we need company but we don't necessarily. This is not always the case - sometimes we genuinely need a bit of outside intervention to bring us back to our senses. But is that have to be a human? Or can it be a distraction of any kind? A pet? TV? I have often found that watching Family Guy or some silly but funny TV program was enough to shake me out of my funk.
We might think we want someone to snuggle up and watch Netflix with, but when we're there it's often less fun than expected: we can't choose anything we both want to watch so we get irritated and end up watching something we don't really like, wishing we were alone to watch what we want, without the other person to squish our neck, snore, fart or leave crumbs all over the place. (Been there, done that!)
That's the reality of the situation, but if we are only thinking of the fantasy upside, the joys of having someone to be with, then we aren't looking at things fully. As soon as you think of the reality, your desire to have what you think you want diminishes and along with it your suffering. Whoosh!
Going back to my moments of loneliness - two things banished them away and I haven't felt lonely for ages:
realising that nothing is missing - everything we seek in other people exists within us. Bit of a lofty concept perhaps. More about that in the next paragraph.
Living my best life - in my lonely days I wasn't doing enough of the things in life that I loved. I didn't have enough fulfilling stuff going on to keep me occupied. Now I'm in a much better place, loving what I'm doing and enjoying every moment of solitude. I am doing more things with my time that I genuinely love to do, I have a true sense of purpose and a proper sense of service to other people. I am too fulfilled to be lonely.
According to Dr John Demartini, whose method I am trained in, we all have every personality trait, in our own unique forms. We are all equally kind-mean, generous-stingy, supportive-unsupportive and so on. Often we don't acknowledge that we have these traits and we can seek them in other people - this is especially the case in romantic partnerships. It is also sometimes what happens with loneliness - we look to others for what we perceive we are missing.
STEP 1 - Identify the meaning
Pinpoint specifically why you want company - what the company could offer you that you don't think you have.
STEP 2 - Own it
Make a list of moments where and when you have demonstrated that same thing you are seeking in external company. For example, the laughs - where and when have you made yourself laugh? (You know you have). Whatever it is, go look for it, cos you got it, baby.
STEP 3 - think of the drawbacks to having company
Become aware of the specific situation you are wanting to create with other people, be it a romantic dinner, a busy Christmas lunch, Netflix & chill, parties, whatever it is, and think of all the downsides of doing that with other people - the arguments, the frustrations, irritations, mess, noise, the excesses, the hangover, the expense. List as many drawbacks as possible until the yearning subsides.
Step 4 - think of the benefits of being alone
List all the wonderful things you can do alone that you couldn't if you had company. What can you do now that you wouldn't be able to do if you had company? Think how productive or relaxed you could be, the money you could save, the peace, the freedom, the masturbation.
Think of every moment you wished people would bloody well leave you alone and remember why, and make a list of how being alone benefits you, until you feel a sense of gratitude for the solitude.
People go travelling alone for a reason - it's an opportunity to "find" themselves. Many cultures have rites of passage that involve solitude. The struggle is the way.
It's all about seeing things for how they are, not for how we wish they were.
When we look outside of ourselves for comfort, resolution, support, we are missing the majesty within us because it all resides within us, we just need to tap into it.