- Mental Health
Turning Loneliness into a Meaningful Solitude
Lonely Immigrant Hearts
Several decades ago our home resembled a cafeteria for a while. Friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and even their friends would be showing up at different times of the day just "because you are making such a good coffee" they would say.
Being relatively new immigrants at the time, we needed company, a lot of company, and especially those of our origin to fill that sad void in our hearts, after having left far behind a big family with the only world that we had known.
The adjustment was not promising to be easy. Coming from a communist country where "everybody lived everybody else's life", the cold western materialism was written on everyone's face hitting us at places where we were so vulnerable at the time.
Loneliness creeped up into our hearts, and I remember my wife crying a lot over letters that she wrote, in which she was promising to come back as soon as we would save enough for the plane tickets.
Well, that never happened, and instead we found the only remedy that was available - a lot of people who liked coming over and inviting us over to their places. That ice started melting in our hearts, but as our new friends were increasingly becoming too much to handle, we knew that the remedy would soon stop being effective.
When It All Became too Much
Well, as the saying goes: "Too much of anything good is not good," and that "welcoming party" of all kinds of people frequenting at our home was rapidly turning into a nuisance. Even more so as we started realizing how they actually needed us more than we needed them.
Namely, the great majority of them seemed to be of a mentality prone to boredom, depression, and nostalgic reminiscing, and we were to them a fresh breath of the old country, each with their own secret regrets for ever emigrating. So, in a way, they were not really an emotional support, but needed one.
I have always been a sort of an easy going dude, with a natural knack for "understanding", and that was the additional thing except for "that good coffee" which attracted them in such a multitude. Indeed, at times it looked like our whole ethnical minority wanted to talk to me and listen to me play my guitar and sing those "old romantic songs of the good, old times".
Being such an easy going fellow I don't know from which file in my brain came that announcement that "cafeteria was to close down". We found another, somewhat upgraded place to live, and many of those "customers" asked us to call them as soon as we get our telephone installed. Yeah, sure.
Pleasant Surprise in Being Left Alone
For a while we enjoyed the change of having no visitors and visiting no one, while focusing on those more practical aspects of life. Eventually we got to know a couple of nice families with whom we have stayed friends all into these years.
However, the above story was meant to show how having no one in life doesn't necessarily mean being lonely. People are prone to see loneliness as an extreme, while idealizing those scenarios of a dynamic social life.
Well, in the first place, life is hardly ever so generous to cater to us with anything "ideal", and seeking something of that kind is bound to keep us wallowing in in loneliness and depression. And then, there is something about spending time alone that deepens our souls, which I was beginning to appreciate those years.
Not that I didn't experience those moments before. Even as a teenager I used to enjoy going by myself to a quiet ambient, maybe climbing the forested mountain at the edge of the city, or sitting alone by the river and just watching the water pass while philosophizing to myself about life.
And now I even had an additional opportunity for that. I mean, while separation from the big family was at first a painful turn around in life, it increasingly started looking like something of a blessing. I was free from all that family drama which in the mentality of our people always got exaggerated. Being alone started feeling really good while it meant privacy. Privacy certainly didn't mean much where we came from, and paradoxically, it stopped feeling as an "emotional isolation".
A Matter of Balance in Life
A profound inner change may be initiated by re-qualifying loneliness into a meaningful solitude. Never took a look in dictionaries to see if those two words are actually synonymous, but to me solitude always had a dignified meaning, perhaps because it was so much used in poetry.
In my own case, however, after finding a spiritual joy of silent reflection and serenity in my individual version of it, spending hours at a time in reading, oil painting, meditating, or just walking in the nature - I can honestly say that I am the least alone when alone.
It's great to enjoy company of others, but I can't remember myself feeling sad that "it was all over" after having spent some hours chatting, laughing, singing, joking, reminiscing, or playing a game.
Not that it would progressively become "tiring" in a real sense of the word, but, as the hours are accumulating, there is only so much fun you can derive from all of it before it starts turning into a pattern of repeating and re-telling.
I would say, it was all about balancing life at that young age. Then it may turn into something of a little different character when age starts imposing new themes centered over health complaints, doctors visits, politics, and well - all those things generated from a lack of youth-hormones.
Something with a Verdict to Stay Private
Long ago I realized how solitude would give me experiences and realizations so deep that I could not share them with anyone. I tried a few times and that turned out to be a bad idea, because my lack to find the right words seemed to make me look weird. You must have had those experiences when it felt like you were describing the taste of strawberries to someone who never had any.
It took some time and maturing to get used to what was initially a painful fact that some parts of myself will forever stay a mystery to others, simply because words mostly sound different between lips and in ears.
In more instances than I could remember I would go through what they coined as "peak experience", an epiphany of rare closeness with the essence of life in all its glory, like in those times of walking alone on a Hawaiian beach at sunset, all sucked into that beauty of multicolored sky and the intimidating mass of the Pacific.
Those are the moments that, when remembered, tend to define solitude as the most precious part of being spiritual. Indeed, that discovery of divine in ourselves can't be matched with any form of socializing, no matter how loaded with excitements.
Before some of you may become tempted to see a "lone wolf" mentality behind all this, I can assure you that such an image would be very far from the truth. It happens while I am waiting in long lineups in stores that I almost make friends with strangers; or during my walks in my favorite park-forest I may stop a dog-walker to compliment the dog, and then the conversation veers off to everything else but dogs, ending up with an obvious both-sided temptation to exchange the phone numbers.
O.K., I forgot to say it - I am not talking about good looking female dog-walkers. I am a one-woman-man, no matter how much I like complimenting ladies of all looks and ages, in absence or presence of my wife who actually appreciates the way I treat her gender. Should I also say that she is not an insecure wife?
Bringing Our Soul Home
Time spent in my solitude has taught me many things about socializing. One of those more important truisms is about solitude adding to capacity for enjoying company of others. Experiencing others from that platform of sincere embracing the totality of my own humanness, I don't expect them to give me something that I might refuse to give myself.
Also, seeking others' company does not mean escaping from myself, so it doesn't bother me if they "fail to deliver" enough entertainment as if to support me in that act escape - even by possibly reminding me of my own inner turmoil with their negativisms.
Being enough of a company to myself during solitude helps me to accept them as well. When we give our intimate reality a freedom to be, without brutal suppressions of what we don't want to face about ourselves - then it stretches over everyone else.
So, let's embrace that person who we can only be - at times when loneliness is upgrading itself into a constructive and self-expanding solitude. Someone said: "If you want to be a "Somebody", then be yourself". That comes so natural to experience during time of solitude when we can freely take a dive into the most remote corners of our soul to repossess those parts that life in society made alienated from us.