Connecting Through Loneliness
2020 began with headlines proclaiming an Epidemic of Loneliness (little did we know what other epic things 2020 had in store for us!) with more than 60% of Americans self-describing as lonely. That number goes up with social media use, down with age.
A work culture of always on, an increasingly mobile society, an emphasis on the rights of the individual over the good of the collective, and an expanding ethos of vilifying the Other all seem to add to the universal sense of social isolation: an embodied sense of not belonging, of not being understood, of not having even one person you can turn to when you’re down.
Five months into the pandemic, we all have palpable reasons to feel socially isolated. We’ve been in various states of lock down, working from home (if at all), and trying to maintain a distance even in plain sight. In the US, government agencies prioritize profit over physical and psychological health, and makes it clear that anyone who is not white-male-Christian, in the 1% and in perfect health doesn’t count and doesn’t deserve the full protection and privileges under law and social contract. It’s enough to make anyone crawl into their caves and wait until the coast is clear.
Loneliness might well be an intrinsic part of life, more an emotional or even spiritual commentary than a literal one, especially for those in the West. If we have small families to begin with or if we’ve had to make the hard choice to leave our families behind — in another country, in another ideological state, we might feel all the more isolated by current restrictions. “We’re all sentenced to solitary confinement, inside our own skins, for life” wrote Tennessee Williams.
The truth is each one of us is born into community. We start life inside of another living being and that connection, for better or for worse, feeds our psyches long after the umbilical cord is cut. We’re bathed in a congregation of bacteria as we emerge from the womb. As we grow older, these invisible microbes continue to inhabit the lining of innermost core. Community is not something we need to connect to: it’s who we are at our essence.
Yoga teaches that authentic connection with ourselves and with others is the path of less suffering. Resilience, says Dr. Gabor Mate, is a function of relationship. Even in physical isolation, we’re undeniably affected by the gestalt of events in the world, more so now that news is immediate: we can see what’s taking place around the globe, sometimes more so than around the corner. Many of can feel what happens in the world in our bodies, a telegraphic cable sent directly to our central nervous systems.
I like to think myself eminently practical, of this world. Yet, I have little desire to be “just” a rationalist. Like you, I sense presences of spirits I cannot see: from plants in my backyard to songbirds who keep me company while I work to ancestors. There is a spirit to our language and a soul in our homes if we pay careful enough attention.
A part of me experiences loneliness almost daily; another part of me doesn’t believe we’re ever alone. Learning to hold complexity is as much as the path as expecting to be surprised. We can’t know everything. Pretending to leads to cynicism and apathy, precisely what would give victory to those who deserve it the least.
At least once a day, I try to disconnect from my everyday reality of doing and drop into the invisible forces in my life – the friendships that have become part of me through the distance, the energy of love that shows up if I can sit with the rage or sorrow for long enough without fixing. What else is here when I have been busily focused on who is not?
I never imagined in the early days of 2020 that handshakes and hugs and even air kisses would make it to the list of what we long for. Will the physical and existential loneliness we’ve experienced inch us to a deeper understanding of what connections matter most? In the words of Dag Hammarskjold:“Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.”
September is the season of returning – to school, to cooler weather (fingers crossed) and for Jews, to a sacred cycle where we are given the opportunity to begin again, to integrate this past year into learning for the year ahead. May this month see us creating new ways to connect — most of us, to one another, despite the distance.
If I can be of service as you look explore new and old connections alike, end, please feel free to check out my ongoing classes, special workshops, and opportunities to work one-on-one together. I also customize sessions for organizations. Please be in touch to learn more!
May your days be full of connection and meaning, and may you not fear your very human (and kinda fake) loneliness!