The tentacles of friendship: Loneliness and Aloneness
A friend of mine in a rare show of candor tells me that she is lonely and wishes she could have a really good friend on whom she can rely. I instantly think of another friend who has myriad acquaintances and friends. A cell phone attached to her ear, she is either calling someone or being called. She is successful in her quest in that she is hardly ever alone. Luckily for her, she is appealing enough so that she is able to attract the many friends she needs in her life to dispel feelings of loneliness. Unlike many of us who seek comfort in food, alcohol or drugs, her addiction of choice might be said to be the accumulation of friends and acquaintances.
I have certainly fallen into spaces where I have felt unbearably lonely. Several years ago, I absolutely keened for a close friend who had left the ashram and the emptiness felt unbearable.. Not so long ago, I renewed an old relationship with somebody with whom I had previously been friendly; I had discontinued the relationship in the past because of what I felt were certain boundary issues. I had always loved the aspect of his personality that was very nurturing and caring and now realize that I encouraged the renewal because I felt fragile about some health problems. The same boundary issues between us arose, but this time I was stronger and clearer in stating my needs and we established certain guidelines. However, as time went by, I saw that a certain personality trait of his that had previously driven me crazy was still in operation; it wasn’t something I could ask him to change because there are certain traits that we have that are very deeply ingrained and why should I ask him to change? In the end, those qualities that I valued were strongly over-ridden, and I actually felt worse through his company. Even though I tried to suppress my feelings, and concentrate on his positive traits, eventually, my feelings of fragility actually became a gift since I did not feel strong enough to maintain a façade of camaraderie.
Withdrawing from the relationship, as kindly as I could, brought consequent feelings of guilt. One day as feelings of loneliness and some guilt arose, I was about to renege on my withdrawal and ask him to go to the movies with me. As I sat with my desires, I suddenly realized that the guilt I was feeling was a very familiar one that I had often felt with my mother who had expected me to unselfishly turn my life over to her and the guilt carried for many years towards both my parents for not submitting to their irrational needs and instead seeking my own joy. This realization became a true “Aha” experience and I “got it” that I did not have to continue relationships from a “guilt” place. My teacher, Ma, would call this a “root,” one of those things that configure your life, but are so deeply ingrained that you are not aware of their existence until they arise through relationship and become so painful that you must “root” them out.
How many times have I encouraged people to remove themselves from a relationship that no longer serves them but perpetuates their weakness or feelings of failure? I tell them that if they make a sacrifice to be in a relationship, make sure it doesn’t diminish them or a piece of their character that they value. That is the litmus test of staying or leaving a relationship. In a much more subtle fashion, we continue to endure relationships with our friends or those not really close to us that really no longer serve us, but instead reinforce feelings of weakness and fears of being alone.
Once I realized what I was really doing in my relationship with my friend, I saw that I had to brave loneliness and make the next step towards “aloneness.” For me that meant sitting through the waves and fears of loneliness until some of them either receded or no longer had the same hold over me. I realized that what I had to do was contact my spiritual Self, the self that is always with me and which eventually serves me. It too has a conscience, but it is not a conscience fueled by guilt or need. When we can brave our loneliness, we can encounter the self that lies beneath our fears. Then loneliness becomes aloneness which can be a rich fount of experience.