"What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To talk inside yourself and meet noone for hours - that is what you must be able to obtain" -Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters of a Young Poet
My darkest moments surface during the minutes, or hours, between the time when the rest of the world falls asleep and I impatiently wait to follow. I spend many of those moments beating myself up over this very fact, or over all the things I am doing wrong, and all the problems I need to solve -you know, the ones I somehow feel I can solve while lying in bed, or during the next day after losing a night’s sleep? Deep down I know doing so only pulls me further away from my consciousness, from the person I yearn to be and, deep down, already am; but my ego rages on intent on matching, if not outdoing, the darkness outside my window.
Everyone needs time alone, though. Everyone needs solitude. However, healing from a chronic illness sentences us to far more alone time than the average individual whether we like it or not. Just the same, the depths at which we need to heal are far deeper and outstretched than the average individual, so the time we need in solitude to heal correlates proportionally with the time we are forced to be alone. We cannot grow at a soul level without solitude. The soul cannot surface if we fail to distance ourselves from the noise of the world -the people, television shows, social networks, and the like. It is then, and only then, that inner growth occurs.
When we come to view being alone as an opportunity, as a gift, we can transform moments of loneliness into moments of awareness. Suddenly, the dark emptiness of loneliness is transmuted into the vast spaciousness of universal light that teaches us that we are, in fact, connected as one at all times. We are never truly alone.
The Difference Between Loneliness and Solitude
Solitude is much different from loneliness, although the two appear inextricably interconnected to the untrained eye, considering both are characterized by solitariness. However, loneliness is a negative state of mind marked by feelings of isolation, emptiness, and an undeniable urge to receive attention from another person -any person,anyone who will offer you attention and, more precisely, a means of once again escaping your own thoughts which you are forced to confront whilst alone. Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely. While loneliness is self-destructive in nature, solitude is a positive and constructive state of engagement with oneself used for inner reflection and growth.
The Benefits of Being Alone
One of the most difficult adjustments forced upon us by serious illness is that of suddenly finding ourselves alone. Whether we are around others or not, we seem to have a part of us that will in many ways always be alone. Mostly, this sounds like a horribly haunting notion, so much so it might as well be another heart wrenching diagnosis in itself. But we do not need any testing for it. We know it. We feel it. We see it every morning in the mirror, and we sleep with it in our empty beds at night. This feeling begs to become the reflection of an altogether empty life. We are only human, and this is normal. Eventually, this truth forces us to come face to face with the fact that we have two choices. We can continue to die inside from loneliness, or we can learn one of the most profound lessons of all -how to be alone without being lonely.
The point is to brave the journey of exploring the parts of ourselves in which we feel alone, so we may learn to be alone without being lonely. In many ways, achieving this admirable feat which society quivers at the very thought of goes hand in hand with embracing the present moment. When we are able to do this, we come to see it as a truth that the now is all we will ever need. Even when no one is physically by our sides, we are never alone. We never were, and we never truly will be. We are connected to the present moment at all times.
Time alone demands we come face to face with our true selves. After a while, assuming we were able to brave the magnitude of a lifetime of ignored truths within, we become unable to withstand the misery placed upon us by our own fearfully spinning minds and yearn to discover that which is beyond the mind, the steadiness behind the spinning, the unchangeable behind the changed. Many people spend their entire lives “looking for themselves.” That we can scour the furthest ends of the earth and still not find the selves we are looking for, as the self is always within and never without, is a truth made apparent only in solitude. With the opening of the doors of perception withholding this truth comes the opening of many other doors, unveiling countless other previously unexposed truths. Time alone comes equipped with the potential to push us into the sacred place where our wildest dreams prowl. It is the sole place where our lost, roaming dreams from childhood, which we smothered with the conditions placed upon us by society somewhere in our twenties, collide with the missing links needed to transmute themselves into reality.
Stephen Hawking once said, “Although I cannot move, and although I cannot speak, in my mind I am free.” If not now then at least sometime in the future, you and I will be able to not only sympathize with those words, but to unravel the hidden ones contained within the spaces between them as well. In the meantime, if we find ourselves alone and unable to bear it, we can engage in productive practices to ease the process such as yoga or meditation. Below is a brief and easy to learn, yet nonetheless effective and uplifting meditation for loneliness.
Meditation For Loneliness
In a study done at UCLA, researchers found mindfulness meditation reduces loneliness not only in a philosophical sense, but in a scientific sense as well. Loneliness increases the activity of inflammation related genes. In the study, scientists discovered mindfulness meditation reduced activity of inflammatory genes while simultaneously decreasing one’s feelings of loneliness. The study focused primarily on mindfulness meditation, as it reduces the fight or flight reaction by eliminating perceived yet mind made threats. In turn, this helps regulate cortisol levels and therefore anxiety and sleeping schedules. Clearly, there are a plethora of benefits of mindfulness meditation in regards to loneliness -scientifically and spiritually, both of which affect us medically, and vice versa. All play a synergistic and integral role in the healing process.
Basic Mindfulness Meditation Exercise
1. Select a distraction free place for meditation.Since many of us tend to be easily stimulated, it is ideal to find a place where outside noise will not interfere. **If you are unable to settle your mind for whatever reason, you can do a guided meditation. Using headphones may prevent your mind from wandering. There are many free guided meditations online, test the waters and find what works for you.
2. Decide on the posture appropriate for your situation. Many insist you must sit upright to meditate correctly. In the case of illness, I have found this to be completely false. Meditating while lying down can be just as beneficial; given you do not fall asleep. In fact, if you are in physical pain, sitting upright may distract you by placing you in further
3. Close your eyes and focus your attention on your breaths. Notice the in and out of your breaths, and the still spaces between the moments when you exhale and inhale.
4. Breath flows effortlessly, as you inhale life and exhale what is stale. When you focus on your breath, it is hard for other thoughts to arise. When and if they do, do not resist them. Rather, let them go as easily as they came.
Black, D., Cole, S., Irwin, M., Breen, E., Cyr, N., Nazarian, N., … Lavretsky, H. (2013). Yogic meditation reverses NF-κB and IRF-related transcriptome dynamics in leukocytes of family dementia caregivers in a randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology,38(3), 348-355.
About the Author
Shelley is the former Editor-in-Chief of Public Health Alert, and a health writer for various sources including Collective Evolution, MindBodyGreen, Natural News, and more. She is trained in herbalism, diet and nutrition, bach flower remedies, and herbal materia medica.