Has anyone else out there felt lonely? My bet is that we’re not alone in feeling this way.
The definition of loneliness is being without company, being cut off from others, being solitary, not frequented by human beings, desolate, sad from being alone, or lonesome. For me, it’s a feeling of emptiness, despair, being hungry for love and connection with a little twinge of fear that I won’t ever be able to fill the void.
Loneliness is a feeling of vacancy, like there’s no one home, like a ghost town in the heart. There are times when I feel lonely and my inner critic judges that there must be something wrong with me. The judgment that it’s not okay to feel lonely only exacerbates the feeling.
About one-third of US adults aged 45 and older report feeling lonely.
While the findings that 35 percent of midlife and older adults are lonely is unchanged from 2010, the population of lonely people over age 45 has grown by 5 million, from 42.6 million to 47.8 million, in the past eight years. (source: AARP).
It’s not that I feel lonely all of the time. I think because of so much isolation during the pandemic, I’ve become accustomed to feeling alone. When I look at my life, it’s not really true that I’m alone. I have amazing circles of friends and family, including my blood family, ashram friends, meditation friends, Ashaya friends, students, colleagues, my workout friends, and more. But still, feeling lonely seems to be independent of whom I’m with. I’ve known people who feel completely alone and isolated even within a partnership or marriage.
The root of loneliness isn't necessarily the absence of other people but an inner void—you’ve lost your center. You’ve lost touch with your universal self. Your universal self is infinite, eternal, omni-present, and ubiquitous. It’s everywhere always. Yet, we often forget.
“It’s strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.” Albert Einstein
Loneliness is an auspicious state of being that’s completely normal and natural. It arises from our relationship with ourselves. When we feel out of alignment or out of integrity with ourselves, there’s a disconnect, a gap, or an abyss that feels like loneliness. The spiritual truth about loneliness is that we ARE alone. We’re born alone, by ourselves, unless you are twins or more! And we will all die alone. What I mean is that your journey is yours. It’s a solitary journey that only you can take.
No one travels totally with you, inside of you. You are it!
In Tantra, being alone is translated as ALL-ONE! Unity consciousness. Yes, at the absolute level, we are all one and forever interconnected. Yet at the level of the relative personal experience of being embodied, loneliness is quite real and can be a difficult emotion to embrace.
We are hard-wired for love and belonging. We each have a primordial need to belong. It’s instinct. In ancient times, belonging to the tribe was a matter of survival. Inside the tribe you were protected from predators. Love and belonging is still relevant today in terms of developing a healthy sense of self, being cared for and feeling valued.
Now that I’m traveling and teaching live in-person again, my feeling of loneliness is less. Human connection, eye contact, touch, all help to fill the void with warmth and the presence of another being. I don’t have pets. But I can fully understand how a pet can fill the primal need for connection.
Like all emotions, when fully experienced, loneliness can become a doorway to the heart. Emotions are the body’s guidance system. Loneliness indicates to me that I need human connection. Although I’m not perfect at this, instead of stewing and wallowing in my loneliness, I usually choose to love myself. That can take the form of getting outside and exercising or calling a friend and having a conversation. Usually after a few minutes of taking care of myself, the feeling of loneliness dissipates.