Better Endings Story of the Week: On Feeling Alone
by Sharon Rawlette
Memoirist. Essayist. Philosopher.
I don’t care how many friends you have or how many heart-to-heart talks you manage with your loved ones, I think we all have moments when we feel alone. Moments when we’re stuck inside an emotion that we don’t see any possibility of sharing. Or when we’re thinking thoughts we have no way to convey. These are moments when we keenly feel our separateness from others, our isolation in our own heads and hearts. It can be a deeply troubling experience.
I had a moment like this a few weeks ago. I don’t remember what caused it, but I remember sitting on my bed, staring out the window at the desolate winter landscape, and starting to cry as I thought, “I feel so lonely.”
But, unlike other times I’ve felt this way, I found myself mentally replying to this statement in a kind, understanding voice that said, “Of course you do.”
“That’s the reality of physical, earthly, biological life,” I continued. ”Separation. You feel deprived of the unity that you feel when you’re in your normal spiritual state. But separation is the reason you came to Earth. To have this experience, so that later you can have the joyful, ecstatic experience of being reunited–entirely and completely–with the ones you love.”
These ideas, I’m sure, came partly from some things I’ve recently been reading: primarily, accounts of near-death experiences. But the application to the question of loneliness seemed new. I didn’t recall reading any discussions of the reasons for loneliness, but when I thought about it, it seemed obvious. The physical world, in which we are each localized to a particular body in space, is inherently a world of separation. In this world, we can’t share our thoughts and feelings with one another directly. Whether we share them through words, or through arts like music or painting, or through the sense of touch, the connection is always mediated by something. Sound waves. Skin. It’s never direct. Never literally heart to heart, or soul to soul.
And yet I’ve often felt a longing for a more direct connection. Something you might call communion. Unity. I’ve wanted to share myself, and share in others’ thoughts and feelings, without having to use words or any other hopelessly inadequate tool. And when I spoke to myself that day in the bedroom, it was like some more knowledgeable part of myself was affirming that desire. Affirming that it was natural. And that it would one day be satisfied.
I’m not interested in arguing for any particular view of spirituality or the nature of the non-physical world. What’s important to me is that a lot of people do feel this loneliness I’m talking about and desire a deeper, more intimate sort of communion with others. It seems to me that, if there is hope in this world, if there is something good and beautiful at the root of all things, then there must be the possibility of that deep communion.
The power of the idea that communion is our natural state and that it’s natural to long for it was evident in its effect on me. As soon as I said these things to myself, I felt worlds better. I had just been crying, but suddenly I leapt from the bed, filled with new energy and ready to get on with life. I realized that, in my loneliness, I’d been worried that something was wrong. That the sense of separation I felt was an indication of failure. And that it might mean I was condemned to this state of isolation forever. But then I had the realization that this sense of separation was part of a plan, and was only temporary. My true state was to be joined, heart and soul, to the other people I love. That state of communion was just being obscured for a little while, in order for me to have this experience of earthly life, with its unique opportunities. It was akin to taking a trip somewhere on your own, just to see what it’s like. You get a little homesick, sure, but you don’t let that worry you, since you know you’ll be back home before long. As soon as I thought of things in these terms, I wasn’t sad any longer.
The truth of spiritual teachings, I believe, is most clearly evidenced by their effects. They are good teachings if they bring about love, hope, and joy: the “fruits of the Spirit.” The fruit of this personal talking-to was great hope and energy. That’s why I’m inclined to believe that it points to something deeply real. That we are not meant to be alone. That moments of loneliness are just that: moments. But our eternal destiny is something much, much more.