I am lonely. Often. By choice. That’s right. I said by choice. Sometimes it’s almost too painful to tolerate. I do more than tolerate it, however: I nurture it; I welcome it. I used to run away from my loneliness, as if it was a demon trying to attack me. I would deny it, as if it was a source of shame, of repulsion or revulsion. Once I even tried to shove it into a little-used sock that I stuffed at the bottom left-hand corner of my dresser drawer, as if it would go away forever when neglected and forgotten. Have you ever tried that trick with a physical wound? I have.
Once, when gardening without gloves, I got a pretty nasty dirt-infested splinter inside my thumbnail and I figured washing it and treating it with antibacterial ointment would be enough; that it would work its way out over time. Unfortunately, it didn’t. It turned into a festering, painful bacterial infection and my thumb swelled up to about twice its normal size. Man, that hurt. And I certainly couldn’t hide or ignore it. Neglected feelings have a way of doing that, too, of breaking through and making themselves very obvious the more we wish them away.
Once upon a time, not that long ago, after my divorce, I would seek out people and experiences to help distract me from my loneliness. I was taught, as I believe many of us are, that loneliness is a pathology, an illness, even a contagious disease, and most definitely something to be cured. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. In my life, the most profound, lasting lessons have been learned the hard way, and learning that loneliness is to be cherished, not reviled, is one of those lessons.
My learned aversion to the very natural and human state of loneliness caused me to put blinders on. While avoiding the rich darkness of the depths, and because of this avoidance, my priorities fell out of sync with my highest, truest nature. Consequently, I sought out relationships with men who did not value me, and put a good deal of energy into friendships with women who didn’t give that energy back. I spent a lot of time spinning in the vicious cycle of seeking fulfillment from the outer, material world (always a snare) and expended far too much of my precious vitality attempting to fill a void; a void that, once I quieted my mind enough to sense the promptings of my soul, has since become one of my most profound teachers.
By embracing my loneliness, I believe I may have found the path, or a path, to freedom. Freedom from the compulsive acts of trying to outrun, hide from, or deny, my loneliness. Those compulsive acts consumed far too much time, energy, money, and an awful lot of my tender heart. But then again, I am a lessons-learned-the-hard-way kind of person, and I am grateful to be where I am, regardless of the path it took for me to arrive here.
Loneliness is now an integral part of who I am. In fact, I believe it is an integral part of each and every one of us, and that, once we come to accept it, we can be still, look each other in the eyes, and meet heart to heart, free of the layers of pretensions so many of us work so hard to build up and maintain. Now what I crave is the richness of human interaction, not the distraction of the next-best-thing my mind finds to grasp onto.
My divorce broke my heart. And today, as the late poet and potter M.C. Richards once said, “My heart is broken…..open.”
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