I feel lonely a lot. Sometimes it’s just a nagging feeling, underlying all the things I’m rushing around to do. Sometimes it’s just this feeling that I could calm down, or be still if I had someone to end the day with. Someone like a husband, or a great group of friends at my favorite bar. Other times it’s more visceral, an anxious panic attack as I’m trying to fall asleep, things that start in the center part of your chest and make you curl up in a ball to try and contain.
I’ve been thinking about that loneliness a lot lately, and what it really is. I thought back to the time that I spent at Lake Superior this summer, and all other summers. I truly am in love with Lake Superior, and there is not a better place for me to sit and just be in the whole wide world. The lake is as if I have a window into God, really: beautiful and terrible, calm and also vicious, deep blue to slate grey to absolutely invisible on a foggy day. I love that place. I get that sort of stillness that I was talking about before, the stillness I think might come from being in love: with friends or in romantic love.
That stillness is a good feeling, but I also recognize that I am even more lonely there. Sometimes that loneliness hurts, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it just is. Sometimes it’s even a good thing. A sort of still knowing, waiting, maybe, awakeness.
When I was younger, and let’s be honest, on my non-clear-headed days as an adult, I thought that the cure to loneliness is clearly a romantic relationship. To fall in love. To be with someone and to be so terribly in love with them that one will never feel alone anymore. That cure-all seems to be what is offered to me by movies, by poetry, by society as a whole. I get so angry when I think that I might never have something like that. I get into ruts and I think that my track record is clearly so poor that I could never actually have a relationship that would be healthy enough to be the real love that drains loneliness away. I think that there is some magical loneliness-be-gone romance that works like a fix-all for healthy people, and that clearly I must be broken, because I haven’t happened upon that yet.
But lately I’ve been thinking different things. And it comes back to that loneliness that I feel at Lake Superior.
People in relationships are lonely too, and loneliness isn’t always all bad. And people are lonely for reasons that have nothing to do with falling in love. Relationships aren’t a magic cure all, and they definitely can be just as lonely as being single–or even more-so, depending on the quality of that relationship. Instead of being terrified that loneliness is this mark of the emotional disaster that I must be in, I’ve rethought how I think about what loneliness is. Loneliness is something that is in everyone in all different kinds of ways.
I’ve done a lot of reading on mystics in different traditions–but mostly the Sufi tradition. There is a sense that loneliness, that feeling of being separated and alone from something great–that is a mark of being aware of God, I think. It often uses the language of romantic love and romantic loneliness to describe that feeling of yearning, or connecting, or sudden overwhelming feeling that comes with reaching for God.
And we are all aware of it in one way or another. The mystics are especially attuned to it. Especially crippled (or enlightened) by it. But loneliness, I think, marks us as beings aware of God’s presence and God’s absence, of searching constantly for our origins in love. We all yearn for that, and it manifests as loneliness: as separation from the connection to humans.
I wonder, too, if God isn’t lonely for us. If perhaps the loneliness that we feel isn’t just our
yearning for God, but a part of God itself.
Perhaps to feel lonely and to rest in loneliness is not to be broken or mismatched to the world, but rather to be aware of God, to be attuned to Godly feelings: to be open to the loss that is the mind’s separation from God.
The Song of Songs uses a lot of motifs, some explicit, that go in the tradition of using love and lover imagery to describe the yearning and union with God. But it’s not just smutty union of the lovers representing human’s melding with God’s mind. It’s not just the parade of a beautiful woman, courting a man. There is a great deal of yearning, loneliness, and utter desolation there. There is a lot of confusion and loss in the narrative, even violence. It seems to say that this is the passion of love, the rage, the reality of loneliness that is implanted in each of us.
So when I consider loneliness, I want to try to be more present to it now. I try to remember that it is implanted in all of us, because we are all looking for our origins in love and companionship. That it won’t destroy me and that it’s not a bad thing, and that I can experience it and be alright. It isn’t anything to be afraid of, and it isn’t anything to brush aside as just another ache and pain. It is a feeling to pray on, maybe, or a prayer itself.
And that is how I try to keep my mind still.