Being lonely and being alone are two different things. It is always unhealthy to be lonely, but sometimes it is healthy to be alone.
Millions and millions of people would undergo almost any torture if the suffering would alleviate this most pressing fear of being lonely. They will go to great lengths to overcome it. They will see people whom they don’t really like, make themselves subservient to people who bore them, engage in activities which they would see otherwise as a waste of time.
Moreover, they will artificially try to overcome their feeling of loneliness by watching Television, listening to the radio, playing back the tape recorder. They may finally have to resort to eavesdropping on neighbour’s quarrels.
A number of organizations try to deal with this problem, bringing people together in social settings of one kind or another. How successful they are, I do not know. What I do know is the universality of this problem. Its conquest is far more important than that of Mount Everest or any other mountain peak; its conquest is, in my opinion, far more significant than the conquests of North and South Poles, or any past, present and future conquests of outer space.
First, let us define the word itself; what does being lonely mean? Being lonely means different things to people. Many people think of being lonely as being alone, in the physical sense; if one sits alone in his room, meditating, one is therefore lonely.
I disagree with this conception, the lonely person may rarely be physically by himself; he may spend most of his time with other people; he may never know what it means to spend an evening home, reading a book, knitting, or thinking.
The problem of loneliness is not one of being alone, it is one of feeling alone. It is the feeling cut off from others, it is the horrible feeling that separates one from the others, and that other people are walking around in a world alien to oneself.
“People think being alone makes you lonely, but I don’t think that’s true. Being surrounded by the wrong people is the loneliest thing in the world.” ― Kim Culbertson
Many people have confessed that they feel most alone in large crowds of people where feelings of genuine closeness are lacking. Cocktails, noise, loud music may be an insignificant camouflage when they hide the lack of real human contact, when they obscure the human need to make a meaningful connection with other people. “It’s better to be alone than being with someone who makes you feel alone”
On the other hand, Henry David Thoreau, the great American Philosopher, is the classic example of physical solitude without tortures of loneliness. He spent long periods of time writing, thinking, enjoying his feelings of living freely. “I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude” Henry David Thoreau
Henry James, the writer is another example, who remarked that although often alone, but he didn’t feel lonely. I knew a man like this, who was living in Iceland. His companions, mostly ice, snow and barren land, but he was cheerful. There was no prisons up there in the North and the boys who committed offenses against society were put under his supervision because he put them to work on farms fifty and one hundred miles away from his cabin, but he nevertheless helped them with his kindness and by instilling in them a sense of the dignity of manual labour. Many of these boys changed in basic ways and became good members of society.
Serving humanity as he did, this man felt a sense of self-esteem, a proud connection with other people, so that he didn’t feel lonely.
He enjoyed simple activities such as smoking his pipe or reading a book; when he saw his boys, he advised them quietly and listened to their reports of progress in their work and in their feelings. When he met other people, he would tell stories and enjoy their company.
But when he was alone, even for days at a time, he was never lonely. With not one other human being in sight, he was not lonely.
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be” Anne Frank
This is the way it should be with all people. And yet, as medical progress enables people to live longer lives and the world’s population increases, the problem of loneliness is more acute.
There are three agents which help healing loneliness. Awareness, Acceptance and Compassion, and here is how it works:
Awareness: Embrace your feelings and choose to bring your awareness to your experience. It is vital, therefore, to learn to connect empathically to any painful, or unpleasant emotions such as the hollowness in your chest, the tightness in your throat, or the heaviness of your body. And if you feel an urge to cry, then allow yourself to cry freely.
Acceptance: Instead of running away from loneliness, choose to stay with it. Loneliness can cause feelings like abandonment, solitude, or isolation. Acknowledge when these emotions are triggered, and remember that they are only feelings not fact. Feelings can change quickly based on circumstances and attitudes. You may feel lonely one moment, and the next moment you may receive a phone call from a friend, relieving you from feeling lonely.
Compassion. Remind yourself that loneliness is a universal experience that affects every individual at one time or another. Being and feeling lonely is not shameful or humiliating; it is a part of everyone’s life at some point. And as you show compassion for a friend who suffers from being lonely, you would express compassion toward yourself, and toward others who may feel lonely around you.
“Pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for” Dag Hammarskjold