There are so many ways to describe the difference between being alone and being lonely. The duality of our personalities embraces all these feelings in many shades. Our society has relied on the word "loneliness" to express the deep pain of being alone, but at the same time, has framed as "solitude" the "glory of being alone," even if at many times hard to distinguish one from another, as described by Paul Tillich in The Eternal Now.
We might describe being alone as a physical state of being by yourself. Loneliness is about the emotional side when you are feeling disconnected from others.
One important concept to understand is that these feelings are normal and not necessarily negative. Some may find happiness in being alone, having time for ourselves, and doing the things we want to do. Other times, we feel lonely, even in relationships or with a group of friends, if we feel nobody cares.
We pride our uniqueness and valuable perception, and at the same time, we feel the sense that we can never fully share the truth of who we are. We enjoy loneliness when it brings a new breath to life, escaping from hard enough situations or relationships because it brings a feeling of survival and victory. At the same time, "it puts a special burn on sunsets and makes night air smell better," as described by Henry Rollins. In the other hand, we must watch for too much self-centered attitude that might blur our vision and point of view, bringing extreme isolation and anger.
When life beats us, throwing our minds and hearts from heaven to hell, we alter consciousness to the point of distrust. We seek those that complete what we miss because we need to read for the pleasure of another person's perception of ourselves. We jump from the naked terror of loneliness to the fleeting presence of other tongues and thoughts.
Many of us go through that process more than once—many more than once. We start a journey to the innermost core, searching for the powerful yearning for our lost self. We decide that we need the connections we thought we had but never did. We realize we wanted to mind the gap by having the relationships we had, but discover they were superficial as we strive for more.
But what are we without the beasts? Loneliness comes with life. As Thomas Merton wisely said, "Yet it is in this loneliness that the deepest activities begin. Here, you discover act without motion, labor that is profound repose, vision in obscurity, and, beyond all desire, a fulfillment whose limits extend to infinity."
In my lifetime work with military personnel who experience PTSD, it's easy to perceive that the dominant feeling on the battlefield is loneliness. It's a gift and a curse that can give impulsion to fight and defend our kin or bury the soul of one's reasons. It's cruel that fear, failure, sorrow, discouragement, and death are part of our journey, but the beauty of discovering the depth of our souls is a lifetime awakening process. This desire ends all other desires.
It takes all sorts of experience in life to realize that all the material things and ways that we try to fill ourselves aren't satisfying. We learn our roles are important, but we don't want to be defined by them. Instead, we long for more meaningful moments, relationships, and connections. Our values may shift because we are re-arranging our priorities.
Discovering itself brings discomfort because we are drawn into the unknown without knowing exactly where to go. This is a normal process that needs to be nourished and understood, so our souls can emerge. Only when we quiet our minds, our souls can speak. Only when we practice self-love, forgiveness, and compassion we start healing the wounds and impressions from our trauma and learn to enjoy our lives deliberately. Only when we commit to cultivating patience, and the spirit of curiosity, we begin to return home to ourselves.
It's the Dark Night of the Soul, a spiritual process where the seed of life is buried within the soil of suffering, as described by Dr. Zinia Pritchard and mentioned by the Spanish poet John of the Cross in the 1500s. When going through it, we realize that the birth of our true self happens when we experience suffering and discomfort that arises when we feel lost, confused, and literally in the dark. It's the time in our lives that we sense that all our ways must be improved to continue. It's the feeling that our place in the world doesn't seem to fit anymore. We must transition and transform ourselves to honor and deepen our minds, desperately attempting to create meaning around our experiences so that we can get a sense of control and familiarity back.
One of my favorite definitions comes from Gerald G. May: "For all of us, however, there are moments of dawning awareness, little cracks in our armor that reveal glimpses of our deeper longing and our true nature…We begin to see that the results of our efforts are not quite as perfect as we had hoped for. Perhaps the career we worked so hard to achieve is not as rewarding as expected. Maybe the love relationship we thought would make us complete has become timeworn and frayed. Things that gave us pleasure in the past may now seem empty".
It's a much needed process that shows that our soul is intervening to signal it's time to find our authentic selves, be true to who we are, and finally, find out who we are meant to be.
It's time you realize that this moment, which seems to be the time your life was turned upside down, and you feel the need to retreat into a cocoon because you don't understand why you're suffering so much after giving all of yourself, it's exactly the time you can start stripping away the layers that were dulling your sparkle. Those many layers that are made up of stresses of life, conditioned beliefs, resentment toward parents, traumas of childhood or adult life, or anger toward other beings who didn't treat you well. These don't define you, but help to bring into perspective that your soul requires a life of truth, and the truth is not comfortable or often socially and politically accepted.
It's a death of your old self, because all the expectations thrown at your shoulders, all the approval needed from others, and all the suffering that made you who you are, do not portray what your soul can accomplish.
Our souls have higher plans. They thirst for a deeper, meaningful, and expansive way of living. The most exquisite way that you travel life into a necessary growth.