You are Never Alone, Even Though You Think You Are
Loneliness is a symptom of your thinking, not the truth of you.
In 2017, my life changed dramatically. Our only daughter started college, I left my part-time job to work from home, and I found myself by myself more than at any other time in my life.
Before this stage, being alone was never a problem, mostly because it rarely happened. Between a busy career, raising a daughter, all of her activities (school, sports, etc.) and our family, being alone was usually not an option. Others came first, and I willingly played my part.
But when that busyness stopped, when the constant activity of school, work and family slowed, I had to face loneliness and discover myself. I could no longer hide behind the day’s activities to avoid being with myself. It was an unexpected obstacle in the road of self-employment and WFH.
Thank goodness I learned how to meet loneliness with kindness, compassion, and mindfulness, because who knew the world would turn sideways in 2020?
Outside-in Living Doesn’t Fix Loneliness.
The dogs have their routine (sleeping, stretching around noon as they get ready for their walk, then more sleeping until dinner). The mailman’s arrive is predictable. Unless I receive a package from Amazon or a solicitor doesn’t see my “No Solicitation” sign, my home can feel like a museum — hushed and tomb like.
At first, I was rattled by the silence and isolation. When a neighbor walked by my study, I am ashamed to say I would run out the front door just to have a conversation. Realizing that I couldn’t tackle my friends to fill up a perceived need in my own psyche, I looked for alternatives.
The gym was a great place to be part of something bigger. I became fitter, but it was still outer activity that distracted me. Attending networking lunches was great, but everyone seemed to be listening for when they were about to speak.
I stopped looking to the outside world to fill the void. Instead, I turned inward and loneliness found a home.
Mindfulness and Meditation Changed Me
About this time, I discovered mindfulness and meditation.
I began noticing that what I experienced was directly attributable to what I was thinking. When I learned to pause and step away from my chaotic or disaster-oriented thoughts, I discovered something about myself that I have carried with me ever since.
I am not my thoughts. I am the creator of my thoughts.
If I am not my thoughts and I create them, that means I can also change my thoughts! It’s true for every human who has ever walked the planet, but we don’t see it because we believe our thoughts.
The other truth I learned is that my feelings and emotions are not always trustworthy. As I looked deeper into how I experienced my world, I discovered that when I was thinking negatively, my emotions followed. When I found the positive aspect and focused on it, my feelings lifted.
These three insights (I am not my thoughts; I am the creator of my thoughts; My emotions are the effect of my thoughts;) became the tools I used to shift my experience from loneliness and separation to wholeness and connection.
Brene Brown describes it as “wholehearted living:”
Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.’ It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.’
When I stopped judging my efforts as unworthy and began shifting my thoughts to wholeness, the experience of my life changed drastically. I could relish the time freedom to stop work and meet a friend for lunch, or to take an impromptu trip without feeling guilty.
The key was to recognize when I was triggered by a negative thought and step into my wholeness, using mindfulness tools.
The Most Useful Mindfulness Tool in the World
Mindfulness is the simple act of paying attention to what you are experiencing, without judgment, criticism, or filters. I think of it as when I separate from my thoughts and I am present to the experience.
Remember a time when you were angry. What did you feel in your body? Your breath probably shortened, your heart beat faster, and your vision narrowed. Essentially, your body was telling you that you believed a thought that caused anger.
Based on my personal experience, I have found the following sequence to be true:
When I think a positive or negative thought long enough to feel an emotion, my body responds and it directs my behavior. I lived this way, unconsciously, for many years, until the curtain was pulled back.
And that is when I realized that I am not my thoughts — I am the creator of my thoughts.
The most useful mindfulness tool that I now use with regularity is a breathing technique from Davidji, a wonderful meditation teacher, guide and all around sage. It’s called “16 Seconds” and it can be done anywhere, anytime, and for any reason.
o Breath in slowly, counting to 4 seconds.
o Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
o Exhale slowly, counting to 4 seconds.
o Hold your breath out for 4 seconds.
Davidji suggests using 16 seconds as a pattern interrupt for when your body has been triggered. As you focus on each step, your mind turns away from the thought and the deep breathing calms your autonomic nervous system and releases you from the stress hormones.
You just practiced mindfulness (and you didn’t even know it). Congratulations!
Bringing it Home
As I welcomed time with myself, my fear of being alone has disappeared. I am living “wholehearted,” as described by Brene Brown. Living from a place of worthiness and acceptance — of myself and my place in the world.
Having met myself, I got to know my Self - the part of me who knows infinite love, eternal peace, and unbounded joy. As long as we are connected and in a healthy relationship, I am never alone.
I discovered the astonishing light of my being, and that changed everything.
My experience of loneliness shifted because I no longer believed the thought. Instead, I now know that I am worthy, whole, and wholehearted, living from the inside-out.
One way to experience your Self is through meditation. I created a short, guided meditation called, “The Astonishing Light of Your Being.” Listen and please let me know your experience.