Most of life’s passions, lofty, lowly, beatific and bodily arise, I strongly believe, from unrequited loneliness.
Think art, sex, charity, religion, travel, shopping, eating. We over-indulge on some of these things, some of the time, for better … or worse. The source is often deeply hidden or cloaked as something that doesn’t seem like need.
Need, let’s face it, is effortful at best and oppressive at worst, even addicting. The desire, or at times compulsion, to engage in these passions, if taken to their deepest source, seems to derive from the desire to connect with someone or to be a part of something. A sense that your self alone is insufficient to stand alone. When you feel lonely, there is also an attendant yearning. The word itself pulls outward and is what it evokes: yearn-ing, yearning for another person, thing, happening, state of being. Yearning is an outward manifestation of loneliness.
Yet, loneliness is not a bad thing, in spite of the agonizing ache it produces. Humans are social creatures. We have a need for companionship; it’s built into our DNA. A good conversation—with provocative give and take, shared speaking and listening—can make you feel as fulfilled as you do after an edifying drama.
Good conversation can have the dynamics, sequence of action, insights and fresh understanding that comes with good theater, sometimes even more enjoyable, yielding the benefit of being uniquely original and personal.
Loneliness is also an energy. The feeling demands to be assuaged by some action. Loneliness is soothed by doing something for someone else, whether an act of kindness or writing a check. The relief following the act is real. You have connected with someone and you both know it and feel it.
Creative action assuages the yearning. Making something, putting a piece of yourself out there into the world, even if the world never sees it, is a necessity that every artist understands.
Loneliness is mollified, the ache put on hold, when you see a particular work of art that you find uplifting or profound for you personally. You bond with the maker of the image. Something similar happens when you’re enraptured by music. No wonder you want to grasp the hand of the person next to you then. For in those moments, the sense of loneliness is lost and you feel some passionate connection to something or someone, distinctly personal.
An affinity with nature can provide such a feeling of connection. But this would take a study of its own, so vast an arena it is.
In sex, you strive for a sense of bonding, one human to another, body and spirit. It happens sometimes. Sorrowfully, disappointment follows more often than not with expectations unfulfilled. Sexual appetite, beyond the short lived physical pleasure, active hormones and media titillation, is fed by a need to feel relief from stress, to feel okay in your skin, to feel whole. That’s a lot to expect.
A need for drink and going further, intoxication, assuages loneliness, but that too is short lived and shallow, and the aloneness that descends afterwards is deep and heartless. Over-eating, preceded by the manifest expectations for satisfaction that accompany the desire, leaves one lonelier than ever. The guilt and self-flagellation that accompany these excesses only adds to a sense of abandonment, the very thing you sought to escape.
As humans, we learn to seek and find bonding in other ways. And here is the good part; the reason, perhaps, that nature has formed us to be lonely creatures seeking company. We substitute culture in dozens of forms to fill the gaps. We surround ourselves with pets or possessions or achievements and conquests in unnumbered diverse forms. Think what a desert we would inhabit if those quests were not there.
Recognizing and accepting that we are lonely creatures when we are solitary is both edifying and comforting. Understanding that this is normal can help us feel better about the numbing aches, embarrassments and failures suffered in our attempts to belong. Loneliness can make us give up against the futility of ever feeling able to belong; or it can gently nudge us toward all those other wonderful things out there that simulate so effectively a sense of personal connection.