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Being Alone

By Sumitra Burton.  

This little word “alone” can be terrifying, perhaps second only to the word “death.” We naturally feel threatened by these ideas of being alone in life or of dying. And sometimes the sense of being alone feels worse than death. Also there can be a big difference between feeling alone and feeling lonely. Often after sitting for a while in deep rest or meditation, there’s a sense of aloneness that is very peaceful. 

And, of course, during this pandemic time for many the sense of being alone and/or lonely is greatly exaggerated. Those of us who live alone have been spending much more time by ourselves than ever before and many of us will even spend the winter holidays alone. It can be easy to sink into a space of feeling separate, alone and lost.

In more normal times I have inquired into this idea of aloneness a number of times for myself, and have facilitated sessions with others who have felt plagued by the thought of it on an ongoing basis. A sense of separation from others and from life itself can freeze us to our core, making life feel unbearable at times. We may feel exiled from life and nourishment. 

Our first strategy is often to look outside ourselves for the connection we so deeply crave. The problem with that, of course, is that the relief we find outside ourselves is temporary and dependent on others.

What’s the worst that could happen if I were truly alone? I’d have to care for myself, to find relief and connection inside myself. There would be no one to give it to me from the outside, to hold or to save me. I might feel frozen and terrified. I would have to face that gripping sense of emptiness inside myself.

Can I take a moment to feel that emptiness just now? What’s it like?

It feels like a hollow void in the center of my body – just above the belly (solar plexus area), very intense and with a strong grip. When I sit with the sensation and feel into it, images arise of past experiences of being “left alone” by others, rejected, abandoned, etc. I look at each image to see if they prove I’m alone. I can see they’re simply images from the past and hold no threat in this moment.

As I notice that sensation of the hollow void in my center just now, I say to it, Thank you for arising, I feel you; you are welcome to stay as long as you need. This helps me to relax and turn towards the sensation. Sitting a while with a sense of embracing this hollow void and allowing it to be as it is encourages it to soften a bit.

When I look at the word “alone” and listen to the sound of it spoken aloud, it seems a little less threatening now. I take a few moments to come to a sense of rest and take a few deep breaths.

I check to see if anything is left of the sensation. I say aloud, I am not alone, and check in with my body to see if there’s any resistance there, anything that seems to argue with those words. 

An image comes of me as a little child wanting to be held by my mother when she was busy doing something else. I welcome this little child to be with me in this moment, and imagine holding her on my lap, with full attention. She seems surprised to be acknowledged, and cuddles up, loving the attention. You are welcome to stay as long as you need, I tell her softly. 

How amazing to find that I can hold my own aloneness and allow it to be felt so deeply inside. “Alone” tends to melt into a feeling of “all-one.” There is no lack of connection now. Nothing else is needed than simply holding the sensation, listening to its words, and feeling deep compassion for its sense of separation or lack of connection. And in that holding and listening, real connection is experienced and the gripping sense of emptiness loosens. Nothing outside is needed after all. 

Turning towards my fear, being willing to hold it while it reveals its sorrow, feels magical. Welcoming what once seemed terrifying – to come home, to be held and heard – allows a real sense of connection. I can rest here now, with this sense of relaxed connection.

Old and more frightening experiences can certainly be more difficult to inquire into than this simple example, but the process is generally the same. There are times when it’s helpful to have a facilitator hold the space for us, while we gradually learn to inquire on our own. 

And also, it’s important to find ways during this pandemic time to connect with others in safe ways.

 

To read more about Sumitra Burton, click here.

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