Have you ever joined a group or talked to people because you were lonely? For example, many of us feel uncomfortable eating alone in the dining commons, so we invite people that we do not really know to accompany us. Others join clubs or Greek life for a sense of companionship.
Why are we so lonely? Upon coming to college, many of us feel lonely as we are away from the love of our families. Those who, like me, were rejected by peers in grade school suffer even more. We often find that minor acquaintances only make us miss home and those who love us.
Loneliness is a mental state, not an external circumstance. For example, we can be in a crowd, but feel lonely. On the other hand, we can be alone in the Arboretum yet not feel lonely. Being alone is not the same as being lonely.
We feel lonely when we cannot connect to others by sharing ourselves. However, loneliness is not a weak or a shameful trait. Even the greatest souls feel it. While on the cross, Jesus cried, “Lord, Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?” Loneliness is a necessary part of the human experience, driving us to incredible good or incredible despair. For some, loneliness drives introspection and self-discovery. In this silence, some achieve enlightenment. Others, however, cannot take it and fall into deep despair.
If we cannot handle being alone, often due to worries, we seek out others to distract ourselves. Unfortunately, many of us do not find the right people. Out of desperation, we often associate ourselves with negative or highly stressed people who are just as desperate as we are. This sad environment drains us. Here is an email from a real student about this phenomenon:
“I have been struggling very hard lately. I have been making myself miserable. I am in a sorority and I don’t want to be in it. I have been doing it because I am afraid I won’t have friends if I drop out of it. I also have felt pressure from my mom and other people to stay a part of it. I know that this is not giving me inner peace. […] I need to do what I feel right in my heart. I think it may be scary to let go and venture into the unknown. I also think it may be very freeing. I need to develop the courage to stand alone and do what I believe will bring me that inner peace.”
Many times, the companion is a boy/girlfriend. Both sides are desperately looking for someone else to give them love, just like beggars. However, beggars on the street know they cannot get anything by begging from another beggar! We, unfortunately, often do not realize this and instead distract ourselves with what we can give, sex. These “relationships” often violently break up when one person realizes the other cannot give unconditional love, which often leaves emotional scars that last forever.
Instead, we should make real connections by spending time with those who share our ideas and values, those we can share our fears, stresses and joys with. These people are around us; we only need to become aware. For example, many clubs, research labs and gatherings are filled with positive energy. These events can be recognized by their members’ enthusiasm, openness and honesty. These are real friends; friends who will support us unconditionally no matter what we do. Being in a positive, loving environment uplifts us and gives us strength to love others.
Across the world, millions of people have pets to uplift them. Pets love unconditionally; they are always there for us no matter what we do. Their companionship uplifts us and gives us strength. Even a “minor” pet like a hamster or rat gives us something to love and to love us.
Spending time in a positive environment gives us the courage to be alone. By spending time in silence, we become comfortable with whom we are and thus gain self-esteem. While it may be scary to be alone in silence at first, it will become easier with practice. Do not fight your fear; that is like invading a hostile country. The invasion unites the enemy and gives it courage. Instead, refuse to attend to your fears; when they come, let them go. This approach is like besieging a city by starving it, which leads to a rapid, bloodless surrender.
The goal is to be comfortable with yourself and thus not require others for happiness. Anyone can leave you at any moment, but you will always have yourself. If all you need to be happy is yourself, you will always be happy.
To break the walls of isolation, share your experiences with loneliness with WILLIAM CONNER at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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