Sunday, July 18, 2010


I was blessed this past week to have my very good friend and college roommate, Steve, drop by for a visit. His visits occur only infrequently, unfortunately, because he and his wife live in Arizona. Which is despite the fact that the climate there is basically inhospitable for human life. What with living in a desert and all.

I'm sure they'd say the same thing about midwestern winters.

But mostly what I find myself thinking about now is the experience of loneliness. This is perhaps in part because I've been alone most of this weekend. The boys are at Meg's place. So while I've had time to get things done, it has been...alone. I went to a movie by myself, golfed by myself, cleaned up the house by myself.

Of course, loneliness is only partially related to the actual presence of isolation. I remember a profound sense of loneliness growing up in a family of six children. I remember feeling alone in school surrounded by hundreds of children. I remember feeling alone in my marriage.

Mind you, isolation doesn't help any.

But part of what I find interesting about the experience is figuring out how much is fresh and how much is a kind of emotional echo. Because I think there's some of both. There is in loneliness a sense of missing companionship...but (at least for me) there is also a sense of having always been missing companionship, a sense of having always been an outsider, a sense of never quite fitting in.

This latter part of the feeling is not so much fresh as...known. And the very fact that this feeling is so familiar tells me that this part of the experience is not really about what's happening now. It's about a thought, a belief system, an emotional pattern that I carry around inside of my head. A pattern of neurons firing that is so well tread that it occurs at the slightest provocation.

It is tempting to see it as a kind of emotional enemy, something to be defeated and overcome. But my experience tells me that creating such a battle inside your soul is not the solution. My latest project for myself is to follow what Pema Chodron talks about -- to learn to relax into such experiences, to respond to them with openness and compassion rather than tension and resentment.

Because ultimately the loneliness that is truly about this moment is manageable and can be addressed. The loneliness from the past is a part of me; it cannot be destroyed, and a battle will only turn mind mind into a war zone. Such things can only be healed.

Peace to you, my friends.