Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Ghost of loneliness

( Denim Jacket from DKNY, orange top from Forever 21 and jeans from Mango)

We’ve all experienced the feeling of loneliness.

Sometimes, when we’re around other people, all we want is to be alone — or to be left alone.

But sometimes when we actually are alone, we feel empty, or disconnected, or like we’ve been left out. Like there must be something wonderful going on somewhere, and no one bothered to invite us.

Where does that feeling come from? And, more importantly, how do we make it go away?

I have a lot of experience with being alone. I have been working in this city for almost 4 years. I live by myself. So I’ve logged a lot of alone time.

I find that when I’m alone and I’m engaged in some activity — when I’m really into it, not just going through the motions, even if that activity is as mundane as washing the dishes or laundry — then I don’t feel lonely. But if I’m sitting around, trying to figure out what to do and not feeling particularly inspired, then loneliness can creep in. Especially when I combine being alone and uninspired with the S-word: should.

The minute I start thinking things like, “It’s Saturday night. I should go out and do something,” then loneliness can get a foot in the door. And pretty soon, I find myself thinking, “I mean, really, it’s Saturday night. I should have plans. I should have something to do. Somebody should want to be with me. Maybe nobody wants to be with me. I’ve really isolated myself. I’m so alone.”

It’s amazing how fast that downward spiral can get moving and take me with it. But now I recognize that thought pattern. And I know that’s all it is: It’s just a pattern of thoughts that I’ve thought before.  Yes, it may be a familiar pattern. Yes, it may get moving really quickly because I’ve worn a groove in my brain down that path.

But I don’t have to keep thinking those thoughts. I can make a mental U-turn, or at least a detour. The key is to catch myself and realize I’ve stepped into a thought groove. Then I can simply stop and ask myself a question, like: “OK, it’s Saturday night. Do I feel like going out, or would I rather stay in?”

Giving myself a simple choice based on what feels better in the moment helps immensely. That’s because loneliness is a very disempowered feeling. By seeing that I have choices and then by making a choice, I step back into my own power.

Note that there’s no right or wrong answer to the question in this example. I can go out or stay in on a Saturday night. Either choice is just fine.

The key is to first see that it’s my decision to make, and then to tune in to how I feel when I envision myself getting ready to go out, or going to one of my favorite local restaurants and sitting at the bar, or staying in, or what-have-you.
Once I’ve made the decision to stay in or go out, I usually realize I have lots more choices. If I feel like staying in, I can invite one or more of my friends to come over, or I can choose to remain alone. Same for going out.

Interestingly, when this situation comes up in my life lately, I find that I often choose to stay in and remain alone. But because I’ve taken back my power by giving myself choices — by literally giving myself a say in the matter — I no longer feel the slightest bit lonely.

It’s a pretty neat trick, don’t you think? And it works in all kinds of icky-feeling situations.

After all, Life is good!

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