There is a most bizarre word the media and the psychologists have begun to use to describe loneliness in our societies: they say it has become an epidemic. An epidemic! A description normally reserved for extremely prevalent and widespread diseases – that is what this state of mind has become.
And the statistics back it up. A third of the citizens of many civilized countries admit to suffering from extreme loneliness. And the impact on our physical health – one study reported that isolated men were 25% more likely to die than those in a relationship, and the women 33% more likely.
Why is loneliness so painful? There are many reasons – but there is one in particular I’m starting to notice. Loneliness is a curse because we don’t know who we are – and that is our basic anxiety. When you are alone, all your self knowledge, your identity, your personality – your ego begins to unravel. The deeper into your aloneness you go, the more you see all your self-knowledge as they are – false.
And it is scary – what you have known your entire life – false! It is so scary that much of our culture is based around this fear. Social clubs, associations, political parties, and even cafés – they all exist for one thing: so one can avoid being alone. And what if we are by ourselves? Then we turn to music, alcohol, the television, the Internet – all to avoid being in our own company.
But the strange thing is – losing our false identity, it is a blessing. It can be scary, yes, but when we turn around and face it – when we turn our loneliness into aloneness –that is when we begin to experience what is real.
When you are alone, everything that you have disowned, everything that you refuse to accept or acknowledge – they begin to arise. We begin to truly know ourselves, to see the genuine. And that is not something that can be told – it has to be experienced.
Comparison – the unravelling of the self
The first thing we have to know is – when we are in a crowd, we think we know who we are. You are American, Vietnamese, Indian. Why? Because you look around and there are people who look different. Everyone calls you by your name, so that is who you are. Everyone acknowledges your title, your job description – they call you Mister, Missus, Madam, Doctor, Reverend, and that is what you think you are.
You are beautiful, because those around you are ugly. You are tall, because your neighbours are short. You are poor, because they live in mansions. You are rich, because some live in cardboard boxes.
But who you are, is not any of these. As Osho said – your heart is neither European nor African, tall nor short, poor nor rich. Who you are is beyond these little labels.
And when you are completely alone, there is no one to compare to. There is no false standard to measure yourself by – and that is when all these labels and false layers start to unravel. Your identity, your very personality, begins to disappear.
And all our lives, that is who we think we are. Our identity card, our driver’s license, and our passport. Our history, our descriptions, and our reputations. Our jobs and our accomplishments. And when that falls away…some people feel it a form of death. And in a way, it is.
What is left? The genuine. I can’t describe it – I haven’t gone there yet. But the deeper I have gone, the more I realise how beautiful it is. To go completely into aloneness, to find the real – I can’t think of anything I’d want more.
So, go and be alone. Not lonely, just alone. Accept and heal whatever bubbles to the front. Throw away all your masks and your false faces. Go away from society. Stop being afraid of loneliness, and just be alone. Let it become your mirror, the perfect mirror, to see who you really are.
And one day – when you feel ready, when you can say that you have known yourself, taken delight and found Love in yourself. That is when your butterfly comes out of the chrysalis. And this process is different for everyone. How long does it take? I’ve been alone for close to a year – and there is still so much to find!
The proud and the egotistical
And comparison leads us perfectly to a question that I have been pondering for a long time: What of those who are so proud and egotistical? What is the difference between being selfish, and of being self loving?
Love for oneself, for one’s totality – the heart, body, and soul – is perhaps the biggest accomplishment one can ever achieve. Someone who has such Love becomes joyful, peaceful, and content. It is impossible for one who knows Love to be hurtful. I know a few such people – they are the most humble women and men one can ever meet.
And just as someone who loves their garden will spend hours planting roses, picking out weeds, and smelling the fragrances – so, too will such people take pleasure in who they are.
And this is the source of much confusion. There are so many people who seem to be strong, confident, but there is something wrong. You must have met such people before – outwardly strong and powerful, but when they left, they left you feeling drained or weak. What is the difference between the two?
If you look carefully, and you know what to look for, the difference is there for you to see.
I once heard: There is no neutrality in life; there is either love or hate. There is no zero in which you are simply empty. What we think of as neutrality hides a quiet contempt, a let-them-burn attitude. If you don’t love, you hate. It might be a subtle hatred or a cool dislike, but it is hatred nonetheless.
Such people exude an indistinct anger and hatred. They make themselves feel better at the expense of those they come into contact with. They have boosted themselves by trampling on you. They spit on others – “I must be higher than they are if I can spit downwards” – that is their rationale. Everything they have – all their self worth and power – is based on judgement and comparison, based on having someone underneath them!
Vanity, egotism, and pride – they all hide a subtle unhappiness, a cleverly disguised animosity. All hatred is self-hatred – and this lies hidden underneath their actions. And that is why they belittle others. Some of the overt ones rage, or yell – and it is all just an externalisation of their internal self-violence. All their strength, their confidence – just a flimsy façade.
The vain and selfish
And the second thing: their worth is based on comparison. In fact, if taken to an extreme, pride becomes a form of personality disorder – narcissism. And this is the parable that Osho used to explain perfectly. All I can do is use the same story.
The story of Narcissus is a well known one – a young man who was so beautiful that he fell in love with his own reflection in the water. And there lies the difference. A humble man falls in love with himself; a vain man falls in love with his reflection.
And in that reflection – the comparison we’ve been discussing. The psychology manuals list the traits of the personality disorder concretely: A modern day Narcissus believes he is special, that he is more beautiful than others, that he deserves more. She is arrogant; she demands attention and constant admiration. She takes advantage of others, with total disregard for their feelings.
How egotistical! And that’s exactly what it is – pride stems from the ego. Comparison strengthens it. Take them away from the crowd, give them no one to compare to, and their pride and their façade falls apart. When they have no one to trample on and sneer at, the truth is revealed, the ugliness in them arises.
I remember a few beautiful women; they spent hours on their make-up and clothes, and they constantly belittled other women. They seemed to have unshakeable self confidence – but when I got to know them better, all their insecurities – often about their looks! – rose to the fore. And it didn’t make sense initially – many women would kill to look like them, most men couldn’t take their eyes off them. Such empty egoistic pride – it doesn’t stand up to the test of aloneness.
Love is totally different. I have heard: In Love, there is no split, there is no other. The lover and the loved all melt into one. Narcissus – he was split. His object of affection wasn’t himself, it was his reflection.
Fake love rejects – when there is perceived imperfection, fake love kicks away. Real Love knows no comparison. When there is perceived imperfection, real love deepens. It holds even tighter.
Know Love – ego and pride, are the opposites of Love. Cultivate Love, and watch as they dissolve.