THE GURU NEXT DOOR
One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do. Do you buy that old Three Dog Night lyric? Most of us love being alone on occasion, as long as we feel we're choosing it – as long as it's as temporary as we want it to be.
But when we are alone when we don't want to be, or more often than we want to be or too long in our opinion, we no longer think of ourselves as "alone" – we brand ourselves as "lonely."
What is lonely really? Loneliness is when the state of being alone – which can be a completely benign state of being – becomes a place of sadness, exclusion, disappointment.With so many lonely people in the world, isn't it time to ask – does it have to be that way? Is it possible to be alone and not be lonely? When we look around us and see only that the world is a paired-off place – when we find ourselves watching television with the dog on New Year's Eve (my favorite thing) – when we are the only solo person at a family gathering or neighborhood party – do we have to feel lonely?
Is there something inherent in the state of being alone that affects our thinking and make us feel bad?
On the eve of the new year, at the height of togetherness time, when loneliness is probably at an all-time high, I would like to invite everyone who is alone and feeling lonely to stand up for a new idea. That loneliness, like any other emotion, is not endemic, contagious or required. That loneliness is not a given in any state of aloneness.
That being alone, like any other life circumstance, is a stage that we set with whatever trappings we may choose. We are playwright, director and actor in a work of our own creation. How will we present our story? According to what others say we must do or expect us to do? Or according to how we would truly love to live?
The question is not whether we choose to be alone or not; the question is when we are alone, how do we choose to feel? If we took a poll, we might find that most people will say we have to feel bad. Why must we believe that? Let's rise above the real or imagined stigma of aloneness and dare to be content – dare to be happy. We are alone, hear us roar – we refuse to be lonely!
The real cause of loneliness
The main factor in why we feel lonely has nothing to do with being alone, but what we believe about being alone. If you doubt this, think about all the times in your life when you were alone. What did you say about it? How you judge your aloneness has a direct effect on the extent to which you feel lonely. If you have no judgment, you feel nothing in particular about it. If you judge it as good, you feel good about it. And if you judge it as negative, you feel bad, or lonely.
For example, often we don't think much about being alone at all as we go about our daily life, commuting to work, at the gym, shopping, cruising the internet. Or we may find sometimes that we actually crave being alone if we feel we don't get enough alone time.
Ever find yourself holding your breath until the kids leave for school, when you have the house to yourself? Or looking forward to an evening alone after spending the day at work? These are circumstances where we may feel good about being alone.
On the other hand – a single person alone on a Saturday night – going to an important event on your own – being sick with no one to take care of you – if you judge these situations as bad for you, particularly bad for your happiness, how are you going to feel?
We can help ourselves immeasurably by looking at what we believe about ourselves in our loneliness. We can learn to separate the event of being alone from our own emotional reaction to it. How? By letting ourselves know what we really think about it. And making sure we like the way we think. We may not always have a choice about whether we are alone, but we always have a choice about how we think about it and as a result, how we feel about it.
What are you doing New Year's?
Feeling good about where we are is always the best thing we can do to move forward. Often people who are alone are alone for a reason. Beyond the cards that life may have dealt, there may be other emotional roadblocks to going out in the world to be with people. Are you uncomfortable going to a restaurant on your own? Do you feel anxious in a crowd? Do you feel terribly awkward alone at a party? Would you love to plunge into volunteering but feel inadequate? Would you like to go to your community's First Night Celebration but feel strange about going on your own?
Just as you can choose how you feel about being alone, you can decide how you want to feel about activities that are attractive, but scary to you. Let yourself know what you would love to do and find out why you are preventing yourself from doing it. Explore your feelings to find out exactly why you believe you'd have to feel the way you do.
Then question that belief to see if you really have a reason to continue believing it. In this way, you can take a giant step toward neutralizing fears associated with the things you are attracted to. Whatever you ultimately decide to do is not important. What is important is that you are happy and free to do whatever you want.
Turning the tables
So, what do we really want to say about our state of aloneness? We don't have to tell each other that we have to feel bad about being alone. We can help ourselves and each other to see things differently.
Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves and others; instead of giving up and giving in to feelings of sadness and alienation, follow the train of thought below to take you to a place of freedom.
- Feeling lonely is the state of being unhappy about being alone.
- What if it doesn't have to be that way?
- What if I don't have to dwell in the state of loneliness?
- Even if I have been there for a long time,
- Even if nothing changes.
- There are things I never have to say about being alone.
- I never have to say that there is something wrong with me.
- I never have to say there is something wrong with my life, wrong meaning "bad for my happiness."
- I never have to say it will always be this way.
- There are things I never have to feel about being alone.
- I don't have to feel sad, embarrassed, regretful.
- I don't have to feel anxious or abandoned.
- I don't have to feel as if there's no place in the world for me.
- I don't have to feel bad in any way.
- And if I do feel bad about being alone – If I feel lonely, unwanted, unloved, excluded – I can ask myself, why do I feel bad?
- What is there about being alone that I feel bad about?
- What am I telling myself about being alone?
- What am I saying it means about me?
- What am I scaring myself with?
- Why do I believe these things?
- What would I love to say about being alone?
- What would I love to do about it?
- What would I say to my dearest friend if they were alone?
- Can't I be that kind of friend to myself?
- Imagine if the state of aloneness were simply a time to enjoy solitude,
- A prelude to being with others.
- Be happy and do what you want next!
- Love your desire to be with others and let it take you places.
- The world is waiting for you.
- How will you connect?
New Jersey communities that have first night celebrations include Morris County, Montclair, Haddonfield, Maplewood/South Orange, Mount Holly/Burlington County, Ocean City, Ocean County (Toms River, Island Heights, Manchester, S. Toms River).