Loneliness is not something we enjoy. Nor do we attempt to live with it and make use of it – most likely because in the loneliness, we feel pain. If we feel pain, but can’t cure the loneliness – we often then reach for those things that numb us. But making use of your loneliness is, or can be, a gift. I started reading Andrew McCarthy’s autobiography, Brat, this weekend. There’s a line in it that stuck with me. He writes, “The travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux has written about the ‘lucidity of loneliness’ and how it is indispensable in order to experience certain things deeply.”‘
The “lucidity of loneliness,” is a beautiful phrase. Lucidity is clearness of thought or style. But the Oxford Languages definition (Dear Biola Professors, I do hereby humbly ask for forgiveness for quoting from a dictionary) appeals to me even more. It uses the words brightness & luminosity to describe lucidity. I love that. The brightness and luminosity of loneliness. Hmm, how can the lonely places lead to brightness and luminosity in our lives? For most of us – we don’t like loneliness. Or the quiet. We tend to fill our lives with busy, constant running and activity. For those of us who live alone, there can be a tendency to fight against this loneliness. I know, because at so many times in my life, I’ve tried to do this myself.
The last thing we think, particularly when we long for community, relationships, family, etc., is to view loneliness as leading to clearness of thought or brightness and luminosity. Buddhists, though I am far from one or an expert in any sense of the word, teach about different types of loneliness and the way that it can be useful to us. I get this more and more all of the time. As a writer, I think it’s particularly important. It’s nearly impossible for me to write well, without some familiarity with loneliness.
But, that doesn’t always feel so good. There’s a temptation, particularly when we are going through hard things to numb it, quiet it, hide it, or fill the void and loneliness with activity, noise, etc. In the loneliness, when we don’t numb it or try to fill the space with something/anything – we feel. And feeling is often the exact opposite of what we want when life just . . . hurts.
The wound is the place where the Light enters you. – Rumi
For many, many months in 2019, it seemed as though my home was under siege. It got worse as the year dragged on. By summer, I was no longer safe in my own home. I’d packed away and hidden my most precious belongings so they wouldn’t be destroyed. And for hours on end on more nights than I care to remember, my home – walls and doors in particular – were ruined and I lived in constant fear.
When it all ended in August of 2019, I didn’t want to feel. In that space, in the pain – I tried to numb it. I was in some of the worst pain I’d ever experienced. I was heartbroken, alone, and in a house that was a constant reminder of some of the worst days of my life. I wanted it to stop – all of it. So, I kept searching for anything to fill it. I drank more than I ever had before. I gained weight. My health suffered. I searched for anything – anything at all – to change my circumstances. I couldn’t face the loneliness and pain.
I came upon a job opening at an event venue and went for it. I got the job as the Venue Manager/Event Manager. The place is a dream. It’s incredibly beautiful. I was very happy, on the surface – because I knew it was what I wanted. The only problem was, the timing was all wrong. The job filled my days and months until January of 2020, with frenetic activity. It was the right job, at the wrong time. I’d give anything to go back to that world (but under different circumstances). Instead of living in the pain and loneliness, I shut it down completely. I mean, shut.it.down. I’d had no time to face it. I went from the most pain I’ve ever been in, to working 7 days a week. I was excelling – but dying inside.
The stress reached an explosion point as I climbed the stairs to my apartment one evening. I’d worked 7 days a week for weeks and weeks. And as I climbed my stairs, my whole body felt like it was shutting down. I couldn’t breathe and the chest pain I was experiencing was the worst I’d ever felt. I thought I was having a heart attack – at 43. I got inside and dumped all of my bags and coat just inside the door of my apartment. I contemplated calling 911. I laid down on the couch trying to decide what to do. I’ve known anxiety and panic attacks. Especially in the long months of 2019. But this seemed different. I decided then and there that if I didn’t do something drastic, I was going to die. That’s literally what I felt – that I was days or weeks from dying. Isn’t that nuts? I quit that job. But I still didn’t get into and dig deep enough into the pain.
So what does this have to do with loneliness? See the thing is, if I’d stayed in that loneliness for a while, letting myself feel the pain of my loss and the stress of having my physical home and well-being threatened, I think I would have reached a modicum of healing a lot sooner. And then maybe I would be ready now for the job that was the right job, at the wrong time or a healthy, beautiful relationship. The funny thing is, now I can’t move no matter how hard I try. And I’ve got even more to work through now.
When I woke up this morning, after several days of living in the hard and painful places of life, the tears always close to the surface, it became quite clear why I’m still here. I also know that I can’t and won’t push the loneliness away, anymore. It’s in this space that I take steps closer to healing and learning to take care of myself once again. For the first time in ages, I walked with the dog (like exercise walk), read, and sat in the weird & confusing feelings I have going on these days. There’s nothing earth shattering about today – except this – I’ve let myself be lonely and I’ve let myself feel the hurt, this week. And in that, I have much clearer vision now. In the lucidity of loneliness, I see what I couldn’t see in the last two years. I didn’t try to escape it, numb it, ignore it, or run from it. I sat with it and let it do its thing. And now I feel certain I am here in this place I don’t want to be, for a reason – and that is my healing and growth – in spite of the harsh conditions.
It’s hot now in the south – hot and humid. But not all that long ago, we had freezing temps at night – long past what is normal. When we have a deep frost, I cover my outdoor plants with towels or old sheets. But last winter, in the midst of more job stress, I ignored the plants on my patio. I stopped covering them in the frost. My indoor houseplants are doing awesome. But what was happening outside wasn’t pretty.
The plants started slowly dying in the harsh conditions. They weren’t cared for. At all. Every so often I’d pull a dead plant from a pot and toss it over the fence. But for the most part, I just left them there in their pots. On my patio right this very minute, are a couple of dead ferns (I kid you not) and a few other random dead plants. In several of my planters however, there are geraniums. They’re still alive. They look a little beat up. But they’re not only blooming – new, green growth is popping up on their knobby little selves, too.
The thing that really gets me about this (and yes, I’ll get back to my point) is that I bought these geraniums in the sale sections at Wal Mart and Lowe’s. I rarely buy full price plants for my patio. I usually buy what’s on sale or deeply discounted. They’re usually discounted because they’ve been scorched in the sun, overwatered, etc. I am always confident in my ability to bring them back to life. These little stinkers just do not have any desire to give up. I’ve not watered them once. They’ve lived off of the rain – which hasn’t been all that frequent to be honest. I’ve not covered them in the frost. And now that it has turned hot and humid, I’ve yet to water them.
They may not be the prettiest plants I’ve ever seen. And they surely do need help. But their determination in harsh conditions – conditions that are inhospitable and probably a little pain-inducing, are a beautiful representation of what we as humans are capable of, in the midst of our own pain and destructive circumstances.
I veered off the path a little, but it’s all tied together. We want to stop the suffering – stop the pain – stop the loneliness. We want to move on to the good stuff. We want to feel better or feel nothing. We want to prevent harsh conditions. Yet, in doing so, more often than not, we prolong our suffering. I’m not exactly saying that letting your plants suck it up is the right way to go, but clearly, my tiny geraniums lived on – blooming unexpectedly – in spite of the harshest conditions. I think there’s a beautiful lesson in this. We don’t want to face the harsh, painful things. But it’s there in that loneliness and pain, that we can be set free.
In the quiet loneliness and in this place I don’t want to be, I see now that it’s where I gain healing. And it’s now the hope I have – for the foundation of great and beautiful things ahead. Don’t shut it down, friends. Ask from it and the pain, what it has for you. Hope and healing wait for us in these harsh places.
By the way, I spent a few minutes this afternoon, cleaning these ladies up. I trimmed off the dead parts, cleared out the leaves, and watered them. They look a little better with a little care and feeding. As do all of us.