Making Use of Your Loneliness

loneliness, making use of your loneliness, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos

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.

geraniums, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos

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.

geraniums, elaina m. avalos

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.



Hope, Faith, & Ho’oponopono

viktor frankl, stimulus quote, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos

When I posted on Monday, I was a little down in the dumps. My heart is a little beat up and on top of it all, Tuesday morning, I took an early morning phone call, while getting ready for work. A former colleague has passed away. I felt like a zombie all day Tuesday. I made stupid mistakes, I was all over the place. Tuesday afternoon, I took the dog to the vet. She’s got some powerful meds to help get her through an infection and some inflammation. I hope this will put her on the right track. But she’s “old” and I worry about losing her. By last night, I just wasn’t okay. It has been one thing after another, you know?

The thing about this former colleague is that it not only broke my heart – but it drove home – how short our time on earth, actually is. It is just a mere blip. I just saw this person a few weeks ago at work. Initially, I felt a weight in the grief of it all. I had a good long cry last night. But as this loss settles in, I think it’s a far more powerful tribute to the impact this person made in my professional community, to doggedly live this wild life I know is waiting for me. Maybe the word, wild throws you off. I’ll have to write about that someday. But one of the things I mean by that is that I want to live counter to a culture that celebrates things and titles and live in the moment tasting and experiencing life and all it offers us. There’s a richness and beauty to life, but it’s often lost in the pursuit of everything else. But it’s not just that! I think we often lose out on the life we are meant to live – the life we want to live – as these painful moments rear their head, because we won’t face them.

The temptation for me & I’m sure for many others, is to shrink back in our moments of loss, pain, grief, etc. But I’ve decided this is exactly when I need to turn the dial up on my commitment to myself to chase dreams and live fully – each day. What I’m now learning (and leaning to accept) is that I can’t get there without facing the losses, pain, and grief. My words for 2021 were hope & faith. In these moments when I most want to pull the cover over my head and escape the sadness of it all, I’d rather choose hope and faith. I love joy. I love the simple things in life. In the weight of loss, it’s easy to lose track of that. I’m choosing hope & faith – against appearances. But I can’t get there without first facing the other stuff, head on.

In a slightly related and possibly also unrelated note (I’m sure that makes perfect sense to everyone), I read an article yesterday, on Elephant Journal, about the concept of HO’OPONOPONO. The article on Elephant Journal doesn’t do the concept justice – in my opinion. But I’m so glad I saw it. That article led me to do some more reading and then I found this article & video. I found it far more helpful. It’s essentially an ancient Hawaiian practice used to resolve conflicts within family units. But was used later by a therapist Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len and others.

The thing about HO’OPONOPONO, in what I’ve read so far, is that I think its beauty and the healing concepts, come – as you choose acceptance for what is – for wrong done to you or that you’ve done, for that matter. You’re not focusing on changing the person who has hurt you, or who you need to forgive, or the situation, for that matter. You are, however, working on your perception of the situation. The result is forgiveness, love, and comfort, too. This is all a lot to add to this post. Especially when I just read about it for the first time yesterday. But the way it ties together for me, is that my perception of what’s happening, is often what is pulling me out into the current – further from hope & faith. The balance that is gained (or I guess I should say regained) can open the door to that restoration of your hope and faith – because you’re no longer tied down by unforgiveness and the painful emotions.

I’m rambling now. The bottom line is that I’m learning all around me – from people like Brene (in this post), my therapist, and in unlikely places too – that facing the stuff head on is actually the route to hope, healing, and light in the dark places. So in this season of loss, added to the season before it, I’ve made that commitment to myself this evening. I’ll keep facing it. And through that, I’m certain I’ll get closer and closer to living this dream I’ve been chasing so long.

*The Viktor Frankl quote above was given to me today, by my therapist. It’s perfect.

And honestly, it’s kind of freeing, in my opinion.*

Self-Care Sunday

self care sunday, elaina m. avalos, elaina avalos, self compassion

I’m not sure how often I’ll make time for these posts on Sundays, but I’m working on some new aspects of self-care right now. And when I discover something that’s useful, I will share. First, I am in therapy. I think there’s goodness in therapy for many. For some reason, many of us are uncomfortable with admitting or talking about this, however. But what could be better than talking to someone about things in our lives we want to change, learn, or heal from? Both of the things I’m sharing today were suggested by my therapist. Second, when I first tried the mediation practice below, a number of months ago, I wasn’t into it. In fact, I could barely go a minute without being totally distracted. I don’t think I truly heard enough to really know whether it was a useful tool or not. So, all that to say that if you’ve wondered how meditation could help you with anxiety or anything else for that matter – give it a shot and if it doesn’t quite feel right, give it time and try again. Or maybe search for a different one.

Self-Compassion:
The concept of self-compassion honestly felt weird to me. I didn’t really get it. And the first time I tried this, I don’t think I was at a place where I understood it or even would have accepted it. But in recent weeks, some things have changed for me and for the first time, this concept of self-compassion makes sense. It doesn’t just make sense though, I feel it in my heart. I’ve seen where in my life I have been “at war” with myself and have allowed messages of unworthiness to be reiterated over and over again – but in my own thought processes – which then in turn repeats in circumstances in my life. If you find yourself noticing in your thought life that you’re super hard on yourself, expecting perfection or warring with yourself over things you can and can’t control, you may feel some release from this practice of self-compassion.

A quick note – if you are someone that is uncomfortable with meditation because your Christian worldview has led you to believe it’s not okay – I get it. But, I would say that what I’ve come to over the years is that God does use many things around us to teach, heal, and open our eyes. Where meditation or yoga or whatever, feels uncomfortable, it’s very easy to replace terms or foundations with Biblical truth. This idea of self-compassion should truly be seen from the perspective of how God views us as His children. This meditation allows us to connect with the person we truly are, absent of the constantly repeating messages of our own unworthiness. Which also means that we are seeing ourselves in our identity in Him. If you find that you’re repeating negative thought patterns that are impacting you in the day to day, give this a shot. I am honestly blown away by not only the emotion I felt through this practice, but in how at peace I felt as I acknowledged how I’m feeling about myself and then practiced a little of the compassion and grace I need (that, oh by the way, God offers me so freely).

Podcasts:

I’ve been adding podcasts to my weekly lists of to-dos. I love learning, experiencing life through other’s views, and finding ways to grow as a person. But honestly, for a long time, I’ve kind of shut off this curiosity in me. National Public Radio has always met this need for me and as I’ve been listening again to some of my favorites, it has gotten me into the habit of seeking out podcasts that meet this curiosity and desire for growth. Below are a few of the podcasts I’m listening to on a rotating basis. But for today, I wanted to share Untangle. I subscribe through my Apple podcast app – but you can find it at the link, too.

If you’re looking for some understanding about relationships, I highly recommend the February 16th episode, called “Navigating Love and Relationships Anytime” with Daphne Rose Kingma (see link for one of her many books on relationships – this one called Coming Apart: How to Heal Your Broken Heart). While I could see myself listening to this again, one of the things I took from this was being at peace with what a relationship brings to your life – even when it doesn’t last. Additionally, I learned a little about accepting a man’s ability or inability to be expressive of emotion. Good stuff.

Here are a few others I am listening to:
This American Life
The Bible Recap
Being Well
The Moth

Do you have any favorite podcasts {in the self-care or self-help genre}? What is something you have to do each week {or every day} for your own self-care?