ALONENESS VERSUS LONELINESS
by Dr. Lawrence Wilson
© July 2011, L.D. Wilson Consultants, Inc.
All information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.
This short article is designed to explain the difference between two very common and important states of mind. Aloneness is an awareness, posture, attitude or recognition that one is complete, whole and very connected to life, needing nothing and no one. It is usually a very pleasant or even blissful experience. It might also be described as a more yang or contracted condition, to use terms from Taoist and Chinese thought. Most people have this recognition at times, when they are just sitting looking at a sunset, perhaps, or petting a cat, or even engaged in reading a good book.
Loneliness is a somewhat opposite state, attitude or conclusion. Loneliness is a recognition or assertion that one is somehow disconnected or incomplete, and needs someone, or perhaps needs some thing in one’s life. In this sense, it is a state of suffering because one is in need of someone or something, perhaps. It may also be described as a more expanded or yin state of mind in Taoist or Chinese thought.
Most people think of being lonely in terms of needing another person, or perhaps many more people in one’s life. However, one can be lonely, for example, because there is not enough food in the refrigerator, or there is nothing to watch on television.
Loneliness can also be a remembrance of a time when you were feeling connected. This is sometimes referred to in psychology as feelings of abandonment. They can date back to being in your mother’s womb, for example.
BOTH STATES HELPFUL AND NEEDED, AT TIMES
Both conditions are part of the human experience, and one is not better than the other. There are times when a person needs to be by himself or herself, and there are times when we need company, companionship, challenges or even some distraction in order to relax fully.
Understanding when each is appropriate can be a great help for mental and spiritual development, for example, and even for a friendship or relationship of any kind.
A difference between the two is that aloneness is a pleasant feeling, while loneliness is generally a very unpleasant feeling. Once again, however, this does not mean that one is good and the other is bad.
Aloneness is somehow a state of being centered and either at rest or peace, or at least more so. Feelings associated with it include relaxation, fullness or feeling content. Loneliness is often an uncentered state, brought on or characterized by feelings of irritation, pain, sexual feelings, perhaps, negative thoughts or emotions, or other rather negative or disturbing sensations in the body.
Aloneness and loneliness can be positive, at times, or they can be improper or harmful conditions of the mind and body. Let us explore this idea in more detail.
POSITIVE ASPECTS OF ALONENESS AND LONELINESS
Positive aspects of aloneness. Aloneness is positive and good for one’s health when it makes one feel connected to the entire universe, or to nature, or even to another person. It is positive when it is a state of connectedness, in other words.
Ideally, the state of aloneness also can help one interact with others. In fact, it is almost essential for a healthful, non-co-dependent relationship between family members, men and women, and others. It allows one to not cling, not grovel, and not to hang on to others in a co-dependent way. Instead, one can just enjoy the other because one basically feels complete within.
A state or attitude of aloneness can also help one enjoy all things in life, from money to houses to cars, to food and even sex. The reason is the same as the paragraph above. One feels basically complete, so the “addition” of money, cars, houses, jobs, etc. is fine, but one is not dependent psychologically upon them. This usually allows one to use these things in a more measured, moderate and non-codependent way.
Positive aspects of loneliness. Loneliness can direct a person to seek out a companion, or perhaps a job, or perhaps a career or something else useful. It could even just lead one to clean up the house, wash the car, or fix something that needs fixing. In this case it is a recognition or attitude that one needs more in one’s life, either to do more in some way, or perhaps to be more in life.
In other words, it is a motivator to move a person out of one state of living and into another. This is the main value of the state of loneliness.
NEGATIVE ASPECTS OF ALONENESS AND LONELINESS
Negative aspects of aloneness. Aloneness can turn negative when one is so complete in oneself that one really does not want anything to do with others. One is so self-satisfied and “complete”, that he or she has no desire to interact with others.
These people might be called loners. They have learned how to enjoy their own company and their self-contained lives so much that other people, new places, new ideas, and other things are not of much interest. Most are thus rather boring to be around, and really they are not interested in others, anyway.
This is not all bad, as they may just be a stage of life in which they need to be introverted, perhaps, looking at their own life and not focused outwardly. In some cases, however, it becomes pathological and neurotic or even psychotic. In fact, it is a common type of psychosis. It is also perhaps a feature of some cases of autism, catatonia, and other mental illnesses.
Arrogance. Another, more common and more serious problem with the state of aloneness in excess is that one becomes too self-satisfied, which is the same as arrogance. In other words, one takes the stance that I don’t need anyone or anything, and I know everything so I don’t need to learn, I don’t need to humble myself before God, perhaps, and I don’t need the world or anything in it. While this can be positive, it usually degenerates quickly into a kind of arrogance and ignorance of reality that leads to heinous crimes such as murder and rape. One loses touch with others, in other words, in a pathological way that separates one and usually distorts reality.
This is the danger, for example, in remaining single instead of getting married, or in working all by yourself instead of with others. It can have an insulating and isolating effect upon a person that leaves them out of touch with reality in some way. Most become fearful of “needing others” or needing the world, and have a hard time ever reconnecting at a deep level with life and the world of people and ideas.
Negative aspects of loneliness. While the state of loneliness can be a motivator to do more or be more in life, it can also just be the mind trying to escape from its negative thoughts or sensations. This is when loneliness turns destructive. Instead of dealing properly with the feelings, or another situation, the person feels driven to smoke pot, call a friend, go out to the bar or the café, take a joy ride to the store, turn on the television, or even go to work or read a good book in order to escape the loneliness.
This is extremely common in society among all groups of people, all ages, and both men and women. The loneliness state just motivates the person to look for escapes or distractions. These can range from eating when one is not hungry, having more sex than one really wants, reading too much, watching too much television, working too much, ‘hanging out’ too much with friends, traveling too much, and so on.
In other words, activities and people are not really enjoyed for their own sake, or even really felt and heard, but are instead just used as ways to escape loneliness. It is a compensatory lifestyle that is always unhealthy and out of balance. It might be called living in reaction or in distraction.
Sadly, this is how millions of people have learned to live. They are actually terrified of facing their bodily sensations, fears anger and other feelings and thoughts that arise from within the body. So they run from one job or relationship or distraction to another, from morning till night, from the time they can walk to the time they die. This usually causes extreme stress on the body, and leads to illnesses of many kind, both physical and mental. One could say it is a life of denial and escape.
To know about this possibility is extremely important, since most of us live this way to a degree, at least. Few people want to feel all their aches and pains, their mental and emotional suffering, and perhaps their spiritual lack of maturity and goodness, at times. So we all tend to distract ourselves with our families, our so-called friends, our partners, and even our jobs and everything else imaginable.
Some call this the search for love outside of oneself. Jesus is reported to have commented on this, saying “The kingdom of heaven is within. Search not for it outside of yourself”. This is the subject of books, but it is a core issue for all human beings.
A wonderful exercise, if you have not tried it, is to intentionally force yourself to be alone on a regular basis, preferably every day. It will bring up issues, feelings, negative thoughts and more. If you can learn to be comfortable with them, instead of looking for distractions and escapes, you will learn much faster and be a far more centered and grounded individual. You will also tend to be more intelligent, aware, safer, focused and effective as well. The reason is you are not living and doing out of distraction and escape, but for more conscious reasons.
A state of loneliness can also turn destructive is if it is turned inward and leads to depression and despair. Being in the state of incompleteness and suffering, one can decide that one will never find a mate, never find a job, or never feel well. This can cause one to give up hope, become despairing and even take one’s own life.
Interestingly, this, too, is a form of arrogance. After all, how do you know any of it is true. Yet people make up their minds in this way all the time, calling it humility or “realism”. The news people broadcast such nonsense all day and all night to the gullible viewers as well. Life is just a series of upsets, suffering, wars, diseases, murders, rapes, unemployment and other “failures”. Sadly, it sells newspapers and increases television ratings too often. It might be called a type of negative arrogance, although it is born of despair, and not of self-satisfaction as is too much of the state of aloneness.
Interestingly, these people also need to mix and mingle more with others in healthful and loving ways. The world is full of possible ways to do this, from simple marriage relationships to work friendships, social networking, church groups, volunteer work, and much more. However, many do not take advantage of these opportunities, instead preferring to stew in their loneliness state.
ALONENESS AND SPIRITUAL ACHIEVEMENT
For millennia, monasteries, churches, schools, and good parents often force or at least encourage their charges to spend time alone each day. This is to offset the tendency of most people to spend their lives in distraction. However, it is also necessary in order to bring up traumas and certain flaws in the personality and eliminate them.
On the other hand, some monks, meditators, and loners need exactly the opposite treatment. A good parent, teacher, or mentor also senses when a person needs more interaction, or interaction of a different kind to prevent excessive aloneness that is blocking one’s emotional, mental or spiritual development. This has not been part of the monastic life, although it should be.
TRAPS IN ALONENESS
Meditation is a form of this, as is prayer and some study. However, the problem with most prayer and study is that one becomes so caught up with the words and concepts that one still does not allow the deeper feelings to arise. Instead, one drowns them in words, thoughts, analysis, projection, suppression and more.
Learning not to do this, and to just observe your thoughts and feelings, no matter how bizarre or scary they may be, is true meditation. The Roy Masters exercise, when done properly, tends to cause this to occur. It may occur less if one forces energy downward through the body, but the first stage of the exercise is just to observe the mind as one focuses on the right hand and later on both hands and both feet.
Can one be lonely or in aloneness in the presence of one’s friends or family? Definitely, yes. Aloneness and loneliness can both occur when you are around others, even lying in bed with your husband or wife. Aloneness can occur in this situation if you realize or feel you really are complete, even if this person were not there. This is not a bad thing, in fact, as it tends to improve relationships, at times, by making the partners less co-dependent and less clingy.
Loneliness is even more common when one is around certain other people who may even be one’s friends or family. It occurs because, in spite of the presence of others, one feels somehow cut off from them, not connecting well with them, or otherwise distant and separate from them. This can occur because you are not listening to them, they are not listening or understanding you, they do not like you for some reason or vice versa, or perhaps for other reasons such as the presence of a grudge or resentment on someone’s part that keeps you apart.
MEN AND WOMEN, AND ALONENESS
Women are somewhat more prone to loneliness, while men tend to be more prone to a state of aloneness. This may have to do with many factors. Women tend to be more social than men. Women have more copper in their bodies, which is a social type of mineral, while men have more zinc, which is less social. Other reasons are possible as well, having to do with our anatomy, physiology and psychology.
LIVING AND EATING DIFFERENTLY, FASTING AND OTHER DISCIPLINES AS A WAY TO PROVOKE ALONENESS OR LONELINESS
For many years, religions, monasteries, ashrams and other religious and spiritual organizations have use disciplines, different diets, fasting, praying, chanting and other methods to induce a state of aloneness and perhaps loneliness in their congregants or members.
This is done for mental and spiritual development. It helps one detach from everyday living, which is often an escape from feelings related to loneliness, for example. This is important to understand because a nutritional balancing program has aspects of this in it as well. Many clients complain that they feel so disconnected from their friends or even their families because of their different diet, need to go to bed early and get more rest and sleep, the need to eat special foods and do coffee enemas, and more.
However, it is possible that these disciplines and dietary restrictions, far from harming one, actually facilitate development by causing a state of loneliness and eventually a state of aloneness that is necessary to move along faster in one’s mental and spiritual development.