From Loneliness to Solitude

The experience of being by yourself can feel painfully lonely or create nourishing, meaningful solitude. In loneliness, you may feel alone and without a deep connection to the god of your understanding, to the Beloved, or to your higher self. You can also feel like a child who lacks a deep attachment to a loving parent. You may feel like a small child who is crying within you and in need of being held. If you lack an adequate connection to your compassionate adult self, you cannot care for your lonely inner child. The loneliness can thus become overwhelming and intolerable.

 Our extroverted culture encourages us to get rid of our lonely feelings without trying to understand them or replacing solitude with unhealthy activities like drinking, using recreational drugs, or shopping. You may be longing for someone to come into your life and rescue you from your isolation, but too many people get into unhealthy relationships as a desperate way to not feel alone. You might experience yourself as empty and void of vitality. You’re suffering, and you may not be willing or able to cope with your loneliness.

 Everyone has a need for a reliable connection to someone, and when that connection is missing, we feel alone. When you find yourself caught in the pain of loneliness, it’s important not to judge your experience or compare yourself to others who seem happier. Being ashamed of being alone may only make you feel worse.

 Loneliness can become the doorway to a profound experience of solitude. Having compassion and empathy for life’s challenges is an important step toward understanding them and transforming your negative loneliness to positive solitude. This transformation requires you to ask yourself, “What does it mean to me to be alone?” How you define your experience of being by yourself can lead you to both positive and negative emotions. For example, if you believe that being alone means you are not a loveable person, then loneliness can feel humiliating.

 You can embrace being alone as a part of life and work on redefining it. Writing about your loneliness in a journal in the moment of your loneliness can bring consciousness to your experience. When you are consciously working with your painful emotions, including feeling alone in the moment, you are better able to tolerate them. The light of consciousness can eventually transform your painful emotions.

 To transform your loneliness to solitude, you need patience. You also need the support of a friend or guide who is mature or experienced in mining the gold that can be found in solitude. There is nothing wrong with reaching out to others and asking for support when you feel alone.

 Hiding your lonely feelings from others who are willing to be supportive is not helpful. Sometimes you may feel lost. Finding a guide to help you start your journey toward solitude is important. This journey requires psychological inner work, such as dream work, active imagination, and loving your inner child. It also requires spiritual practices such as mediation and remembrance of your Beloved (the god of one’s understanding).

 Dream work can lead you to a deeper relationship with yourself. It can open you to messages from your unconscious. As you write your dreams in a journal and make efforts to understand them, you are honoring your unconscious. Knowing yourself better can lead to your becoming your own caring friend. This can reduce loneliness. The Sufi poet Rumi inspired me to pay attention to my dreams: is Rumi.

Many wonders are manifest in sleep: in sleep the heart becomes a window. One that is awake and dreams beautiful dreams, he is the knower of God. Receive the dust of his eyes.

 Working with the power of the active imagination can also be a transformative experience as you consciously explore your inner world. You can carry on a dialogue with different parts of yourself, including your feeling of loneliness. Showing curiosity toward your feeling of loneliness and having a dialogue with it through active imagination is an important step toward creating solitude and reducing the feeling of isolation. To learn more about active imagination, I recommend a wonderful book Inner Work by Robert A. Johnson.

 Your inner child can also be a valuable healing tool because the child helps you personify your childhood feelings of loneliness. The inner child is the child you once were and which continues to live in your adult body. You might have an inner child who felt lonely and abandoned growing up. Consciously connecting with your childhood experiences of loneliness and abandonment and making emotional discoveries about them is part of the healing process. Your inner child can be helped to feel safe. The key is consistency. You need to take time and reach out to your inner child. You can meditate on the image of holding and loving the child you once were. This loving image can have a profound healing effect on your experience of loneliness. Getting in touch with painful repressed feelings is a very intense process and should be done, however, with the help of a psychotherapist or other knowledgeable healthcare provider.

 Dream work, active imagination, and loving your inner child are examples of psychological inner work that can help you grow bigger than your painful experiences of loneliness. Loneliness can be the “dark night of the soul,” and your therapeutic work becomes the torch that lights your journey home. Psychological inner work can also help you enter a vast space of solitude where you can feel a deeper connection with yourself.

 Adding a spiritual perspective to psychological work can move you to a new and higher level. It is like climbing a hill and being able to see the whole countryside. One of the spiritual traditions I am familiar with is Sufism, and I mostly speak from that tradition, but you can use whatever spiritual experience is the closet to your heart and most comfortable for you. Sufis speak of God as the Beloved. In solitude, you can find connections to something beyond yourself, to the Beloved. In solitude, you are part of the invisible community of people who are consciously alone for the purpose of spiritual enlightenment. Whatever longings or painful feelings you might have, you are able to tolerate them and not act them out. In solitude, you feel your feelings without judging them. Your adult self feels comfortable alone. This self can hold the loneliness in the heart like a small baby and feel empathy for it.

 In solitude, you can meditate and be aware of your breathing. Each breath connects you more deeply to your higher self. You have the potential to be spiritual purifier by the quality of your breath. With every breath, you practice remembrance of the Beloved. Sufis refer to this practice as Zikr. From this zone, your loving thoughts, feelings, imagination, and actions can impact the universe. In this space, you can embrace positive emotions like joy and contentment.

Like an alchemist, you can turn something like loneliness to something more like solitude. Psychological work and spiritual practices are the fire needed to transform the lead of painful loneliness to golden solitude. What deep and lasting contentment you can find in your life as you enter nourishing solitude.

© Dr. Payam Ghassemlou