“All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”
The blessing and the curse of the human condition are the same: individuation. I am me, and you are not. You are you, and I am not. We each have our own internal life, a personal realm that is influenced and shaped by our experiences, feelings, family, and a host of other factors, but it is ours. In the words of The Truman Show, “You never had a camera in my head.” And no one ever does. In this sense, we are independent, but in this sense, we are also alone.
Loneliness is the existential condition of my generation; a loneliness that may be generated from a sense of homelessness, but I will write on that at a later date. Despite all of our social networks and socializing, I would not hesitate to say that most of us are lonely. Not lonely most of the time, perhaps, but regularly we experience feelings of loneliness, isolation, and fear, asking ourselves the questions: will I ever be loved? will I ever be accepted? will I ever belong?
There is a need to move from loneliness to solitude. The crucial difference is this: loneliness is a pit, an unwanted detachment from the rest of the world. Solitude, on the other hand, could be described as the welcoming of our natural detachment and separation from the world for a time, in order to commune with that which is closest to us: God. Now, in the Christian tradition, God is a personal, interactive God who has come to earth in the historical person of Jesus Christ, but I don’t think that we even have to be aware of that history to experience God in solitude. When faced with the awesomeness of nature, alone on the mountain, many people have experienced a worshipful solitude, the smallness and the connectedness that comes from that. Mediation can also induce similar feelings and experiences. However we do it, we need to move from loneliness to solitude, because it is only from there that we can move into true community.
Let’s say two black holes come into contact. What happens? Well, in physics, the bigger one wins, making it even bigger, sucking more and more of the universe into the nothingness that it itself is. Loneliness is like a black hole. Until we are comfortable with ourselves on our own, as individuated persons, no other persons can bring us that sense of self-establishment. We will not be open to being affected by others; we will want others in a utilitarian fashion: to make us feel less lonely. Loneliness meeting loneliness makes everyone, ultimately, more lonely.
But when solitude meets solitude, something wonderful happens. Moving from a place of love and not need, I can connect with you. Being in a place of solitude does not mean being alone, but being at one with yourself and being founded on your relation to God. This solitude is open to the world, and to the experiences of others with God. From here, we can commune, be in community, share, love, laugh, cry, and be at peace. We have moved through the black hole and come into a new universe, quite unlike the previous, because here we are individuated but we are not self-condemned to loneliness. From solitude, we can move into community. And what a place that is when it is true and alive.