Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the great American romanticists and naturalists, said: “The great man is he who, in the midst of the crowd, keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
People who are lonely will often say that they feel lonely even in the midst of the crowd, so why does Emerson call “solitude” sweet? To be in a crowd, but still separate? That sounds horrible! But, if we can understand that there is a peace that can be found in solitude, or being alone, then we can be alright in any situation.
So, when I talk about peace, it’s something I can’t really explain. It’s like everything that you are finds balance suddenly. It’s like a release of negative emotions – of feeling too much, in a way. It’s what many of us are seeking, I think. Or maybe it’s just me. The feeling of peace brings me together. It makes me feel … at peace …
Finding peace in the “inner” person is hardest for me – feeling calm inside. There is so much noise in my head. So many negative thoughts. So many busy thoughts. Many of us are afraid to even stop and try to be okay on our own, especially if we are lonely. That loneliness makes us feel like we need other people – that they are the ones that can make us feel better. And that can be true. But, if we have a bad relationship with ourselves, we can’t have healthy relationships with others.
It took me a long time to realize this very important life lesson, and you can read about that in Pan Pilgrimage, a book I wrote after a road trip searching for Peter Pan, but it’s true whether I or you want to believe it or not. It’s true to a certain extent toward our relationship with a higher power as well, but if that higher power is perfect, then we can come to him for fulfillment and he can fill us. Our relationship with a perfect Being allows us to see ourselves the way a Creator sees its work – as beautiful, and with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
And though I learned this lesson to be true, putting it into practice is a daily struggle for me. But through the last few years, I have gotten better and better at it – at taking care of myself and seeing myself as worth something. This is not always easy and there are bad days and bad weeks. Which is meant to be encouraging to you. If we fail at it one day, it’s just one day. We pick it up again to re-learn the lesson and we can read posts and journal entries that we wrote down on the good days.
This process is beautiful because it is the simple process of a human being on a life-long journey to do better – not just for herself, but for others. It’s classic plot with classic conflict and this has always been what makes a good story a classic.
When I take care of myself, I am taking care of my husband, I am taking care of my family, I am taking care of my life group and my church, and I am showing a work-in-progress (a future masterpiece, if you will) to people that need to see that it’s okay not to be perfect all the time.
Even the social psychologist Cacioppo, whose life’s work has been on the study of loneliness, writes that, “If you perceive that others see you as worthless, you are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors and less likely to take care of yourself” (Cacioppo 101). People who are lonely are more prone to believe others see them in a negative light, when this is very, very rarely the case. And even someone did actually tell you that you are worthless, it is not true. It has never been true of any human being. You would never tell someone they were worthless because, not only is it mean, but everyone has worth. Worthlessness is one of the greatest lies we believe, but there is so much power in the opposite – as is usually the case with truth.
An advocate of practicing solitude, Andrew J. Bobilya, writes in “Wilderness, Solitude, and Monastic Traditions” that “a fear of loneliness is often the obstacle to committing to aloneness. Ironically, the opportunity to slow down and reflect in solitude is exactly what is needed to move beyond that fear and find internal peace” (Knapp & Smith 65). He sees being “alone” as different from feeling “lonely”. He sees it as a way to combat loneliness. I say that it’s worth a try. I want to feel good about myself – to know my worth – and to find peace with who I am and who God made me.
So here it is: Find your “inner” person & love him/her.
- Find a time of quiet.
- If you’re like me, and your life is basically all quiet all the time, then don’t always fill your days with the fluff of Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, or even just daydreaming. It’s okay for sometimes, but I’ve found that it makes me more lonely when I’m by myself and not actually spending time with myself.
- Go to a “happy place”.
- This could just be sitting anywhere – where you are right now, meditating and thinking good thoughts. It could be an actual place. In Auckland, I feel so much better when I can see the ocean. In Wichita Falls, Texas, that wasn’t really possible, so I created a happy place. I’d sit at Hastings Bookstore surrounded by coffee and books.
- Don’t focus on others.
- This is the hardest one, I think. Especially for people-pleasers. In the sermon on Sunday, our pastor, Steve, said something that really stuck out to me and made a lot of sense. He said that we should never try to be more than God created us to be. He meant it talking about the Sabbath and resting, but I think it also applies to this. We are too hard on ourselves. We want to be super-human and have everyone like us. But we are human. We need to be okay with that.
- Listen to truth rather than lies.
- It is a lie to believe you are worthless. It is a lie to believe you are ugly. It is a lie to believe that everyone hates you. It is a lie to believe that no one would miss you if you were gone. Call these for what they are. Switch them to truth and….
- Have something positive to repeat to yourself during the day.
- Say to yourself: I have worth. I am good at this, this, and this.
- Say: This person and this person love me.
- Say: I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
- Say: God, I feel this, but I know you say this.
- Find a verse of scripture or a positive quote and read it when you feel down
- Talk to yourself like you would talk to your best friend.
- My best friend told me when I was in a very bad place that I need to talk to myself and treat myself like I would talk to her. I would never be okay with her saying what I said to myself. I would never say them to my worst enemy. So why would I even think of saying them to me. This made more sense to me than anything I had thought of before, so I did it and it changed me from the inside out.
- Do something you enjoy.
- I know this is obvious and it’s something that EVERYONE puts on their blogs. I’ve always seen it as fluff that they put just to fill up a post. But, I suppose they put it because it’s true. If you’re good at something, then do it. It makes you feel good about yourself. It doesn’t matter if other people don’t enjoy it. You do and that is part of who you are – and part of what you should love about yourself.
- Imagine what it feels like to have peace.
- Somehow, when we imagine things, we can begin to believe them. If we begin to believe we have peace, then we become more centered. Aim for peace by creating peace within yourself.
- Take care of yourself TODAY. Every day.
- Cacioppo writes that their “studies showed that loneliness on a given day predicted a higher rise in cortisol the next morning” (Cacioppo 105-106). This is the stress hormone. You’ll feel better tomorrow if you don’t put off taking care of yourself today.
Practice some of these. Start off small if you have to, and I pray and believe that you can find peace being with yourself. Loneliness can be turned into healthy solitude. And, you may even find yourself enjoying it – enjoying who you are and who you have always been. You may even find yourself liking yourself. And that is powerful, indeed.
Missed something? We don’t want you to feel left out. 🙂
Check out the rest of the “Loneliness Series”:
1. Loneliness: It’s All of Us
2. Loneliness: The Problem, the Paradoxical Virus, and a Cure
3. Loneliness: Finding the “Inner” Person
4. Loneliness: Finding the “Other” Person
5. Loneliness: Finding Meaning in What you Do
6. Loneliness: For the In-Between
7. Loneliness: Understanding Loneliness in All People
8. Loneliness: Helping Others, Helping Yourself
9. Loneliness: Finding the “Upper” Person
10. Loneliness: Final Thoughts on an Un-Final Topic