He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Love it to Death: The Gift of Loneliness

I was not often alone as a child, and I was rarely lonely.  My life was full of the laughter, the love, and the hurts associated with family life.  That filling of my life with the presence of family prevented me from ever facing the deeper pangs of loneliness, of confronting the sense that I was lacking something so profound that its absence could not be ignored.

It was more common for me to be alone as a teenager, and I was often lonely.  The inconsolable loneliness of an introverted teenager can be difficult to describe because the emotional states are of such great height and depth at that age, and they are so reluctant to share them and thereby ease the burden of carrying their experiences.  So many things are being felt for the very first time during that stage of life, and the lack of experience makes those feelings loom large like the darkest storm clouds or the most brilliant sunset in a way that adults who have been through those feelings many times no longer experience them.

The teenager often feels a keen need for acceptance and does not yet know what true acceptance is because of the lack of experience, and so they both have great difficulty finding it and feel its lack deeply.  Loneliness is often experienced as a curse, an unfair withholding of those presences and relationships which hold at bay the pain of solitude.  For the person who is not yet at peace with himself or herself, who has not yet learned to accept the totality of their existence as good, to be alone is to inevitably gaze upon the light of their being and see all the darkness surrounding it.

The one who is never alone without being accompanied by the misery of loneliness has not yet discovered the deepest loneliness, free of misery's loving company.  Part of the journey of adulthood is entering into pure loneliness into which no one can follow, not even the voices in our heads that echo the demands of our parents, the accusations of our peers, and the cries of our children.

I am often alone as an adult, and I no longer feel the pain that once accompanied loneliness.  I enjoy my daily respite from the business of life so that I can spend quality time practicing the love of life.  My time is filled by creating gifts for others, praying for others, edifying myself, and generally taking care of my soul that it might be strong enough to lift up the souls of others.  My time alone has transformed from an onerous burden on my ego to a joyful gift for myself and others.

Of course, my peace with being alone would not be possible without having accepted the gift of loneliness.  If I still saw being alone as a curse to be escaped by diving into a world of fantasy and games, retreating into a haze of numbing alcohol, or falling into the emptiness granted by Zen meditation, then I could not accept the great gift of loneliness.  If I still avoided loneliness, I could never have made the journey through the desert for 40 days, following my Lord in accepting the gift of loneliness.

It was in venturing alone into a barren land that Jesus was able to confront the temptations of life directly, facing the ego which asks us to be enslaved to the whims of the body, which asks us to take power over others rather than lifting them up, which asks us to embrace our pride and insist that God do as we will rather than having it be done to us according to His will.  In the same way, it is in venturing into the barren land of loneliness that we are able to confront the temptations of our life directly.

It is in accepting the gift of loneliness that we learn to accept the desires of the ego without giving in to them in the moments in which we do not have the closeness of our friends and family to distract us from them.  It is in accepting the gift of loneliness that we learn to practice using our bodies and minds to create good things for others, thereby holding them in our hearts even when they are far from our bodies.

It is in accepting the gift of loneliness that we learn to relinquish the power and control we seek for ourselves, allowing His power to be sufficient for us.  It is in accepting the gift of loneliness that we learn that God wills something greater for us, a closeness with Him which is so pervasive that it cannot exist when we do not leave ample time to be alone with Him alone.  It is in accepting the gift of loneliness that we learn to humbly stand aside, letting go of our attempts to fill our lives with good things, and letting God fill our lives with even greater things than we could imagine.

The gift of loneliness is that we have the opportunity to look deeply into ourselves and find the emptiness that was once filled with human love, waiting in stillness as God fills that emptiness with divine love as we seek Him in the silence.  The gift of loneliness is that we make the newfound space in our lives a space in which all that is good, true, and beautiful lifts our hearts to Him who is alone capable of filling our lives to overflowing.

The gift of loneliness is that it allows us to see that our being is lacking everything when we are alone, and that God gives us everything when we are alone, pouring Himself into our lives in each moment in which we can discipline ourselves to stop seeking anything else.  The gift of loneliness is that our prayer to God can truly become, with much practice, unimpeded by the mad scramble to meet the desires of our bodies, minds, and hearts which so pervades our lives; our prayer is transformed into a prayer of perfect love which looks neither to the right nor the left, but only toward the Beloved.

In diving deep into the ocean of loneliness, we learn gradually and painfully that it is the ocean of love, that the pain of loneliness is that we are distant from the presence of human love and have nothing to shield us from the fire and light of His glory as it shines upon our being even in the darkest depths of our souls.  In loneliness, we love to death all those parts of us which stand between us and our Beloved even when we are alone, allowing His love to burn the darkness between us away so that we might never be lonely again.

It is only in loneliness that we learn how far we are from being alone, and it is only the lonely who find that the gift of loneliness is to show us the final end of loneliness.

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