Befriending Loneliness. ~ Ben Neal

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“Don’t surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,

My need of God
So absolutely

~ Hafiz

I remember the day I made peace with loneliness.

I had been living the single life for more than four years, and I was doing everything right. I had a strong meditation practice and a daily yoga routine, I studied the Tao, the Dharma, the Gita, you name it. I was enjoying my freedom and discovering inner peace. I was finding myself…

And I was fuckin’ lonely.

To get away one weekend, I went on a float trip with my best friend from out of town—and his longtime girlfriend.

Oh God, nothing makes you feel alone like being “the third wheel.” And before we even reached the campsite, I was feeling it pretty hard.

The weather was perfect. The day was clear and bright and hot; the water was cold and clean. There were hundreds of people drifting down the Niangua River, soaking up the sun and drinking too much. The whole valley echoed with laughter and merrymaking, and I managed to smile and keep up with the jokes—but inside me, darkness was festering.

Through the lens of my own depression, I saw happy couples everywhere; beautiful bikini-clad women, glistening with suntan lotion, every one with their arms wrapped around some smiling, handsome, Matthew-McConaughey-looking guy, who had no idea how lucky he was.

I drank to try and loosen up, to lighten up—but the alcohol only dragged me down all the more.

By the time we made it downriver and had taken the bus back to camp, I was practically sick with self-pity and unrequited longing. Not to mention dehydrated and totally exhausted. I quickly collapsed into a deep sleep.

When I awoke it was the middle of the night. The camp was still and quiet but for the sounds of country music from a distant stereo. My sleepiness gone, I got up and walked down to the river to reflect on the day, on the bitterness I felt.

Sitting on the sandy bank, beneath the starry sky, watching the moon’s reflection dance upon the water, listening to the call of strange wild creatures in the night; I had never felt so alone. But for once in my life, I didn’t resist.

I just let go and let myself feel lonely and forgotten, pathetic, broken and unloved.

The dull pain in the pit of my stomach became a torn-open wound, a yawning abyss. It heaved and raged like a sea of anger and bitterness; like all the sorrow of the universe had been poured into me…

I dove into this cosmic loneliness, into depths of sadness I never knew existed, and I surrendered to it.

I opened my arms to the melancholy, to the moonlight, to the murmuring water, to the fullness of this moment—all the ephemeral beauty and pain of existence.

I took it all in, and I was amazed to find that there is space enough in my heart, space enough in this moment, to allow the torture of unfulfilled longing, the pang of self-pity and the deep, heartbreaking ache of loneliness—and still be at peace.

I realized then that these feelings had nothing to do with me. Pain and loneliness are just part of existence, one of the endless ingredients that make up the human experience. I was only a witness to it. Allowing and embracing it was healing. It was beautiful.

That night I befriended loneliness. She came into my heart and whispered her secrets to my soul. She has been a friend to me ever since, a place of solace and renewal. She holds no fear for me anymore.

After all, loss and impermanence are hard, inescapable realities. There is nothing and no one in this world to cling to. In the end, we have to let it all go.

Better make peace with it now.



Hafiz poems and excerpts are from Daniel Ladinsky’s Penguin publications The Gift, Poems by Hafiz © copyright 1999, and I Heard God Laughing, Poems of Hope and Joy © copyright 1996 & 2006. Reprinted by permission of the author.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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anonymous Jan 24, 2016 9:53pm

well, what perfect timing for this article. between the full moon and being snowed in on my farm after this blizzard, add to that that my last of three jack russells-my favorite, maxi, had to be put down after 17 years last week, plus being widowed 2 years ago and 16 years before that, I tried to escape to sleep–only to be roused out of bed by my best farmer friend, who wanted to clear out my road. Snapshot: standing under the moon, talking and sharing my plight but rather matter-of-fact, void of self-pity or any choking tears. Remarkable. Acceptance. Tolerance. Grace. Embracement of life and faintly remembering in older coupled Kodak moments, saying something like, "I can handle putting the lights out". Well, I have, even more than the few mentioned. And earlier, I quickly filled it with all the flash of distraction, only to know that none of that filled my pain. So..yes, embrace the moments of standing there by yourself, alone and knowing that if yo can embrace such solitude and not fill up with self-pity, that is real. The truth is BIG TRUTH-everything ends.Life is just moments: children grow up, spouses and pets die, sometimes children die and you are left standing there thinking WTF. This I know mastering solitude, masters fear and makes you overlook any small, petty selfish whining that preoccupy most people. Amazing to be so aware.Feeling blessed that I even got to share so many forms of love..none of it ever had to happen and i do believe that the best is yet to come. know it, feel it. Wide open heart and awareness. blessings to all.

anonymous Dec 12, 2013 8:22am

Very powerful .. Thank you for sharing..

anonymous Sep 20, 2013 1:13pm

Ben. you gave voice to what I have been feeling for the past 6 months or so, but has been a veil over my heart for who knows how much longer than that. I am surrounded by and immersed in love. I have wonderful family and friends, have an amazing life and yet…..loneliness has also been my companion. I have not been in a long term relationship since being widowed nearly 15 years ago, with short term relationships and wonderful lovers since then. I am learning to sit with the emotions that arise. Your article brought all too familiar tears. Thank you, fellow Elephant Journal writer. Check out my articles if you feel so inclined. The most recent is called For The Love of Men.

anonymous Aug 23, 2013 7:49am

Your article quite literally took my breath away! In our fast-past "how ya doin'? world where everyone we encounter seems to hide behind a facade of self-assuring "doin' great", you have unflinchingly blown the pretence apart!! I felt as though I had been drifting down the river and listening to the laughter and merriment along side of you. Indeed loneliness is part of the human condition as you so honestly, openly and beautifully attest to. I would like to add to your insight…in many cases individuals experience isolation even within relationships. This can be even more painful to acknowledge, as the assumption that at least one is not alone tends to force the pain deeper underground. I hope by sharing your words, you experience a little less loneliness by uniting with the hearts of your many "soul mates".

anonymous Jul 29, 2013 8:07am

Wicked article! Poetic and very beautiful in its (and your) fragility and vulnerability. So much pragmatic and grounded wisdom here in transforming much of what we humans suffer as pain. We can never change what we won't look at and eventually embrace as the glorious range of the sometimes harsh human experience. This doesn't mean we have to like whatever it is that is causing our suffering but surrendered acceptance is a under rated and powerful tool to have in the spiritual handy(wo)man's tool box. Bravo, Ben!

anonymous Jul 27, 2013 8:30am

Your tender, compassionate nature shine so brightly and are a blessing to the world Ben. Everything is holy now.

anonymous Jul 25, 2013 7:51am

So eloquent and spot-on! Four years single myself and have been on a spiritual journey of self discovery as well. Recognizing the impermanence of heavy emotions has allowed me to embrace and sit with them, and discover a deeper level of awareness. But the day you described so well is so familiar to me, it makes me feel less…alone! Thank you for this, namaste!

    anonymous Jul 25, 2013 1:16pm

    Thank you Paul! We are united in our alone-ness (???)

    Namaste, brother.

anonymous Jul 25, 2013 7:39am

Oh, man, is this beautiful! There's something eerily comforting in these dark wells of sorrow. It's like the twin sister to those other giddy and joyful moments, and in each extreme peak and valley you come to realize that neither is real, but that both are even more magnified in height and breadth by the existence of the other. (And I loved the usage of that Hafiz poem at the beginning.)

Stunningly beautiful piece.

    anonymous Jul 25, 2013 1:14pm

    Thank you Jennifer!

    I owe much to Brianna, Bryonie, Sara and my fellow elepprentices (you know who you are!) who critiqued this article before it's publication. They gave me some great pointers and really helped flesh out the final product. I am so grateful.

anonymous Jul 24, 2013 7:40pm

I had to sign up just to reply to this article. Just great! I'm old enough now to have known loneliness, grinding loneliness. It has driven me to much surrender and enlightened moments. Mother Teresa said basically that suffering was a blessing. If you care about enlightenment (whatever that is) then she is correct.

    anonymous Jul 24, 2013 8:29pm

    Amen, falconbrother! Suffering is grace; a fire that burns away our pride and pretense. Enlightenment is the ultimate pain, the ultimate loss, death of the self. What's after that? What lies beyond? Who can say?

anonymous Jul 24, 2013 5:49pm

I consider myself a lonely seeker of the meaning of loneliness. You ensconced in this article the tender heart of the matter. Hafiz's lines "Let it cut more deep. Let it ferment and season you" were a little a-ha moment for me. A signpost in my spiritual journey. Thank you.

    anonymous Jul 24, 2013 8:23pm

    Hafiz is a true master… his verses take me to a place beyond time, where paradox dissolves into laughter. Thanks for your comment, my friend.

anonymous Jul 24, 2013 2:01pm

'One of the ingredients of human existence'. Loved reading it, Ben! How often do we wish we could avoid loneliness – even those of us who love being alone 🙂

    anonymous Jul 24, 2013 8:13pm

    Thank you Freya! It is both personal and universal, this longing pain… both bitter and sweet.

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Ben Neal

Ben Neal is a father, a musician, a mystic poet and lover of Zen. He lives with his beloved in Kansas City MO, writing and teaching meditation and experiential spirituality, tending his garden, raising his son and riding the wave of global Awakening. He loves to have passionate philosophical discussions on the nature of ultimate reality over hand crafted Belgian-style ale. He aims to suck the marrow out of life, and infect the world with unbounded Love and Freedom. Connect with him on Facebook or on his blog.