July 24, 2013

Befriending Loneliness. ~ Ben Neal

“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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