On My Own: Exploring Loneliness and Aloneness

“We often use spiritual practice and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, our unresolved wounds, and our personal needs.”  ~Rafia Morgan

When I remember the first time this concept of the difference between loneliness and aloneness was introduced to me and how I misunderstood it, I have to smile a bit about myself. It sounded so simple, obvious, and easy – and anyway, who wanted to feel loneliness, especially in that delightful community surrounding him? So it was easy enough to create my concept out of what I heard Osho saying. It was also not overly difficult to conveniently apply that concept (especially in relationships), while smugly parroting Osho and duping myself into believing I was living what he had said.

In retrospect it’s easy to see that I have often used borrowed spiritual wisdom to cheat more than a little bit by turning profound insights into flaccid concepts. They possibly even sounded convincing to me the first 10 times I inflicted them on someone else. Withdrawal, alienation, fear, and isolation landed better when called “being in my aloneness” or “taking my space.” My modus operandi just didn’t include loneliness, and honestly, it was easy enough to avoid feeling it.

At this point inquiring into loneliness and aloneness is very interesting, as I can see how my understanding has changed / evolved. I also see a pattern that I think many of us on a path of spiritual unfolding have: “spiritual bypassing.” I find it to be a profound insight that we often use spiritual practice and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, our unresolved wounds, and our personal needs. In other words, we attach ourselves to a spiritual concept or remembered experience and use our dubious “understanding” of that concept / experience as a substitute for continuing to go deep and discover for ourselves what the truth is. We try to trade in facing pain and discomfort for a kind of higher analgesic with seemingly minimal side effects.

However, the side effects of this are not minimal, except in the very short run, which brings us back to that old adage of “what we resist persists.” As far as I can see, it not only persists, it is amplified. I think we all probably bypass – not maliciously, with the intention to deceive, but mostly with innocent relief and enthusiasm that we have found the answer to something important and here is some evidence that we are waking up. Of course, understanding is part of the journey, and yet I have found myself at times a bit too eager to apply a borrowed understanding, or effort to repeat an experience, rather than go inside myself and inquire: “How does it really work inside of me. What is happening right now? What is the truth right now?”

I think most of us have moments of Freedom and release from the shell of our personality – whether that is by Grace or as a part of our meditation or other deep work we might be engaged in. Of course, it is natural to want to hang on to those states of liberation and unity. The absolute truth of no separation and no problems is implicit in those experiences and often gives the sense of having come all the way “Home.” It seems it is also the nature of the mind to make concepts out of our experience and devise ways to try to duplicate those experiences. When that happens we tend to take a fixed position, create beliefs, make concepts, develop a rap about it and tie ourselves down to a specific practice or platitude, rather than stay in the openness and not-knowing of questioning and inquiring.

I don’t think spiritual bypassing is something to spend any time feeling bad about. Yet I feel it is certainly worthwhile for us all to be alert for how we try to shortcut, opt for the easy way out, and dull ourselves by settling for half-baked truths while paying lip-service to worn-out spiritual concepts and beliefs, whether they are born of our own experience or come from some external source.

I believe this bypassing is even part of an unfolding process, and thus kind of intelligent in a weird sort of way. It’s just that it doesn’t work long-term. Knowing that aloneness is a spiritual bull’s-eye, and loneliness is not, doesn’t mean that I am in proximity to the aloneness of my Being. Actually, it’s likely that making a practice out of that concept means I will end up sitting in exaggerated detachment and separation, rather than aloneness.

One of Osho’s gifts to us was his inclusion of psychotherapy, of emotional opening and honesty, expressiveness, individuation, and exploration of our humanness. I always felt him urging me to find out for myself what is true and what not, and to use all the tools available. I don’t think he stopped at the realization of the Absolute, the Formless, but rather encouraged us to challenge ourselves to embody those experiences in a very human way. That is what brought me to Osho in the first place, and it is still how I understand the unfolding of my life now… May that process never end (as messy as it sometimes is)!

Even after doing a lot of therapy and meditation it took me a long time to understand that my ego or personality is basically a lonely, frustrated guy. How could it not be, as my ego by its very nature exists in separation? Which gives it a full-time job of desperately trying to fill my emptiness with some external activity, experience, person, or substance, which… doesn’t really satisfy, except to fill the time and make my body tired.

I remember the first time I caught myself at the doorstep about to dash out to do some “important” compulsive stuff, like shop or meet people or something along those lines. Then I had the thought, “Wait, what is driving me like this? What would happen if I just sat in this chair (next to the door) for the next 30 minutes before I go and not do anything, not even meditate, just sit here in the chair?”

And so I did, and slowly, slowly the restless urges to socialize, the compulsions to do something, along with the crowd of convincing thoughts that were driving me to go “out there” subsided. I noticed a different me arising, and when the 30 minutes had passed and I was still sitting there I had to laugh. I could see where I would have been, how engaged I would have been, and how busy I usually was. It was a moment of insight, realization, relief, and happiness to be right there, home and on my own – with nothing missing.

That particular practice stayed with me for some years, and in time I came to realize that the uncomfortable inner prompting to do something often had to do with a feeling of loneliness, a feeling of being incomplete and disconnected from myself.
Over the years, as I began to feel more directly the inner ache of my own longing and to learn to stay with it and feel it, I began to recognize it as a sweet kind of loneliness, like missing an old, dear friend.

I discovered that when I had the courage to stay with the loneliness, to be close to it, to feel it in my body as an event happening in the moment, to want to know and befriend it with no agenda to change it or make it different in any way, then out of the core of that lonely, barren place a relaxation would start to emerge that was free of all restless compulsions, busyness, and emotion. There was a recognition of an alone space that was actually – ironically – not alone at all, at least in the way I had previously thought of aloneness.

I started to experience that this aloneness is the place from which I can connect and, even more deeply, the place from where I am in relaxed contact with what is. Amazing to find that true contact is intrinsic to aloneness and that being alone does not literally mean being alone! It is rather Being Alone, or knowing the very nature of Being is Alone and in Contact with All. There is no particular action, doing, cave-sitting, withdrawal, renunciation, or meditation that is part of aloneness. It is a realization of Being, the feeling that my loneliness is the door to it.

I am still a social creature. I love to be close to people, to share and laugh and work and create, to explore and discover while having inner and outer adventures – and I also sometimes bypass the loneliness with silly stuff that doesn’t work, but more and more I’m on my own and comfortable in my own skin.

Thank you, Osho.

First published in Viha Connection Magazine – oshoviha.org/magazine – this here is a slightly expanded version

Rafia had the honour to work leading groups and giving individual sessions in Osho’s ashram and communities for many years. Out of that experience he has created many group processes and developed a way to work with people that is a synthesis of different Western therapy modes with Eastern meditation and spiritual wisdom.  www.pathretreats.com

Image via: Osho News

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