The difference between loneliness and being alone

I had a beautiful conversation with a friend this morning who is going through a big life transition - leaving her relationship. We talked about the loneliness that comes up after living with someone for so long, or even when we haven't been living with some one. She said it comes up for her sometimes, and instead of running away from it, she acknowledges it. She also knows that this time on her own is extremely important for making changes in her life and in herself. 

I had a similar experience 10 years ago. It was time to move on from a relationship that wasn't right for me, moving past the fear of being "alone" in a culture and world that reveres marriage and relationships, to find who I was outside of being a couple. It was one of the greatest turning points of my life. In fact, it is what started my spiritual journey, and it is has ultimately brought me the greatest happiness I could know - within me. 

We sometimes seek relationships to hide from pain, from fear of being alone, or to find happiness and self-worth (from another person). And we stay in relationships that are not serving us for these same reasons. The fear is far greater than the potential for happiness behind it. But being alone does not have to equal loneliness. 

As I left the relationship and ventured out on my own, I discovered what I needed and wanted for myself, I found happiness within, and I learned to accept and love myself as a complete person. This was through times of self-pity, depression, and loneliness, but that was all part of the journey. What I found on my own was much greater than any relationship can give me (these things can be found within a healthy relationship as well). 

I dove into meditation, a 10 day meditation retreat, spiritual books, counseling, and journaling, and found my time alone was time for reflection, centering, grounding, and balancing. It was and continues to be an important time of each day to connect within and connect with the universe/divine/spirit/source. When we can see our time alone as time well spent, as a journey inward and outward, and through the eyes of our heart for ourselves, we no longer see it as being lonely.

(The quote above can be applied for a man as well.) Loneliness does not necessarily mean that we are without companionship; we can be lonely within a relationship - while living with the person. I experienced this in my past relationship, and what I needed was someone to share my heart with, someone whom I could connect with on a deeper level, and my partner could not be this for me. This is what loneliness means, a sadness in the heart of not having a deeper connection with others. 

If you find yourself feeling lonely, call a friend or family member, volunteer for an organization you believe in, write in your journal, do something outside that you love, go listen to some live music, or make a dinner date with someone you haven't seen for awhile. Know that other people in this world feel lonely as well, and when you reach out, you are giving of your truest nature to others - this is your life's purpose.

So take time for yourself each day to be alone, and recognize that being alone does not have to mean you are lonely - they are two different experiences. 

"Being solitary is being alone well: being alone luxuriously immersed in doings of your own choice, aware of the fullness of your won presence rather than of the absence of others. Because solitude is an achievement."
~Alice Koller 

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