I’ve had a few discussions with friends recently about feeling alone, or out of place. It seems to me this loneliness has a few different manifestations:
- feeling outside the outgoing, materialistic, ego-driven, cultural norms of our society
- anxiety or low self-esteem that presents itself most strongly in social situations
- a sense that one’s geographical location doesn’t really “fit” their core personality or energy
For the record, I have experienced all these forms of isolation, and they are difficult. What seems to happen is that we end up with two choices:
- assimilate to the culture we’re in and “lose ourselves”. Examples might be that we consciously and carefully rephrase something we would have said openly among like-minded people, engaging in activities to be part of a group when we know it’s “not our thing”, etc., OR,
- stand out like a sore thumb by being distinctly ourselves, thus experiencing feelings of shame that may come with odd looks or unexpected comments from others who perceive our attitudes or behaviors as “wrong”.
Option 1 doesn’t feel very good, especially for long periods of time because while we can fake it, we also know deep down when we’re not being true to ourselves. Lack of authenticity has a way of sneaking up on us, and while it may be possible for a time to stifle who we are, in the long term it’s very difficult to maintain. Living this way can really drain us of physical, mental, and emotional energy. Option 2 has the potential to feel OK, if we can get past the wanting to please others, and wanting to feel like we belong. Maybe we can even get to a place where we feel perfectly content being different, and thus sometimes alone. But connection is important too, right?
In theory, I believe the ideal situation is authenticity, but with no attachment to how others perceive us, and therefore no attachment to outward connection. Partners and children can be great examples of the first bit, especially when they leave the house wearing something you’d prefer they not display while in public! If we aren’t attached to how others perceive us, if we don’t live to seek others’ approval, we are free to be our authentic selves. OK, but then we’re back to being alone a good portion of the time. Can that be OK too? Can we let go of the idea that everyone we encounter has to like us? That’s probably possible with some work. But what if you’re in a situation or place where you feel like NO ONE likes you or gets you. (High school anyone??)
What I’ve discovered is that this sense of being a “loner” can be the impetus to reach out to people outside an immediate geographical area–e.g. to reconnect with a distant friend that would understand. Or maybe it motivates some internal exploration: an examination of the way one perceives, thinks, believes, or behaves, to see if there is any room for modification. Maybe without knowing it, us loners are causing those around us who “don’t approve” to question their own assumptions, which they may or may not be able to recognize or articulate at the time. Maybe we explore and learn which parts of ourselves are core and non-negotiable, and which others are malleable. Maybe we find just one person in this chaos that does seem to get us, so we appreciate them like mad instead of taking them for granted. Maybe by opening up, we discover that someone we hadn’t originally thought was like us is, and we gain a new friend. Maybe we discover that connection is there, but happens behind-the-scenes in a way we don’t fully acknowledge.
But let’s get back to letting go of the desire to connect. This is what inspired this post for me. Some time ago I was meditating on the light of the moon. What came out of this was always different, depending on what was happening in my life. One morning what came to me was this:
- The moon is alone, but it doesn’t mind.
- The moon is different and imperfect, and we love it anyway.
- In fact, because the moon is one-of-a-kind, we love it more. Many are inspired and encouraged by the moon’s light and energy. In all it’s phases, it watches over us, even when it’s not visible.
“Shining their light” is often something I encourage my clients to do. And they have this amazing light solely because they are different and unique. If we hide because we’re different, if we don’t embrace our personalities wherever and whenever we are (and despite who approves or does not), we lose our ability and our POWER to do what we are here to do. There have been so many people throughout history who have left indelible impressions on the world, who no doubt felt alone in their immediate circles–but they did their thing anyway. And we are all still connected to them because of what they’ve left to inspire us.
You never know who you or what will inspire just by BEING yourself, out there in the world, wherever in the world you happen to be. So get out there, and don’t be afraid to rub people the wrong way some of the time!