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I consider myself an expert on loneliness, though I don't say that with pride or satisfaction.  That's just the way things have been for me.  Our family moved around constantly while I was young, so I spent a lot of time by myself when I wished I was with others.  Both tendencies followed me into my adult years--moving a lot and spending a lot of time alone--so I've had plenty of time to feel loneliness, ponder loneliness, and learn to dislike loneliness a great deal.

I don't regret those times at all.  Through loneliness I've learned the beauty and wealth and necessity of solitude, and I've learned to be able to do many things on my own that many people would love to be able to do.  I'm not bothered at all by sitting alone at a table in a crowded restaurant, and I'm not afraid to leave a negative situation just because I might be alone.  I never allowed myself to be dragged into a negative relationship just because I was afraid of being alone.  I never dread being alone, and I often look forward to it, for I know just how healing it can be.

I didn't marry until I was 38, either, so I had an awful lot of time to learn about loneliness.

Here's much of what I learned.  I can't tell it all because I'm not sure that I'm fully aware of all that I've learned.

My loneliness depends on my perspective.  I can be alone and be lonely, or I can be alone and enjoy the quiet time and the chance I have to reflect, meditate, be introspective.  

When I'm with myself, I can listen to whatever music I want, watch what I want on TV (or turn it off when I want), and eat whatever I feel like eating.  There was a time when I would have traded all of these freedoms for anything, but I also finally reached a point before I met my wife at which I appreciated these freedoms, and did my best to take advantage of them.  I can see being alone as lonely, or I can see being alone as enjoying solitude.  It's up to me.

Loneliness is very real.  It's a very strong feeling that can be very debilitating, and it's difficult to live with.  It affects a person to the depths of his or her being, for in loneliness one sees oneself as being rejected by other people who would rather be with someone else--anyone else, we tell ourselves.  Somehow we're unacceptable, undesirable, unlovable.  We have plenty of time to be alone to tell ourselves all these negative things about ourselves.

And how many people are afraid to leave destructive relationships or marriages because they're afraid of being alone?

In hindsight, one of the most tragic things about my loneliness was that much of it was caused by my fear of rejection.  I've learned when I was moving away or when someone else was leaving that they really wished they could have spent more time with me.  But I never picked up the phone to say "Hey, let's get together" because I was afraid that they would say no.  My loneliness was bad, but it was worse when I was spending time alone after being rejected.  But much of my loneliness, I now know, could have been averted by a simple phone call now and then.  I could have gone hiking, could have gone to movies, could have had more people over for dinner, could have done a lot of things with lots of people.  Instead, I sat home alone.

And by calling someone else, I might even have helped them feel less lonely.

Jesus went to the desert for forty days in order to be alone.  Most of our great spiritual leaders make sure that they have plenty of time in their lives to be alone.  Our time alone is very important to us--if we give it a chance and try to recognize the lessons that it's trying to teach us.  It's up to us, though, to define that time--is it loneliness, or is it solitude?  How we see it, how we treat it, and how we treat ourselves when we're with it make it what it is.

Quotations and passages on Solitude


We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned
that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.

Dorothy Day


Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.

May Sarton

The eternal quest of the individual human being
is to shatter his or her loneliness.

Norman Cousins


Our loneliness is but our fear of life.

Eugene O'Neil


The deepest need of the human being is to overcome our
separateness, to leave the prison of our loneliness.

Erich Fromm

Loneliness is black coffee and late-night television;
solitude is herb tea and soft music.

Pearl Cleage


People who like themselves and realize that they are God's creation,
are never really lonely.  It is only when we lose track of our
own value, and our personal connection with the divine, that we
are desperate for others to distract us from our loss.

Richard Nelson

The secret to overcoming a feeling of loneliness is not going outside
to meet people.  That will only keep you from being alone.  The secret
is going inside yourself, to realize your true kinship with God and
with all the human beings that he created.

Amy Grant

What should young people do with their lives today?  Many things,
obviously.  But the most daring thing is to create stable communities
in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.

Kurt Vonnegut
Palm Sunday


My life is spent in perpetual alternation between two rhythms,
the rhythm of attracting people for fear I may be lonely
and the rhythm of trying to get rid of them
because I know that I am bored.

C.E.M. Joad


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Loneliness is one of the most feared states in modern life.  Perhaps
this fear has come about because so many of us have a vague awareness
of a surging river of loneliness deep inside.  Much of our activity and
busyness is designed to keep that river within its banks.
   Maybe loneliness has received a bad rap in today's world.  Maybe
loneliness is one of the ways our inner being communicates with us,
letting us know that we need to take the time to get back in touch with
ourselves.  Could it be that the emptiness we feel in our solar plexus
(and try so hard to avoid) is a friendly reminder that something
(or someone!) has gone missing--we ourselves!
   When we are lonely, it's usually a signal that we need to spend
some time with ourselves.  The next time you get this signal,
try taking some time alone.

Anne Wilson Schaef

Loneliness is like sitting in an empty room and being aware of the space
around you.  It is a condition of separateness.  Solitude is becoming one
with the space around you.  It is a condition of union.
Loneliness is small, solitude is large.  Loneliness closes in around you;
solitude expands towards the infinite.  Loneliness has its roots in words,
in an internal conversation that nobody answers; solitude has its roots
in the great silence of eternity.
Most people fear being alone because they understand only loneliness.
Their understanding begins at the self, and they are comfortable only
as long as they are at the center of their understanding.  Solitude is
about getting the "I" out of the center of our thoughts so that other parts
of life can be experienced in their fullness.  It is about abandoning the
self as the focus of understanding, and giving ourselves over to
the great flowing fabric of the universe.

Kent Nerburn
Simple Truths

Never fear being alone, because you never are.

Rod McKuen

Loneliness can only truly be conquered
by those who appreciate solitude.


There is no loneliness if one is satisfied with oneself.

Hans-Ulrich Rieker

The worst loneliness is not to
be comfortable with yourself.

Mark Twain

Being alone is a markedly different
experience than being lonely.

Clark E. Moustakas


Art thou lonely, O my brother?
Share thy little with another!
Stretch a hand to one unfriended,
And thy loneliness is ended.

John Oxenham

Articles and book excerpts on loneliness:

To Be Long      tom walsh


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You try being alone, without any forms of distraction, and you will see how quickly you want to get away from yourself and forget what you are.  That is why this enormous structure of professional amusement, of automated distraction, is so prominent a part of what we call civilization.

If you observe, you will see that people the world over are becoming more and more distracted, increasingly sophisticated and worldly.  The multiplication of pleasures, the innumerable books that are being published, the newspaper pages filled with sporting events--surely, all these indicate that we constantly want to be amused.  Because we are inwardly empty, dull, mediocre, we use our relationships and our social reforms as a means of escaping from ourselves.

I wonder if you have noticed how lonely most people are?  And to escape from loneliness we run to temples, churches, or mosques, we dress up and attend social functions, we watch television, listen to the radio, read, and so on. . . .

If you inquire a little into boredom you will find that the cause of it is loneliness.  It is in order to escape from loneliness that we want to be together, we want to be entertained, to have distractions of every kind:  gurus, religious ceremonies, prayers, or the latest novel.  Being inwardly lonely we become mere spectators in life; and we can be the players only when we understand loneliness and go beyond it.

. . . because beyond it lies the real treasure.

J. Krishnamurti


I remember my grandfather telling me how each of us must live with a
full measure of loneliness that is inescapable, and we must not destroy
ourselves with our passion to escape the aloneness.

Jim Harrison

At the innermost core of all loneliness is a deep and
powerful yearning for union with one's lost self.

Brendan Francis


We choose solitude.  We think loneliness chooses us.  People fight loneliness because
they think it is a statement about their self-worth, instead of a choice they have made.
You might be lonely because you've defined only a few unavailable or select individuals
as worthy companions:  your ex-lover or ex-spouse, your adult children, someone who
is dead, or someone of your "class" and accomplishments.
You are lonely because you are a discriminating person.  There are lots of people
available to be with if you are willing to seek them out.  Loneliness doesn't choose you,
you choose loneliness in preference to the alternatives.  There is nothing wrong with your
preference--just recognize it and adapt to the circumstances that result. . . .
The difference between loneliness and solitude is your perception of who you are
alone with and who made the choice.

Jennifer James


Lonely people, in talking to each other can make each other lonelier.

Lillian Hellman


Any decent society must generate a feeling of community.  Community offsets
loneliness.  It gives people a vitally necessary sense of belonging.  Yet today
the institutions on which community depends are crumbling in all the
techno-societies.  The result is a spreading plague of loneliness.

Alvin Toffler


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If  someone listens or stretches out a hand or whispers a word of
encouragement or attempts to understand a lonely person,
extraordinary things begin to happen.

Loretta Firzaris


Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but
from being unable to communicate the things that seem important
to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.

Carl Jung


What we don't let out traps us. We think, No one else feels this
way, I must be crazy. So we don't say anything. And we become
enveloped by a deep loneliness, not knowing where our feelings
come from or what to do with them. Why do I feel this way?

Sabrina Ward Harrison

Quotations and passages on Solitude

It is not physical solitude that actually separates one from other people,
not physical isolation, but spiritual isolation.  It is not the desert island
nor the stony wilderness that cuts you from the people you love.  It is
the wilderness in the mind, the desert wastes in the heart through which
one wanders lost and a stranger.  When one is a stranger to oneself
then one is estranged from others, too.  If one is out of touch
with oneself, then one cannot touch others.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Gift from the Sea