How To Be Alone

It is not impermanence that makes us suffer.  What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent, when they are not. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh


Society is afraid of alone - a striking line in a poem I ran across. How much of life is made up of loneliness avoidance, as if our worth as a human being depended on it? Afraid of loneliness, we keep trying to fill this feared hole with filler behaviors, perhaps unhealthy habits, relationships that are draining rather than energizing, drugs, food, alcohol, shopping, material fads, work - the list goes on.

The experience of loneliness is complex. First, there is the simple, objective matter of being by oneself, which in itself isn't (usually) harmful or dangerous. And then there is the "story" we tell ourselves about being alone, what we tell ourselves about our loneliness. And this is where the emotionally destructive hook is. That story may be about how we feel unappreciated or misunderstood, how we are not worthy of love and affection, how there must be something wrong with us to feel this way. Conquering loneliness has little to do with whether we have friends or not—we all know the feeling of loneliness even when we’re surrounded by others.  It has everything to do with examining and ultimately rejecting the story we tell ourselves about what it means to be alone.

If you silence the stories you tell yourself about being alone, a whole new world of wisdom can open up.  One insight could be that you are always here and everyone and everything else comes and goes. Everything is temporary.  No material possession, relationship, feeling, health state is here to stay.  Rather than it being depressing, this can increase the "wow" factor of life: You are the only thing that is always here with you, so how can you be good to yourself, love yourself?


How To Be Alone by Tanya Davis

(Available as a highly watch-worthy, uplifting video poem here)

If you are, at first, lonely - be patient. 
If you've not been alone much or if, when you were, you weren't okay with it then just wait, 
you'll find it's fine to be alone... once you're embracing it. 

We could start with the acceptable places: the bathroom, the coffee shop, the library. 
Where you can stall and read the paper, 
where you can get your caffeine fix and sit and stay there, 
where you can browse the stacks and smell the books
you're not supposed to talk much anyway, 
so it's safe there. 

There's also the gym. 
If you're shy you can hang out with yourself in the mirrors, you can put headphones in. 
And there's public transportation
- because we all gotta go places - 

and there's prayer and meditation
no one will think less if you're hanging out with your breath
seeking peace and salvation. 

Start simple, 
things you may have previously avoided based on your avoid-being-alone principles. 
The lunch counter, where you will be surrounded by chow-downers, 
employees that only have an hour
and their spouses work across town
and so they, like you, will be alone. 

Resist the urge to hang out with your cell phone. 

When you are comfortable with eat-lunch-and-run, take yourself out for dinner, 
a restaurant with linen and silverware. 
You're no less intriguing a person when you're eating solo dessert
and cleaning the whipped cream from the dish with your finger; 
in fact, some people at full tables will wish they were where you were. 

Go to the movies
where it is dark and soothing
alone in your seat amidst a fleeting community. 

And, then, take yourself out dancing, 
to a club where no one knows you
stand on the outside of the floor
until the lights convince you more and more
and the music shows you. 
Dance like no one's watching
('cause they are probably not) 
and, if they are, assume it is with best and human intentions, 
the way bodies move genuinely to beats is, after all, gorgeous and affecting. 

Dance until you're sweating
and beads of perspiration remind you of life's best things, 
down your back like a brook of blessings. 

Go to the woods alone and the trees and squirrels will watch for you. 
Go to an unfamiliar city, roam the streets, 
there are always statues to talk to 

and benches made for sitting
give strangers a shared existence
if only for a minute
and these moments can be so uplifting
and the conversations that you get in
by sitting alone on benches
might have never happened
had you not been there by yourself. 

Society is afraid of alone though, 
like lonely hearts are wasting away in basements, 
like people must have problems if, after awhile, nobody is dating them 

But alone is a freedom that breathes easy and weightless
and lonely is healing if you make it. 

You could stand, swathed by groups and mobs or hold hands with your partner
look both further and farther
in the endless quest for company, 
but no one's in your head
and by the time you translate your thoughts some essence of them may be lost
or perhaps it is just kept, 
perhaps in the interest of loving oneself, 
perhaps all of those sappy slogans
from preschool over
to high school's groaning
were tokens for holding the lonely at bay. 
'cause if you're happy in your head then solitude is blessed and alone is okay. 

It's okay if no one believes like you
all experiences unique, no one has the same synapses
can't think like you
for this be relieved, 
keeps it interesting, life's magic things in reach. 

And it doesn't mean you aren't connected, that community's not present. 
Just take the perspective you get
from being one person alone in one head
and feel the effects of it 

Take silence and respect it. 
If you have an art that needs a practice, stop neglecting it. 
If your family doesn't get you
or a religious sect is not meant for you
don't obsess about it. 

You could be, in an instant, surrounded, if you need it. 
If your heart is bleeding make the best of it 

there is heat in freezing, be a testament

Do's and Don'ts for Helping Someone in Emotional Pain

“Happiness is not given to us, nor is misery imposed. At every moment we are at a crossroads and must choose the direction we will take.” ~ Mathieu Ricard

What are the best ways to support someone who's going through a tough time?

Knowing how to best support a friend or loved one who is undergoing a tough time is an important relationship builder.  It's a skill that comes in handy in any relationship - with a spouse or romantic partner, family member, friend, or work colleague.  

One of the best ways to support someone who is experiencing emotional pain is to truly listen.  This is often easier said then done.  Take your time to truly sit down, spend time, and listen. Approach the situation with no assumptions or preconceptions in mind. Find a quiet, private space. Present yourself as a calm listener. 

There are several skills to convey empathy and care:

1. Practice Thought Empathy: Paraphrasing the other person’s words. Mirror what the other person is saying in a non-judgmental way
Goal: To truly understand where the other person is coming from.
Example: “It sounds like work has been getting tougher because of all these new demands at your job".  

2. Use Feeling Empathy: Acknowledge how the other person is probably feeling, given what they are saying to you.
Goal: To see if you are reading the other person’s feeling correctly.
Example: “Getting this feedback from your boss is stressing you out".

3.  Find something positive to reply to the person.  
Goal: To show genuine curiosity and respect.
Example: “I appreciate you trusting me with this problem".

4. Ask gentle questions about what the person just told you. Open ended questions work best.
Goal: To learn more about what the other person is thinking and feeling:  
Examples: How come...? This is because...? How did you come to be...? What do you think about....? How do you feel about…?

Are there things I shouldn't do when trying to support someone?

Even with the best intentions, we can directly or indirectly convey information to the person that may hinder the process of supporting and healing, or even shutting the person down.  One is by making dismissing statements.  Dismissing emotions can take many forms - watch out for these subtle statements.  
1. Minimizing what the other person is feeling.

Examples: "You'll get over it", "Come on, it's not that bad". "Just dust yourself off and try again".)
2. Making an assumption about the person's situation or feelings, or predicting the future (which no one can). 

Examples: "Tomorrow, you will feel better". "Give it a week". "He'll come around". "I have a feeling you will be just fine". "It will work out next time".
3. Making the situation or their problem about yourself. 

Examples: "This reminds me of when my grandmother died…." "I feel the exact same way, let me tell you about….". "When my aunt had cancer, she tried this new treatment…." "After my miscarriage, we tried again right away and it worked! You should do the same!"

With trying to fix the situation, you risk making wrong/faulty assumptions, which can put distance between you and the person who is experiencing a tough time. It may also feel to the person like you are placing yourself above them with expertise, rather than meeting them where they are. Try to stay away from these assumptions:

1.The person wants "fixing", rather than perhaps just wanting someone to listen, sit with them or hug them.
2. Whatever you believe works for you or others you know, will also work for this person, in this situation. It may be far from it.


Some other helpful things to remember when supporting someone who's hurting:

Remember that their emotion isn't your emotion. Being a good friend or support doesn't mean you have to feel that same emotion or intensify the emotion for you and the person. Set healthy emotional boundaries for yourself so that you can truly be present with the person.

Also, when offering concrete support to someone in crisis, the question "Is there anything I can do?" can at times feel overwhelming to the person. They may not want to burden you or feel overwhelmed by trying to figure out what they want you to do for them. Offer something concrete: "I'm bringing over dinner tonight. If you don't feel like talking, I will simply leave it at the door".