Loneliness is not a Four-Letter Word

By Elizabeth Myers

The Random House Dictionary defines loneliness as: 1. lone; solitary; without company; companionless. 2. destitute of sympathetic or friendly companionship or relationships. 3. remote from places of human habitation; unfrequented. 4. standing apart; isolated.

These are powerful words that describe a feeling and a state of being. I would like to suggest that we might also focus on the idea of loneliness and aloneness in a little different way. Rather than seeing loneliness/aloneness as a thing to avoid, or as the worst of all possible states of human existence, or even as an obscenity, I wonder if we might actually think about the state of being alone as an opportunity for growth, contemplation and reflection.

Often in today's world we are so constantly bombarded by the noises of distraction and interruption that we are not able to hear the still small voice within that calls us to listen carefully to our own rhythm and to the rhythm of life around us.

I remember many years ago reading a little book by one of my former professors about finding places of silence and personal space in one's life. I was in my doctoral graduate program at the time, and I am quite sure I did not even come close to hearing the truths that Dr. Wayne Oates was trying to suggest. After all, I was on my way up! I had things to do, worlds to conquer, windmills to joust. I didn't have time for contemplative thought; I was 29 years old and there were things to accomplish! It's amazing how some things can look a little differently a few miles down the road! So, let's follow out a few of the ideas and thoughts that were so far away from my experience at that time, but certainly seem to be a lot closer today.

How would you define, A Noisy Heart? Is it the simple load of sound that surrounds us everyday? Is it the level of annoyance of a given noise? Is it the friction that others cause you in your daily life? How do you know what is causing the noise in your daily life? Consider the following:

Have other people made demands of you that are impossible, unfair, persistent, or uninterrupted?

Do other people give you contradictory messages?

Do you have people in your life who are grown, healthy and able to think but who, nevertheless, demand your full attention?

Are there past memories of painful betrayals, failures and/or broken relationships that fill your heart with perpetual noise?

Are there great noises of the human heart that cause enormous distress in your life such as: fatigue, loss of perspective, and poor judgment.

If so, what can be done in the face of modern society's demand for our every attention? How can we stop the noise?

I would like to suggest that even though silence is certainly the absence of noise, it also can be an active state. Silence is something that we can do! It is something that we can seek. We decide what we listen to everyday. There are hundreds of noises to catch our attention, and we selectively attend to those which we deem important. What if we came to see that silence was something important to search for? What if we came to believe that we had the right, and I would even suggest the responsibility to create a balance of silence/noise in our lives?

I believe that there are building blocks that are helpful in the pursuit of silence and loneliness in our lives. A first step is that we must re-discover the courage to be alone. Being alone and cultivating silence in our hearts can sometimes be a scary thing. It could mean that we will have to face some issues, thoughts, experiences and relationships that are painfully difficult and that we would simply rather avoid. The first step is wanting to find the silence! Other steps in the pursuit of silence and aloneness are:

Unload the sensory overload in your life

Find pockets of silence in your day's work

Get over the need to have the first and last words

Listen with full attention and all five senses

Address the issues of unhappiness in your life

Confront the strange noises from your past that you have been avoiding

Address the issues of self sabotage and avoidance in your life

Get reacquainted with your own roots and family history

These are several thoughts and suggestions that might help you in cultivating silence in a noisy heart.