On being lonely

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Yesterday I opened my eyes after a deep savasana and looking up at the ceiling caught a glimpse of a feeling I know well.
I am not lonely, but I had something of a flashback to what being lonely felt like.
The white ceiling, the blue sky above me and no body else in my vision, I remembered…
I recalled a time in my life when my yoga practice had taken on a new level.
I was living in a city of 8 million, had places I could go to meet people knew or to make new friends…
But I chose to be alone – not just in the physical sense but inside too.
I was more often than not off on solo adventures.

Mysore style yoga as presented by the Ashtanga method reminds me of what it is like to be alone in London.
It teaches you to explore, grow, learn & discover things for yourself.
It teaches you to survive on your own and figure stuff out for yourself.
It teaches you to find ‘Santosha’… if you’re ready to learn that is.
Santosha is one of the niyamas described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras.
In short it means, contentment…
Not requiring more than you have…
Renouncing the need to acquire…
With no more ‘wants’ (apparently) we become liberated and free.

As I lay there on my back staring at the ceiling I felt this state of santosha and for a flash in time had no desire to go anywhere, see any one, do anything, just BE.
Let me clarify – I was not lonely – I was observing the fine line between true santosha and the striving for it that can lead to isolation.
I reflected on those times I had chosen to be alone.
As I thought more about it I recognized the times I had (in my opinion) taken it too far.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that being alone and knowing how, without becoming depressed, desperate or needy, is a vital part of growth, strength, independence and freedom.
That said, I have observed the ‘cave dweller’ lifestyle being taken a little too far – perhaps it is due to a misinterpretation of what yoga is all about & what it means to be free of those many ‘wants’?
Are we yogis lead to believe that we must become recluses? Do we take the survivalist attitude too far?
And, if this is so… what impact is it having on our existence, our relationships, our community, our happiness?

I arrived back in London last Wednesday, this time to stay for 4 weeks. I am not living alone but I have the choice to be alone if I want to be.
The week before I had been here and logistically, the chances to be alone were less available.
One day I had felt an overwhelming urge to find some me time.
I took myself to my favorite healthy hipster cafe in Soho Vitao, and I ordered a Raw Matcha ‘Americano’ and a slice of Raw Cacao Ganache cake.
I turned off my phone, put away my journal and people watched for 60 divine minutes of solitude.
Yes, there is solitude to be found in London’s bustling Soho!
A few years ago I might have continued through my day with more solitary reflection.
To some extent back then, I was expecting this to lead to this state of liberation spoken of so often in yoga.
Around that time I was proud of myself for having no need to be entertained or in conversation with anyone… isn’t that what makes me a yogi?!

Looking back, I can say with absolute sureness it taught me something about inner strength and finding joy in being with myself.
But then, one day I realized – I cannot put my finger on the moment or exactly when – I was starting to feel pretty lonely.
I knew because when I thought those thoughts “Am I lonely?” my eyes began to burn with the welling tears.
Immediately after that thought, I had another realization… I was tired, really, really tired.
It is only in a moment like that, that you can fully welcome in company.
Prior to me realizing something was missing I was not in the position to receive.

Being lonely is not a ‘bad’ thing… it is an awakening, reminding you that family, friendship and (very important) community, is what makes life on earth possible.
If every human being was out for themselves, life on Earth would not go on.

When I noticed that deep tiredness, I wondered what was causing it. What exactly was I missing?
For so long I had become proud of being the mighty independent yogi. The survivor!
But without love, support, laughter, exchange & inspiration from anyone I doubt very much I would ever have gotten any stronger, or moreover, happier.
I guess that all depends on whether or not you think you deserve to be happy – and there’s a whole other blog post in that!

Mysore style yoga teaches us inner strength. It show us how to survive the times when we are alone and it offers us the tools we need to deal with those times in the best possible way… with confidence, honesty and integrity.
On the flip side, I for one hope it reveals to those who jump in, the importance of being in the world too.
I cannot say for sure if we can all learn this in a Mysore style class – I for one did not learn this important lesson on my yoga mat.
The revelation was coming for a long time. In the past year in particular, I have come to understand the huge importance of friends, family and community are what keep us alive.
It took me a while to fully embody this notion.
Acknowledging the fine balance between being happy in my own company and being just a wee bit too independent was an interesting process that’s for sure. Un-doing habits, re-learning, letting go of belief structures.
My point today is this; we are all here to live, experience & BE ~ all at the same time.
Consider letting go of the glorification of self-sufficiency.
Receive the love, support, laughter, exchange, inspiration, joy – all that stuff – that’s where liberation’s at.

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2 thoughts on “On being lonely

  1. Maria says:

    Ah, you have let us in. Remember last year when you asked what I/we reader(s) would want from your blog. This.

    So many lessons unfold in tandem with our yoga practices, not necessarily from them. When I “skip” practice to practice something else (morning reading, hiking, eating), it’s just as rich, as long as I keep busy, alert, discerning. And it’s fun.

    And, yes, the solitude or lack thereof (my recent 5 wks in the U.K. – constant social). How to sort that out. Take rest when you can, which is what I have been doing here in BCN in our lovely little studio with amazing views. Solitary confinement until my heart catches up with all the joy.

    Love you, wee one.

  2. lorraine says:

    Beautiful post. London; where you can look like the least lonely person in the world, and feel totally alone or look lost and lonely while relishing in hours of wandering, sitting, discovering, thinking and feeling far from lonely.
    Being able to be alone and feel secure in that alone-ness is a wonderful thing. And so is rejoining the party…when it’s the right party. 🙂

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