The Loneliness Experiment

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One of my favorite things to do in my Brooklyn neighborhood is to stroll the streets, sit in coffee shops, and people watch. During the height of my loneliness my favorite thing to imagine was that every human being I passed by was less lonely than I was, maybe even not lonely at all. At the time, feeding my isolation felt like part of my process. It was comparable to my sugar addiction– I knew those thoughts were aiding in my illness, but my body just craved that sweet sensation of negativity, almost as much as it did a chocolate bar.

 

The more I craved this negativity the more I realized that my abnormal was becoming normal. I began to find safety and comfort in the darkness. I stopped challenging myself to look for the light switch because I slowly stopped longing for the light. I stopped reaching out to people because loneliness and dis-ease were whom I shared my bed with at night. I’m embarrassed to admit this here, but I accepted this state. It kept me safe, small, and shut inside myself.  

 

In retrospect, I can see how I ended up there, but back then I could barely remember the last time I longed for more. Loneliness had become my new normal and I accepted a story that nothing could shake me from, until something did.

 

It was October of 2015. I had returned home from a month long journey on the road where I pushed and challenged my body. I left San Francisco in the midst of an acute Lyme Disease attack and when I landed at the airport in NYC I was dizzy, feverish, delirious, and confused (I don’t even remember the plane ride home). I fell asleep in the Lyft and was awoken by the driver outside my apartment asking me if I needed a hospital. I said no of course, walked into my home, got straight into bed fully clothed, curled into a ball and shut my eyes. The next three days are still blurry to me. I have faint memories of opening my eyes only to fall back into a state of dizziness and disconnect, as if the bed was opening up and swallowing my body whole. I was terrified, but not terrified enough to pick up the phone. I moved from the bathroom floor to the bed for three days straight, wondering if my next trip down the hall would be my last. Asking for help was such a distant option that even when I fainted on the bathroom floor, I still didn’t reach for the phone. Never in all my life had I sensed a feeling of loneliness in a more profound way. I was completely and utterly alone, and it was completely by choice.

 

This awareness felt incredibly shameful. I was so embarrassed about being lonely that this feeling fed more isolation and disease. I was so afraid of the pain in my body, so ashamed of feeling unwell, that instead of reaching out I retreated in. But not the kind of in that opens you up to the depths of your becoming– the kind of in that feeds on itself like a parasite. When I finally rolled out of bed I was confronted with my lack of courage, with how easy it had become to not ask for help. I was ashamed that I stopped longing for light. I was ashamed that instead of moving towards others, I was moving away from them and in turn, away from myself.

 

This was a small moment of becoming for me– a small shift in the pattern of my lifestyle and the next day when I rolled out of bed I opened the shades and flipped on the light switch.  

 

I would be lying if I didn’t say that the light was blinding. I had been living in the dark for so long that my eyes needed time to adjust. This was a few years ago, and since then things have slowly been illuminating for me. At first it began like a flashlight pointing something out in a dark room, and then without warning the brightness started to increase, showcasing more and more in an otherwise dull lit space. The more I talked about my loneliness the more people around me started talking about theirs as well. It didn’t take long for me to realize what my negativity was stopping me from seeing:

 New Vista Ranch, Nevada 2017

New Vista Ranch, Nevada 2017

I wasn’t alone in my loneliness. In fact, I was in pretty good company.

 

When I travel with the Connection Cure I host workshops that bring up the topic of loneliness and disconnect. There comes a moment in each event, after sharing my personal story, where I ask participants to raise their hands if they’ve experienced a moment of loneliness or isolation. I’ve done over thirty events from living rooms to yoga studios, Facebook Headquarters to classrooms, homeless shelters to non-profits, men’s groups and women’s groups, and there remains one constant through-line between everyone– we all feel and experiences loneliness. It’s actually a biological imperative– we are dependent on one another as a species and loneliness is our bodies’ wake up call to connect.   
 

On my last Connection Cure trip to Florida I asked one group, “What does it feel like to raise your hand and declare your loneliness in community?”  

 

“Like a relief.”

 

In that moment of shared loneliness, seeing and being seen, we created a sense of safety and belonging. We were no longer alone in our loneliness, and we were no longer alone in our desire for more connection.

 

 Ft Lauderdale, Florida 2017

Ft Lauderdale, Florida 2017

From Elvis impersonators to ghost hunters, caregivers to psychiatrists, churches to synagogues, mermaids to pirates, red states to blue, non-profits programs to large corporations, living rooms to libraries, I am learning about the human condition, what we long for and what we retreat from. It’s no secret that we are becoming more disconnected. We are retreating into the comfort of those that are just like us, we are communicating more and more over social media instead of face to face, we are spending more time in our homes, alone. We are grocery shopping online and foregoing movie theaters for Netflix. We are forgetting that we are wired to connect, that in order to begin healing we must move towards one another to look, listen, and hear. 

 

Right now, we are being called to act, to talk to our neighbors, to courageously listen, to open the door to conversation not just with those who seem similar, but with those who are different. When I take a step back and look at loneliness as a part of our shared human experience–as our bodies’ natural alarm for connection– it looks beautiful to me. Our bodies’ are a complex and magical thing. We have evolved to not just want, but to need each other in order to survive and thrive. Right now, our country and our world are calling for us to listen to our bodies, to honor our evolution, and connect.

 

Personally, I am trying to stop fitting into the box of "go it alone," and start acknowledging myself in the moments when I reach out for help. My container is cardboard and malleable and meant to be flattened and re-configured, not just stuffed and sealed. When I reshape my current paradigm, I wake up to a self that champions the moments in which I ask for support, show up for others, share micro-moments with strangers, courageously listen, and deepen my current relationships. 

 

We humans are pliable. We bend, we break, and like our bones, we repair ourselves. And lucky for us, we're wired to do it together. 

 

PostScript

I still love people watching from Brooklyn coffee shops. In fact, I’m writing this from one right now. It used to be one of my favorite spots to delight in my disconnection. But today I struck up a conversation with the person sitting next to me as we both stood to open the door for a ninety-seven year old woman. At first glance this stranger and I looked to have nothing in common, except of course our interest in door opening. But as we continued talking it appeared we had everything in common that actually matters: a common quest for daily moments of joy, a love of listening and conversing, and a quest to understand the deeper threads that bind us as humans. All of this was able to surface in a micro-moment, and it just took one of us (or both in this case) to open the door to connection.