The theme of the 2022 Mental Health Awareness campaign in the UK was loneliness.
A very valid theme of course.
Study after study has shown that close personal relationships and face to face interactions have more influence over a person’s well-being and longevity than anything else – even more so than taking up exercise, healthy eating or giving up smoking or alcohol.
We are a highly social animal. Closeness and interaction with others is as vital to our thriving as water and nourishment. And to the other extreme: the disastrous impact of solitary confinement on the mental health of prisoners is well documented.
But obviously solving loneliness isn’t as simple as being with other people. We can be deeply lonely in the middle of a party, an office, a conversation, relationship, a friendship. We can be lonely having sex. We can be lonely helping others or when others are helping us. We can be lonely surrounded by fans.
And equally we can be completely alone and feel absolute bliss.
To solve loneliness we need to consider what it really is and what it is not.
It is not the absence of other people. It is not being alone. It is not ‘having’ no one.
Loneliness is the lived experience of separation. Of being a self isolated and set apart from others. Of being cut off from the pulsing energy, love and flow of the world. Of feeling alone.
And it is a terrible feeling. An experience full of suffering with significant implications for our physical and mental health and longevity.
How do we solve this?
We solve it by considering that lived experience of separation.
Because as long as that is the unconscious, unexplored, blindly held belief of what we are every single measure designed to address loneliness will fail.
It will fail because the ‘mind-body system’ is operating from the basis of lack, incompleteness. It believes it is separate from intelligence, from love, from life itself.
It is trying to find its way back to wholeness and it looks as though the way to do that is through other people.
And this is our greatest confusion in all relationships, in all interactions.
Other people are not there to plug the gap, to give us enough attention, love, compliments or support that we feel secure.
Other people are not in our lives to make us feel whole.
How could they?
As long as it looks like they are, all relationships are a source of unmet needs, of conflicts, of disappointment, of expectations unfulfilled, of frustration… of loneliness.
They have to be. Because no one, no thing, no experience, no situation can complete us.
Other people are not there to complete us. They are not there to stop us feeling lonely.
And while it looks like they are, they exist in our lives, not as the people they really are, but as devices that will temporarily meet our needs and numb our unhappiness.
Other people, the way they appear, what we want from them, what we resist about them, what irritates us, is the mirror of the elements of ourselves. Our needs, our shames, our insecurities reflected back.
We do not see them. We see our own lack. We do not interact with them. We interact with the projection of ourselves. We do not listen to them. We listen to our own story.
And in that direction is only more suffering, more loneliness.
Other people are there to reveal that search for wholeness. Every interaction makes transparent the conditioning of separation and incompleteness. And once transparent, this belief system is available to be seen for what it is: a learned programme of insecurity, knocks, shocks, wounds, trauma.
Other people are there to heal us by making visible what is there to be healed, to draw us deeper into truth, into life, to enable us to eventually see them as they really are.
The gentle realisation of this is the way to be so whole, so complete in every relationship, every interaction and in every memory that we have the absolute fullness of that apparent other whether they are right here with us or not.
This should be the aim of any awareness campaign about mental health or loneliness, any spiritual teaching, any intervention…
…to help the mind become so clear about reality, other people, separation and wholeness that all unconscious barriers to intimacy with the world are dissolved.
The purpose of exploring spirituality, one-ness, reality, non-duality, or whatever we want to call it, must be to send the body mind deeper into the world.
If it is used as an excuse to withdraw ‘well nothing is real, there are no other people’ then all that is happening is that the protection of the ego has a new lexicon of avoidance.
And that is detrimental to the health and thriving of the body-mind system because ultimately that system is a form designed for interaction in a world of form.
The more clearly all form is understood for what it is, the easier all those relationships – whether with people, the body, food, emotions, mental state, money, housing, exercise, or anything else – become.
Healing, transparency, intimacy, exploration, stillness, honesty.
This is the only place that loneliness can end.
It is the only place that mental health can begin.