The Tribune - Spectrum



Sunday, November 5, 2000

We, the lonely people
By Hitesh Kaushal

We are afraid of being alone because we confuse it with loneliness. The two are very different, one can be lonely amidst scores of people but still not be alone. Loneliness is always miserable, aloneness can be bliss or a way to it. Aloneness calms the pool of our mind, so that we see a clear reflection of the self in it.

We have made a lot of progress in many areas. Along with the ascent of technology, we have also created something, which defies understanding. It is the prevalence of immense loneliness in our urban society. A loneliness, which is so intense, so intriguing, that many of us are not even aware of the suffering. This loneliness is not because we do not have "friends", on the contrary we know more people than ever before, it is because among the multitudes, there are few who really understand us. It is the unfulfilled need to be understood, which causes this loneliness. We do understand each other in their daily lives, but this understanding is usually superficial, just skin deep. Somewhere inside, the heart yearns to be known for its uniqueness and not as a category. Moving within our safety bubbles we seldom really connect.

Rejection causes loneliness in so many instances. Due to the emotional intensity of such an event, there is a very strong conditioning to remain on guard. The loss of self-esteem and the feeling of inferiority can, sometimes prevent a person from approaching others with spontaneity. It is like going to a date wearing an armour.


Burdened by our baggage of hurts, some real some assumed, we are afraid of opening a Pandoraís box ( ours or someone else's) Itís a vicious cycle, the more we become closed, the more walls of ego we create around ourselves for safety, the greater is the alienation of self. The more "hardened" we become, the harsher this world seems to us. Then it becomes a habit, the habit of being safe, from everyone without exception. We do not reveal our real self for it makes us vulnerable. We seem to lack the strength of withstanding this vulnerability. Only when the self is true and vulnerable, in front of self or someone close, it can see and recognise tenderness behind the most hardened face.

Prejudice as defined by psychologist Gordon Allport is "an assertive or hostile attitude towards a person who belongs to a group, simply because he belongs to that group, and is therefore presumed to have the objectionable qualities ascribed to the group." Snobbery of this kind causes loneliness as those who think themselves to be exalted can seldom relate well with those whom they consider inferior. The conceited need to maintain oneís status at all times, to be seen with right people, never allows the formation of deeper relationships.

The victims of prejudice also face isolation, but many times, they emerge stronger from it. They sometimes develop extraordinary compassion and understanding for others. A rejection causes them to become extra sensitive to all forms of discrimination. Thrown out of a train because of being an Indian, Mahatma Gandhi became a crusader against all forms of discrimination.

Finding an escape without, in vicarious living, we can continue living in the world of TV serials, of chat friends, of utilitarian friendships. These then are escape routes crafted through ingenious self-deception. They serve no other purpose than the maintenance of our self-deceptions. Utilitarian relationships can never develop beyond a point because if the utility is lost, there is always a fear of rejection and hence insecurity. Security in a relationship is required so that there is freedom to be creative.

We can negotiate any identity with the society by projection but deep down in our hearts we know they are not real. So when others react in accordance with what we project, they look so distant. The gains of seduction are seldom enjoyed, as the seduced lose respect of the seducer. There is an intense desire to be with "someone" who can see through all our masks and really look at our real self. Knowing ourselves seems so difficult, for among the meaningless chatter of our daily lives we seldom hear the feeble voice of heart. In the carnival of projected identities, the real self is lost somewhere. Projected identities have an existential motive, they help us in getting things we think we need. The projection can be of machoism, of nonchalance, of intellect, of perpetual happiness and of a hundred other things. No matter how well we play the game of impression, but in the end, what is the use? Inside, we know what part of us is made-up.

The role models of today include the VJs of MTV, who give an impression of coolness, perpetual happiness, and affected self-confidence. For the VJ it is just a role for an hour or so but for many viewers it becomes the sole reality of what an ideal person is. The sheer impossibility of being such a person in real life is never evident to the gullible viewers. It leads to an identity which is borrowed. Clothes, ornaments, and possessions then define uniqueness. It takes courage to throw off this mask. This courage is the courage of the child who can say that the king is naked. This courage is a kind of innocence, which refuses to be maligned by the influence of society.

The chances of getting time to reflect on self seem bleak. When most of our free time is structured by activities, there is no time to think. Even when we are free we are either watching TV or engaged in meaningless talk. It is not that any of these activities are inherently harmful. It is the compulsive obsession with these activities, which is dangerous. As a choice, they are very good but when it is an escape from loneliness, it becomes pathological.

We are afraid of being alone because we confuse it with loneliness. The two are very different, one can be lonely amidst scores of people but still not be alone. Loneliness is always miserable, aloneness can be bliss or way to it. Aloneness calms the pool of our mind, so that we see a clear reflection of self in it. It is the understanding of sadness inside and the world around us, which brings this tranquility. It is no use repressing this sadness, as it always manifests in subtle ways, in form of a general, inexplicable anxiety, or as pessimism and cynicism. It comes out under intoxication when the boundaries of the ego are momentarily broken. We cannot explain sadness away, reason seldom helps. Sadness can only be met face to face and then accepted in totality. When we embrace it totally, it becomes a worthy doctor, bringing health on every visit. Many people claim that a saddening event gave perspective to their life. Whether it was an early heart attack, or death of a child it had the power to pierce the years of conditioning and reach the core.

We need not wait for a catastrophe. We can take the responsibility of seeing through our conditioning. Itís a paradox that those who accept sadness acquire a happiness, which is not transitory. This happiness is special, like an ocean, its level does not change, whether it rains or not.

Its easy for a mind to grasp the issue of loneliness intuitively, but difficult to state it in words. There is a limitation in this reductionist analysis as it looks at a part, as separated from the whole. For in reality, the issue of loneliness is woven along with so many other things like, crime; marriages of convenience; extra-marital relationships; web chatting; class-based prejudice; consumerism.

Loneliness may give a semblance of understanding to two lonely hearts. For the time being it may be an effective solution but a lasting solution can come only from within. The suffering of loneliness has the potential to bring out the "why" of living provided we do not run away from it. Loneliness cannot be escaped, it can only be resolved. When we look loneliness in the eyes, it loses its teeth. Like a barking dog, it can do nothing if we are not running away from it. Then there is no fear in being alone. When aloneness is a choice, it leads to the emergence of uniqueness in an individual. All forms of creation require a person to withstand periods of aloneness. It is possible only when a person has accepted the self and is not afraid of being alone. It is at this stage that a person can make an effort to understand others in a deeper sense. Then there is a lesser need of words in communication. A face tells a story, which a thousand words fail to describe. It leads to a friendship where vulnerability is not seen as a weakness.

What meaning we create in our lives depends a lot on how we cope with our loneliness. There are no panaceas. We all discover unique ways of living with it. Some ways lead to the intensification of death wish, whereas others bring out the best of what a human life can be. It is a choice that we all make.

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