the burning loneliness

In Reveal, Meggan Watterson writes of her spiritual pilgrimage to France, where she discovered that, without a partner/lover travelling by her side, she was challenged to maintain her own self-worth: 

I found myself on a treacherous see-saw, vacillating between the extremes of feeling free and entirely independent – like Salma Hayek in the movie Frida, when she cuts her hair and becomes her own after her husband has betrayed her – to feeling totally alone and ineffectual, my life devoid of purpose and meaning.

While my experience was not so intense, I resonate with Watterson’s words.

misty fireball

There were times in Italy when I was just so cool with my aloneness. I loved being on the trains, listening to music and watching the landscape pass me by. These were some of my favourite moments. I loved doing whatever I wanted each day, even if it meant doing nothing. I loved getting up early and walking for hours with no real destination, which might have been harder with a travel partner. Sitting at a cafe and just observing my surroundings was a favourite pastime. This is when I often met people; in that open, receptive state, content in being one with everything around me.

But at times it was incredibly challenging to be alone. That is, it was lonely. As in, I’m in Italy and there’s all this beauty around me and yes, I’m grateful, but man, what is the point of it all, if there is no one around to share it with? I remember walking amongst the intense crowds in Venice and thinking, How can I possibly feel alone right now, with all these people here, all of us enjoying this beautiful place together? And while I felt that to some degree, I was also fooling myself. Venice was hard.

lonely venice

At times, I was so sick of my own company. Of entertaining myself, of thinking my own thoughts. I realized there’s a limit to how much of myself I can take.

I thought about those I love, my friends and family back home. I missed them. And, more profoundly, I felt how I shut them out when I am at home. Well, maybe that’s too harsh. Rather, I felt how I don’t really make the effort to spend more time with them, to show them how much I care. Why don’t I do more to maintain those loving, vital connections?  Do I expect/assume that others will do it?

One of my most challenging moments was in a restaurant in Sorrento, on the Amalfi Coast. As I sat down and ordered my meal, the room quickly began filling with people. Groups of people. Families, friends, couples. Maybe it was because I was towards the end of my trip, maybe because I’d made two strong (soul) connections a couple nights before…but I felt my aloneness intensely. Like I was in the middle of a 360, my solo status blatantly on display for all to see. Spotlighted.

I could feel my face and body burning with it; that no matter how cool I attempted to look, people could see right through me. Wondering why this girl was alone, here of all places. Maybe feeling sorry for me, embarrassed for me. I was practically hyperventilating with self-consciousness. Regardless of whether anyone even noticed me that night…I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

a new door

I realized in Italy that I need people. And that I want to need people. Be dependent on them.  Be softer and more vulnerable.

I think I have overrated my independence. I’m glad that I can be happy in my own company…but I can see now how I’ve gotten too comfortable with it. As more and more friends find partners and start families of their own, I see that years can go by in flash. I haven’t known for sure if I want marriage and/or children, but I recognize I could be on the trajectory of not allowing them at all. And that’s a big wake-up call.

Now that I’m home, whether or not I invest more energy in creating/sustaining my relationships is totally up to me. It means questioning: what is truly liking my own company, and what is not being comfortable in – avoiding – the presence of others? Is there a fear of rejection in ‘putting myself out there’? Have my ‘introvert’ and ‘high sensitivity’ labels merely become (un)comfortable excuses to avoid deeper interactions? Does being ‘reserved’ make me feel somehow powerful, untouchable?

***

Or maybe it means not questioning any of it anymore. Maybe the whole point is that it is not so complicated at all. Love is not complicated. It’s the ego that wants to make everything an issue, a puzzle, a problem to be fixed.

I think the Italians would recommend that I stop thinking about it, and live.  Right.  Okay.

Grazie Mille, Italy.

Images courtesy of Vaughan Lewis.

37 thoughts on “the burning loneliness

  1. I spent my summer vacation alone in Cinque Terra, Italy composed of 5 small fishing villages along the Mediterranean Sea. I have traveled alone before, but I found myself in my aloneness in Italy full of self love, bliss, and connection with the Italian people I met. When I left Italy, I wept with joy. Love to you, Brooke

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    • hi brooke, i was in cinque terre too…in september, but only for a few days. one of the highlights of my trip for sure. it was so beautiful.

      italy was just what my soul needed. sounds like we both made some profound connections there. much love, aleya

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  2. I posted but I think it deleted so sorry if this is a repeat! xx I love your posts, this is no different. You write with such honesty and simplicity about some of the most profound of human complexities x I often find myself saying ‘yes’ and nodding at so much of what you write and it’s so brilliantly put x thank you! x Sophie xx

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  3. brilliant. the 360 metaphor dropped my jaw. so good! i’m going to go out on a limb and say that half of the couples you were watching are living very afraid, and do not even want to be with that person. they don’t have the guts to honor their truth. what their solar chakras are trying to tell them. you do. this is fiercely written aleya.

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  4. Beautiful post Aleya. I can very much relate to the feelings of empowerment and yes, loneliness at times when travelling alone. Sometimes I only realised I was lonely when I look back. Like when I was living in New York and I had friends but no one who was really there for me when I was down. Also, I think in Italy you’d feel that ‘spotlight’ on you while eating alone in a beautiful restaurant more so because it doesn’t seem to be ‘the done thing’ (-:

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    • thanks mireille. that’s what i love about travelling…the insights we receive after we’ve come home, the self-knowledge that comes with having lived a different life for a while. discovering who/what is really close to our hearts, and the relationships we want to nurture.

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  5. I recently told someone – “I get confused with relying on myself and leaning on someone”.

    There is the sweet freedom of being alone, and there is likewise the bitterness of loneliness. We truly want to seek out and touch someone; but past experiences make us retract and recoil to our own corner. Rejection and abandonment are baggages not easily emptied.
    Balance… even when two feet planted on the ground makes one feel walking on a tightrope.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is… I’m scared. =/
    There… that’s vulnerability right there. Typed out. Then what…? Someone comes along who offer a hand. Most times, I can only stare at the hand.

    Pretty messed up, huh? But what was that I was recently told… “perfect mess”. =)
    xo

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    • rejection and abandonment are huge. even when we want to reach out and take that hand, those old experiences are like icebergs beneath the surface, thwarting us. nooooo be careful, you might get hurt! protect yourself. but it eventually becomes too exhausting to live that way. reaching out seems, more and more, worth the risk. finding that balance does take time and i don’t know that it’s meant to happen overnight. more like waves, or a dance with ourselves and others. retreating and advancing till we come to know ourselves and our needs more fully.

      it takes courage to express yourself as you do on your blog, so openly. big love, aleya

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      • I hope I’m not intruding but I do find this engaging. I wonder if the icebergs (or any other kind of negativity/pain) are triggered by rejection. That is, if they were already there, just waiting to be activated (or exacerbated). Or if the rejection actually creates the pain. At some point it becomes mysterious to me. But I agree that getting over it is something of a dance… different kinds of dances too, depending on how life is layered. At my ripe ol’ age of 51 I’m starting to see relationships more in terms of my life with God. So if another one comes, great. But if not, then it’s not meant to be. I think if we focus on God first it takes some of the sting out of loneliness, which can be more positively framed as solitude, and the experience of grace that can come with that. 🙂

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        • it’s a mystery to me too. we don’t really know where the pain originates do we? there are so many unknowables in my search i’ve explored whether it’s karmic, ancestors’ pain, conditioning, past lives, our own experiences in this life…or my own mind! the list can become endless! and at that point i wonder if any of that even matters anymore. it becomes about what i want to create now. do i want to transform what is, or focus on why it might be there?

          i think much of it is allowing what we most want, instead of holding on to the feelings/fears of why we ‘can’t’ have it. i am also developing and strengthening my own relationship with god/source/love. because ultimately, that is something we will always have regardless of who comes and goes in our lives. when we have a strong relationship to our source, then we don’t put so much on someone else to fulfill for us.

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          • I used to consider reincarnation but find that, no matter how tempting it is, it sort of takes me to a lower, less bright place when I consider it. So I started thinking more in terms of sensitive souls connecting with other souls through space and time. All that subatomic and relativity physics stuff seems to provide a foundation, anyhow, for this hypothesis. But it is only a hypothesis. I still don’t really know for sure!

            Very nice to see intelligent, sensitive souls/people sharing and comparing here..

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            • thanks. i used to find the concept of reincarnation useful and even comforting in making sense of things…but at some point it became something that was holding me back. i started to use past lives as a reason to explain many things, without actually having any real knowledge of my past lives! and right, ‘past’ is a linear thing and if everything is happening ‘now’ then it’s definitely not something i want to obsess over! i figure if something needs to be dealt with or rebalanced, it will. as long as my intention/consciousness is in a place that feels good, all is ok. 🙂

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    • yes, when we’re older and wiser it’s a whole different experience, isn’t it. we realize we can’t really run away from ourselves…wherever we go, there we are. thank you, aleya

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      • Wow, I just looked over your comments more carefully and can see that you’ve really sparked a lot of interesting people and perspectives! I remember hearing about a Chinese sage, maybe Lao Tzu, who said you can know the entire universe without leaving your hut. Well, I’m not quite that extreme but as I get on in years, most of my travelling is interior. Not everyone gets that. But the introversion/extraversion discussion (here) mirrors somewhat my experience. And they’re useful everyday concepts that we can use to talk about it! Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

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          • Yeah, just replying here cos it looks like there’s more room. Was thinking about what you said about creating what you want. I guess it comes down to that old question… Whether what I want is in line with what God wants. Btw, I didn’t see a like button (maybe there is one) but I was really impressed with your photos. Looks like you have some pro gear and know how to use it! I’d get some heavy duty equip. but want to keep it light for now. The difference, however, shows! Nice work. 🙂

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            • thanks! these shots were actually taken by a fellow traveller i met along the way. we visited the same cities and he gave me permission to use his photos in my posts, as i was a bit lazy with my own camera! his name is vaughan lewis.

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            • Oh hi, I thought maybe some were yours and was also rushing/forgetting what I’d seen and done a day or so before! There is one, I think, of two pots before a maybe redish home. Really nice! Again, I hope I’m not confusing yours with someone else’s blog. I tend to scan sites pretty quick and then, if interested, slow down and further explore. Replying on the iPad is another excuse! Hope all is well! 🙂

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  6. My dearest Aleya,
    I spent this morning reading through some of your posts from your trip to Italy. Three things came to my mind. One, I wish I had your level of self-honesty when I was your age. Two, I am moved by your pure heart seeking for spiritual truth. Three, I am blessed, immeasurably blessed to have met you. I believe I have many things I can learn from you. You have a beautifully radiant presence which can be felt all the way here…Much love, Sharon p.s. I met an old woman walking in the woods this morning and we stopped for a chat about photography and the beauty all around us. It was the loveliness of the day, the beauty of solitude and silence, and to crown it all, this little old woman entered my life for a moment and made my heart soar. Solitude and companionship are one, aren’t they…

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    • dear sharon, i am very touched by your comment. thank you so much. i love your encounter with the little old woman. isn’t it amazing how in these moments of solitude and gratitude and appreciation, we attract even more miracles that heighten our sense of oneness. i feel very blessed and honoured to have connected with you, and i look forward to sharing our respective journeys. much love, aleya

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  7. It’s funny how we come to these realizations about aloneness. It does make us reflect on how we value ourselves as much as other people. On my solo journeys this year the most difficult moments have been in airport queues, of all places, when people line up staring at one another. I’ve felt like I was under the spotlight too, that people were staring at me for travelling alone. Whether or not they were doesn’t really matter, as it taught me how to recognize this attribute in myself and to turn it around and feel strong in my own shoes and to feel empowered for having the courage to step out into the world with only myself for company 🙂

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    • it’s interesting, some days i felt very free and empowered in being alone – and this drew certain kinds of people to me – and others (as i wrote about), i was so very aware of how other people might be perceiving me. of course this had nothing to do with the others, because all they were doing was reflecting my inner state. the crowd around me didn’t change in that respect; it was my own feelings and emotions that were in flux. i’m glad i had those hard moments because they showed me what i’ve been missing, but didn’t know i’d been missing. they pinpointed to change. thank you for your comment – and all your lovely posts! aleya.

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  8. Thank you so much for this honest post. I am in a relationship, yet often feel quite isolated because I do not often see my friends for various reasons (some of which are also introvert, highly sensitive). I think our interconnection is key to life – we are meant to be in relationship, but finding the balance between relationship and alone time for recharging can be tricky for introverts. I’m still trying to work this one out!

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    • yes for sure, it’s about finding the balance. introverts can’t switch their introversion off and those needs for alone time are real (just as extroverts’ need for interaction are real). it’s definitely more challenging if you’re in a close relationship and/or have a family to care for. carving out ‘me time’ is not always a possibility. high sensitivity is also something you can’t really talk yourself out of, is it? put me in a big crowd and bright lights, or around an angry person, and i feel it. that too is a balance. as my friend sadee whip says, it’s about cultivating boundaries, not barricades. i’m still working on how to do that! thank you 🙂 aleya

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  9. Such honesty. You’ve brought something up that I’ve been asking myself. If I have the desire to be with someone, to share experiences with, does that make me dependent? I mean aren’t my desires that of God’s expression? I also know that to ‘be’ with someone means I can no longer be co-dependent. I get that. My point, is that things in society always swing to extremes, or so it seems. Here we are engaging in an exchange on whether or not it’s OK to fulfill the desire we have to spent time with a mate? Mostly in part to the perception society has portrayed on independence – “A Woman Doesn’t Need a Man”. Here we are trying to prove that and live it. When in fact it’s causing distortion from the desire to share with another.

    Glad you brought this up. It’s been heavy on my mind especially since something recently broke apart and I’m questioning what makes up intimacy. I know it starts with me. But it’s the willingness to be vulnerable with another and see it as strength, not a weakness. I think the issue isn’t the partner….if I may venture to say…I think it’s trusting ourselves with choosing someone that respects us as strong women….I want to know that I can spot that man.

    You’re asking questions….and they are good ones. Such a good post!
    Namaste my friend, love Arifah

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    • you are so right…there’s this idea that if we want a partner, need a partner, then we’re ‘needy’. perhaps instead of saying i want to be ‘dependent’ on someone, it’s more accurate to say i want to depend on someone. (or am i just being nit-picky there?)

      as i discovered about myself in italy, and my friend jaclyn writes below, we are hardwired for connection. i felt that big-time. that we (i) shrivel up without it. in italy it felt like i was at the end of a road and – now what? independence might turn into isolation, and i so don’t want that. esp since i’m blessed to be surrounded by lots of love. it’s all already right here!

      and while i was away i noticed who i was thinking about…some more than others. this shows me that there are connections in my life that i haven’t given much time and attention to, and it was those people i missed. similarly, i realized that energy is going into things i don’t necessarily want/need to maintain.

      thank you my dear. big love. aleya

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      • I don’t think you’re being nit-picky. That’s a significant distinction. Knowing what you don’t want takes you to ‘there’ faster. In all that I don’t know that I do know. This journey, this life, we need virtual drinks! Love this experience, Arifah

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  10. Awesome post. You really did experience a lot of awakening in Italy! I think the biggest difference between introverts and extroverts is 1) extroverts, I think, tend to gain energy from lots of human interaction, while introverts are drained of energy from lots of human interaction. However, we ALL need it to a certain degree as we are ALL hard wired for connection and 2) Fear: for extroverts, I think, there is less fear of what others are thinking about them, because there’s such compulsion and joy involved in interacting while introverts tend to spend more time in their heads playing out ideas of what others think of them and feeding the fear of interacting. For better or worse an extrovert will be quicker to speak and sometimes without thinking at all beforehand!

    I love that you realized your relationships depend on you and, well, that basically in all areas of your life, you’re the captain of your ship. I keep forgetting that. And remembering. And forgetting.

    It’s strange to me how many times I sort of wake up from a pattern and remember I have the power to change any area of my life. What I’m studying now is how we should not only take responsibility for ourselves, but for everyone we’ve brought into our reality. Pretty crazy mind blowing stuff, and lots and LOTS of CLEARING rituals from multiple ancient religions or ways of life.

    It’s interesting that I found this as in my last post I made the statement that all I care about is becoming one with Source and flowing through life in the stream of wellness. Well, this is how you do it. We know from Abe that what makes or breaks our ability to manifest is Step 3: ALLOW. Well I never really knew what to do exactly to allow. Like Abe always says we need to clean up our vibration and offers lots of very helpful processes. But I wanted more! And I wanted faster! And I found it. VERY powerful ancient clearing processes.

    I think traveling alone in Italy was a very intense clearing process. Spending so much time with yourself put a magnifying glass on so many things in your life, because there was nothing and no one to distract you from your own company. The real you was bound to make a bold appearance! And she did, it seems. So wonderful!

    I love your poetic writing and storytelling. Sometimes I just think ooooo I love that sentence. I’m so looking forward to your next posts. Love ya soul sister! I hope your day is filled with loveliness!

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    • YES that is totally what i got in italy – that at the end of the day, we’re hardwired for connection! no matter what the external circumstances are, most of us won’t thrive without this connection. so why not just ALLOW that instead of, for whatever reason, resisting it? it was challenging but it was also wonderful to really get it, to really feel it. because…and this is where abe comes in…if i’m saying i want this and this and this, but underneath there is some resistance and ambivalence there, then that’s what i’m gonna get! so it was good to, as you say, clear it out. i hadn’t thought about it that way as i’m still sifting through all the insights, but that’s exactly what happened. i got deeper into that part of myself that i couldn’t access before.

      i’ve also never thought about introverts/extroverts and fear, in the way you’ve put it. that makes so much sense!! lightbulb moment! 🙂

      are you going to write about the ancient clearing processes in an upcoming post? i hope so!!!

      i love all your comments and brilliant insights. lots of love right backatcha!! xoxo

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