Loneliness, isolation, and other kinds of suffering are not as clear-cut as they first seem. Their roots go far deeper than merely having too much stress or not enough social contact. Alternatively, realising our aloneness can be a catalyst to reflect, to meet and understand ourselves, not just as a person, but as a seamless part of life itself. I’m pointing to the reality that we’re ultimately not individuals but expressions of the One Life, and as such, unified with wholeness. Aloneness is synonymous with oneness.
Fundamentally, the root of suffering is our perceived separateness from life, which means that we experience life through the eyes of duality. Paradoxically, we also seek contentment in ourselves, to be at peace with a world that seems to be “out there.” We try to achieve these aims while at the same time trying to heal the very separateness we’re striving to establish. Therefore, this underlying bewilderment and isolation fuel our society’s every pursuit: material, psychological, professional, social, and spiritual. Innocently, we’re looking in the wrong places; assuming love, peace, acceptance—or whatever we’re seeking to be complete—is out there; somewhere, something, or someone else. It’s our sense of disconnection that triggers this outward seeking. This agitated neediness only creates more division and suffering, bearing little fruit.
Highly influential in our lives is a narrative of scarcity or the fear that we are lacking something both inwardly and externally. We have an intense (and at times very subtle) desire for a dependable bridge to unite our divided existence. Desire and fear flavour our entertainment, politics, and culture and the messages they broadcast. Just turn on the news at any time or choose a random movie. Paradoxically, advances in technology have supposedly brought us closer together.
When we assume that what we know is fixed and representative of truth, why investigate, especially if our fixed knowledge seems to serve us well? If it isn’t, we feel unsettled, which means it’s time to look beneath the surface of our conclusions. Existential anxiety forces us to inquire; it sets in motion purifying shifts of awareness, which unveil a new kind of freedom.
How did such a deep-seated sense of separateness occur? Because of our narrowed, distorted focus, we’ve become apparently disconnected from our essential aliveness which is universal. We are so accustomed to perceiving a dualistic paradigm; there’s “me” and a world of “other” existing in an infinite and vastly unknown universe of disparate objects.
So I want to point you towards your immediate and familiar sense of aliveness or beingness—that unmistakable resonance and knowledge of “I am” you know so intimately. I invite you to see that same, familiar aliveness in all that is, including your body-mind. In this seeing this, aliveness becomes a kind of deep knowing or non-dual awareness which is the end of separation.
You’ve inherited the belief that everything beyond your skin is not you or yours, that you’re limited to, and by, your personal internal world and the body that imprisons it. You’ve claimed and lost certain objects and people as your own on your journey. Your “possessions” have become extensions of your sense of individuality, providing distraction from your deeper existential separateness but not curing it. Your belief in a boundaried identity grew stronger as you matured and individuated, while those around you reinforced your distinctiveness. You were given a name and your parents or primary caregivers co-designed your personality. From a young age, you’ve believed that you must strive to establish and uphold your unique place in the world. That’s what you’ve been told. Our society considers these ideas to be the norm and stigmatises any contrary notions, avoiding and rejecting them for fear of losing oneself.
When you mindfully consider it, do you find that everything beyond your skin is “other”? Are you limited to your private world and confined by your body? Is individuality a barrier? Can individuals really “touch” one another?
It’s as if something in us knows we are not merely islands, but part of the universal mainland we struggle to find: a microcosm of a much greater macrocosm.
It is ignorance of our foundational oneness that gives way to a sense of dualistic separateness. Our divided state is characterised by desire, which moves us to pursue something external continually or to seek a peak experience. Fear, on the other hand, is another aspect of this divided state that causes us to avoid the experiences that might be challenging or unpleasant.
By making friends with my yearning for wholeness and learning to inquire into the nature of myself and the world with greater focus and discernment, it became apparent that what I had been searching for was Self-intimacy. I now describe this profound intimacy as oneness or “radical aloneness”—which comes from reconnecting with our own aliveness. Reconnecting in this way showed me that my true Self wasn’t restricted to a body or personality, nor was it limited to the confines of time and space, and it couldn’t be described or quantified. It was all things: the full breadth of life. I realised that I had always been alone, radically alone; not merely as an entity, but as life itself. The same applies for you. You too are the same life. I invite you to inquire with me into your present scope of self and to begin to gently release the boundaries that contain and confine you.
In psychospiritual terms, our individual self is by definition deficient, because it has a life span and is dependent on other things that also have a limited life span. Identified this way, we use others as a means for self-enhancement; we try to find ourselves through our relationships. Similarly, we identify with our roles, status, and possessions, grasping for them and becoming preoccupied with scarcity, and a dread of losing our stockpile of ego embellishments. These embellishments, which are primarily adopted beliefs, are used to patch up a fragmented sense of individuality. We mould ourselves by interacting with the cultural framework in which we live and to which we contribute. Culture fashions the components of our sense of self and informs, to a large extent, our perception of reality. Right from our formative years, it gives us a way to communicate, to know what’s acceptable, and to find meaning. What this alludes to is a compelling experience of individuality that is conceptually constructed, and seemingly alienated from the whole.
When you inquire into your constructed world, not taking it as absolute truth, you’ll see that it’s an illusory sphere through which you filter your private and public experience.
Ego is preoccupied with desire and fear and fabricates a world of superior and inferior people; nothing frightens it more than emptiness and uncertainty. Ego’s biggest fear is the realisation of its illusory nature, a far worse death, it thinks, than the body dying. That is to say, believing in difference keeps it alive; its mission is to divide and conquer.
We perceive a world divided into separate parts, making us view ourselves as fundamentally isolated, incomplete, and insecure. Existence gets distorted by concepts and projections and from these springs the cycle of desire and fear: solitary confinement by way of an obscured lens.
Experientially, your body and individuality set you apart from other people and objects. This happens in a paradigm of relating and interacting as a human, which you might have experienced as interpersonal isolation and loneliness. On a deeper level, it’s imagined duality which creates all manner of separateness—from the kind I call “dualistic isolation,” the sense that you’re identified with and alone in your body and your mind, to “existential loneliness,” a persistent sense of incompleteness that no amount of social or material connection can resolve. Bearing and inquiring into this alternative domain is a doorway to meeting our oneness.
We can reconnect with and give attention to ourselves wherever we are and whoever we’re with. We’re not deficient in any way whatsoever, so there’s no need to seek beyond ourselves—equality is the supreme order of things. This self-intimacy can be transformative.