Born into society, we reflect through it on ourselves. The role of an ideal community is to make us independent so that we can make our decisions. But we make choices among people; hence, due to our need for society, loneliness does not feel well for we are devoid of meaningful communication.
Thus, to understand loneliness we need to look into communication, society (people with whom you need to communicate) and personality (who you are among people).
On the one hand, being-alone1 lets us think. A forced being alone or loneliness, on the other hand, can be dangerous for a person – one may feel that she is not being valued by others, which may lead, as a result, to depression and low self-esteem. We estimate ourselves on the opinion of others; that is, we test our actions through reactions. If the test is not directed and conscious, it is blind and mostly useless; no deductions are made, the same mistakes are repeated, and, consequently, dependency will not be reduced. Independence is a gradual process coming out of dependence; one who becomes independent creates her own stability and validation of values based on the knowledge it continually receives. Consequently, one develops her personality.
Personality has both its unity and flexibility. For that reason, we firmly believe that philosophical grasp of personality is better than psychological. In short, psychological models, as any models of understanding, cannot grasp the concept of freedom, and, as a result, create fatal and rigid frames that let us no flexibility. Those models are generated by the mind to explain itself empirically, that is, as the soul moving outwardly within the framework of society; both extremes are fixed as never coinciding opposites. Personality models strive to grasp individual traits, but they have been successful only in the understanding of the general that is never able to cover all empirical variety. That is, features are understood, but their combination is what should make up an individual; but that combination is precisely that which slips off an empirical theory. Philosophy, on the other hand, seems to have no specific answer. But what is overlooked, that consciousness is a living social entity with changing forms. Every particular form is grasped as a part of the whole movement. Thus, the discontent with the requirement of philosophy to think through the opposites is the overlooking of the actual content. And we should mention that the empirical understanding is itself one of the finite forms of consciousness. It presupposes the traits of character as well-known for everybody. But even if those qualities could be defined precisely, they still would be left with their contextual presupposition (and for that reason cannot be generalised) – a society at some stage of its development where only specific things would be valued. For example, in a culture where outward success and ambitiousness are everything one needs such qualities as temperance and modesty would be regarded as deviations. To reiterate: psychology studies models – fixed forms, philosophy forms, i.e. moving shapes.
Attitudes towards loneliness
The reception of being-alone depends on a form of consciousness. It may feel unbearable for a person at one time and desirable at another. The transition from one perception to the opposite signifies the incipient changes. Where that person might move is problematic to say, yet both negative and positive reaction towards loneliness are signs of development and should be taken into cautious and careful consideration to understand one’s movement. On a plain level, one may benefit from observation of emotional states (swings of mood expressed in anger, bliss, pain, joy, etc.) and rational attitudes. Any theory which is furnished upon the experience will prove useful only in the state of falling apart, that is, as soon as it is taken into pieces and cannot explain one anymore now, it can describe her then (in the past). It is clear, that the explanation as an application of the understanding, that is, the scientific explanation, deals with the gone or fixed forms. Although it cannot explain you now, it can enclose your experience with a frame that will let you predict.
To alleviate the pain of forced seclusion, we should realise that being alone is not to be devoid of communication. We are among humanity not only with alive people but among recorded thoughts. In our thoughts we experience ourselves in language, that is, we have an inner dialogue with representations working them out into concepts present for us at the very beginning of our life. However, just a sheer existence of a word does not lead to the grasping of its concept; in other words, a concept is not actual until it is worked out – first, it is received, then it is perceived, then understood, and finally grasped. Needless to say that grasping is an experience, and it requires the practical side as well.
The experience of loneliness
For one who is not ready to be alone, her being-alone is loneliness. Devoid of communication, she does not know how to be at peace with it and, thus, resists. Restlessness, agitation, boredom, fear, anxiety, to name a few, are the symptoms. They are symptomatic of an unsatisfied with itself soul or, in other words, the consciousness that knows nothing of itself: it wants to dissolve and dissipate itself in the outer, but, instead, it is asked to gather in its inner. However, it is empty or unknown for itself; there is no object to be perceived for that object is the same as the consciousness. The ego of psychology is a controversial term because it is the mind obsessed with itself externally – it does not want to know itself. The ego, the I should know itself, but it is the other way around. The ego that desires only the outer is incomplete because it has not come to the stage of knowledge yet. Loneliness is unbearable for the alienated consciousness (the ego) that has no trace of itself. Thus, a person is looking for some other alienated to amuse herself for she has no rich inner life. The experience of suffering is inevitable to some degree – although for some it may be easier than for others. The condition is created – a person is experiencing the negative for the time being before it realises that all the world and satisfaction has lain in her thought. The suffering came from the unknown ever-present intelligence; from the search for nothing in particular. When consciousness has grasped itself, it has become satisfied. The second state ensues.
This state marks the beginning of new development – the gradual coming out of natural life. But an unguided, this may lead either to a mix with the previous experience – a rest to collect power for conversing with others later – or to a trial and error. That is why you need a theory to understand the movement of your consciousness; the best exposition that I am aware of can be found in philosophy, e.g., Plato, Plotinus, Augustine, Hegel. Consciousness can’t be unconscious: it ever wants to have an object. The choice here is either to lose itself in something else again or to live through the knowledge of itself. Knowing itself is not the same as knowing one’s personality, but knowing the consciousness at work. Even if someone does not aspire to philosophy, she may lead herself to a pure life – an unmixed with the undue care for the outer condition. Still, such life requires knowledge of the affects that plague us and how to avoid their influence. In some way affects are emotions, but in the other way, they are of mixed nature. Whenever you act on a prompt, it is being affected. Simple life wants no deal with affects in this strict way; it lets them go their way not reacting to their prompts; it aspires for knowledge and completion of self-consciousness.
Loneliness and social order
If we are to think through the word everyone, then we will notice that every one of us is one. When we mean that every one of us is lonely, we hint at the uncertainty of any adherence to others. No one is certain of herself, save of others. Whatever human being you are, you are such and such only in a specific social order to which you belong. Remove it, and the identity will be lost. Suddenly you will realise that people interpreted you through a subtle network of relations, that is, through your social roles. If you are not recognised as part of social order, you are not recognised at that same person – instead of someone you become no-one. If you step back and watch your life from outside, you will see that your disappearance concerns others only in their own social roles. As soon as you do not fulfil the role meant for others, that is, you are absent physically or mentally, you are gone. At the same time, alone you will be coming back to senses, that is, noticing the changing order of nature. It means that you come closer to basic stuff, to the raw appearance (the unity of appearance and disappearance) for the loss of social bonds. In other words, the lonelier you are, the more you are in the know of yourself, others, order, and change. And if you want to be a part of the same order you have lost, you have to appear as you used to be.2
Here we have come to the role of community. Only in it do we experience being human, know laws of nature, art, religion, and philosophy. The general one consists of many parts – from the most despicable to the most sophisticated. The concepts of a particular community define one’s life. To step beyond, to change yourself is to change a community. But how can you do that if you have not lost your old community first? And that intermediary state – a miserable, painful, and elevating at the same time is what is called loneliness. Loneliness is so painful because you are losing your previous self in this state while not knowing what you will eventually gain. You feel isolated due to exclusion by your community. Your pain is not its pain, for it is insensitive to your loss; it may only sense you as a danger to its unity when you are losing its guiding lines. Your angst is the sense of an outcast wanting to matter, but to be relevant is to be a part of some community. Not only have you lost your usual social comfort and sense (meaning), but yourself as a person who was fixedly imagining herself. All structures are broken, and you are lying undisguised not knowing who you are. Once your empirical, appearing self has been lost, you are left with nothing else but the basic concept of the I. You are sure that you are, but who you are is vague. Again, you are experiencing both the pain of the destruction of your old self (with its old values present in memory) and the torture of the unknown, which has no hints to where it is all heading. The intermediary is a state of a partly dead past and barely alive present – some parts are falling apart, and some are only about to grow. Loneliness is an intermediary state, and it never feels right completely. When you feel good, then you sense a new community, be that community a new social group (even as large as a nation), or the one of physically absent but ever present in thought intelligent men.
The universal community has no borders – all boundaries are outlined by your mind. But you can exclude yourself and change the role played in particular circumstances. You are an individual, that is, indivisible, as a part of the community, and community is created mostly by you (you agree to be a part of it, you like it and struggle with it); thus loneliness feels like a loss of individuality which consisted of parts of a community. Loneliness is the change of your personality, that is, your community. They are the opposites that are the same.
How loneliness can be beneficial
We may concentrate on the loss and lose tranquillity of the mind, but also we may admit the loss and welcome changes. We learn more about our weakness and strength in solitude. When you depend on some people, you are less independent for you seek their company to avoid reflection. Self-forgetfulness is a plausible pretence to stop the hardship of change. With others, we block all opportunities to pass an honest judgement on ourselves for we are busy talking and fortifying our present selves. In a company, you can boast, amuse yourself and others, feel your importance. But stay eye to eye with yourself for an extended period and see what all the boasting and vain things are. Isolation allows you to devour yourself – all your believes will appear implausible and ill-advised. You will recognise your knowledge as opinion, your individuality as a vague representation. However, you will glimpse upon a better self with all the depths opened to you. After all, you are not alone for there is some light inside with the help of which you gauge your thinking. Instead of talking you now have a dialogue with someone ever listening and responding. You will know what real communication is and strive to achieve it with people later. You will look forward to staying alone to get your balance back for you will notice its disappearance in the midst of clamouring social life.
At any rate, you had your chance to gain experience of social order. Now is the time to go back in yourself to see the ever-present profundity available to you and noticed by you when only you are alone. Periods of loneliness can become periods of silence, periods of grief periods of joy.
Loneliness in the present state of affairs
Experiencing loneliness as a harsh misfortune may partly be due to the modern ways of life. If any, current systems mostly support excessive communication at the expense of its quality. Incessant chatting creates an illusion of sense where there is only almost senseless information there. Shared visual information meant to provoke immediate emotional responses end up in a controlled life, that is, the life where all limits and agendas are set collectively in the most irrational way. In other words, it is consciousness in its nearly unconscious state. To be affected is to be determined by everything but free will. To act freely on an affection (and think that you can choose) is to exert arbitrariness. Everything is washed-out for a modern person because her mind is amorphous, that is, whatever good thought she might stumble upon is engulfed in the ocean of thoughtlessness.
We have certainly doubled our reality and put whatever does not correspond to our views aside. We live in a sterile social world that is afraid of everything alive and strong. Observe that you experience yourself differently when alone somewhere in a landscape; note how everything becomes whirly again when you are back to society. You may think the social and natural are the same for your mind, yet they are different worlds. The latter is where you are at unity and a character, the former where you are dissolved and a role. The social makes you think that you are better off when you let a lot of information in, but the natural shows you that you are the source of information.
All our present theories put all natural into a tube, or better, it thinks that all natural is there, yet it is the tube where we are present and through the glass of which we are looking at the world. In our container, we feel safe, and to put out (extinguish) flame of better and freer thinking it uses chatter. Think about it when next time you won’t like the notion of being alone.
A feeling of loneliness can happen in any surroundings, whether among many, a few or no people at all. It can be caused by an absence of those you love or presence of those who you have lost trust in; an illness may cause your role not being fulfilled anymore or you may be pressed into performing a role you do not want to be anymore. Suffering is inescapable when your role is being in the process of change; after all, it shows that there is an experience going on. To alleviate pain, we need to bring the wit at its best state to grasp the change and not to succumb to the feeling. Your view will now determine what community you need to live freely (a place where you move and breathe easily). Though from this moment on (the loss of the old community) you should not cling tenaciously to any fixed role (and community). Remember the change – it is inevitable: as long as you are alive, you need to grow. If you are self-sufficient and know that the fixed shape (of consciousness) you are now can dissolve, you will not stick to it as if it were the final one. Despair can be experienced several times, but the most dramatic one can be the last after which you will not regard the true as a stable object.
What is your experience of loneliness? Please, share your thoughts.
- I see the term being-alone as a positive experience and loneliness as negative. Though, these are just abstractions of the whole alteration
- Here I dwell on the movie Wakefield where the hero comes back home and goes into his garage by chance. Then he stays there amused by the ability to be a spectator of his family and their reactions to him being gone. He remains like this for almost a year, gradually becoming a hobo who feeds on what he finds in trash cans. When he decides to return, he copies the same looks as he used to have, comes back home, and the movie ends.