The Hidden Power in Embracing Loneliness
“Man is what he believes” — Anton Chekhov
You were born alone; you’ll die alone. There are sadness and truth in that sentence. The sadness that comes with realizing that one day you’ll leave the people you care about — and who care for you. That sooner or later, you’ll be dying in a bed, old (hopefully). Or in a split second, your body or some piece of human technology (e.g., car) would fail to perform as intended.
We default to this sadness because we’re more open to dangers than joys. If you’re running away from a nasty tiger, you don’t exactly have time to monitor the new pear trees on your escape route.
We see the dangers of death. Not power.
Anyone who believes in life after death has a different view of death's “loneliness.” You’re not alone — you’re going to see your maker.
Beliefs like this can improve one’s life. It’s only expected, given the unpredictability of nearly everything. We think we know — but there is so much we don’t know.
How long have we been studying the Universe? How long have we been fascinated with the human body and mind?
For centuries scientists and philosophers have posited and debunked. Even Einstein, a genius, made errors.
The belief in life after death is a powerful tool to guide life. It’s an understanding that there’s no such thing as loneliness when we leave this world.
But where’s the proof? How can we be so sure?
Well, we can’t. That’s why it’s called a belief. You choose to accept it and live as it states. You don’t need evidence. A true believer doesn’t.
“Beliefs are basically the guiding principles in life that provide direction and meaning in life. Beliefs are the preset, organized filters to our perceptions of the world (external and internal). Beliefs are like ‘Internal commands’ to the brain as to how to represent what is happening, when we congruently believe something to be true. In the absence of beliefs or inability to tap into them, people feel disempowered.” — The Biochemistry of Belief
Our history has atrocities committed in the name of beliefs: Jihads, Crusades, Genocides.
They may not all have been religious beliefs, but they’re beliefs nonetheless.
Yet, as I think of loneliness and the beliefs it may inspire in us, I can’t help but think about those smaller scale beliefs we have that damage us daily.
The belief that if you aren’t married by a certain age, you’ve failed in life.
The belief that you only have one passion, and if you fail to find it, you’ve wasted your existence.
The belief that friends are for life, no matter what.
Or that people don’t change.
The belief that your personality is permanent and there’s nothing you can do to change anything.
You can attempt to complete this inexhaustive list. A good portion of these dangerous beliefs can be seen in Cognitive Biases.
I know…coming from Jihads to Confirmation Bias isn’t exactly a smooth narrative. But it all ties, as you will find, with the sadness of loneliness.
For the past month, I have felt incredibly lonely. More than I ever have in a long time. The last time I felt this way was back in Cameroon, in college, when I was living by myself. I did feel some semblance of it when I moved to the US. I was still in the throes of life here and did not fully appreciate the depth and degree of the loneliness that comes from being far from your birthplace.
I wish this were just an immigration story about how America is hard. But as I have had time to sit with the loneliness, it turns out my beliefs on what this loneliness meant were mostly about sadness.
I’d brood. Stay quiet for a long time. Choose not to talk to anyone. Not pick up my phone.
This morning, I was back in that space. I write to you from that space. And it’s incredible what happened when I started questioning the belief that loneliness had to be sad.
The Joys of Self-Conversation
Introverts would say they need to recharge. I think all humans do. We all need to take the time to listen to ourselves and check-in. One thing I have noticed that is different between America and Cameroon: the speed with which time moves. Time is relative, but very much so in a society that measures it as a payment form.
You have probably heard the right advice about running your own business that goes something like this: if a task costs less than your hourly rate, hire someone else to do it.
The advice boils down to: time is money. Never waste it doing something that isn’t worth the time. In my Cameroonian mind, this explains why somebody in America must schedule everything. You can’t simply drop into someone’s house because they could be at work — or had designed their alone time and don’t need you in it.
To most Cameroonians (and probably other Africans), this is perhaps the most striking difference in cultures.
But I digress.
When loneliness is at its peak for me, I tend to think of conversations with friends. The people who understood me. I want to talk to them, hoping their wisdom and view would guide me towards a better mental state. I get so fixated with the fact that no one has “checked in” on me that I brood even harder.
Then this morning, after I turned off my alarm clock and decided to sleep in, it suddenly hit me that I had a friend all this time who had been there for me:
What you will realize, hopefully, sooner than later, about your beliefs on loneliness, is that you’re never really lonely. You’re never truly alone.
There are friends and family who pray for you without your knowledge. Also, those conversations in your mind don’t happen in a vacuum.
You were not born alone. You will not die alone. You were born with a mind, a body, goals, a mission you get to decide.
The same way you decide to study mental models to appreciate the flaws in beliefs we all have, it’s the same way you can choose to have conversations with yourself when all things seem dark.
You can’t give from an empty cup, and hoping your friends or family would drag you out is a cop-out.
What if they don’t? What if they’re dealing with their loneliness and can't pull you out? Or better — what if they need you?
Self-conversations allow you to question your thoughts; to monitor them the way meditation helps. To journal and capture in real-time those ideas that seep into your unconscious and start permeating your worldviews.
Once you realize how flawed and beautiful you’ve always been, you might even start looking forward to those lonely moments.
Will it be fun? Probably not. Will it be necessary? I bet you, yes.
You have to question your beliefs. Remember that you don’t have evidence of them, yet they guide your life. To choose which path you want to follow, you must take the time to reflect on your mind and observe the energy around you.
The sadness of loneliness is a belief I had for a long time, one I held close to heart and wrote at length about. I feared myself — I feared hanging out with me.
Now? Not so much. Sure, there are moments when self-hugs don’t help; moments when I genuinely want to be listened to by another human.
I am, after all, human.
“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for a moment that we’re not alone.” ― Orson Welles
The instant I realized that it doesn’t always have to be that way, my world view shattered, and I saw a path behind the mirror dresser of my thoughts.
Loneliness can be useful. It’s where you get in touch with your essence, where you bring forth your power and share what you decide to. Your beliefs are in those moments. You allow yourself to be genuinely observant and appreciative of yourself.
Don’t let your loneliness go to waste.
“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.” — Mark Twain