How to Deal with Holiday Loneliness
By Deepak Chopra, MD
Loneliness haunts many people during the holidays, particularly those who are older or separated from home. This has always been true, but as the pandemic recedes, loneliness is getting a fresh look — it was all too prevalent during lockdown, affecting many people, in every age group, who had never experienced it before.
Just for a moment, recall the last time you felt lonely. Focus on the experience, including when and where it happened. What did loneliness feel like in your body? Did you judge yourself for feeling lonely or try to push away the unsettling experience by reaching for a snack, surfing the Web, shopping, or engaging in some other distraction? If you were with other people, you may have been reluctant to share how you were feeling, since for most people it’s easier to put on a social mask, pretending to be happy rather than risking the vulnerability of sharing how they really are.
For many people, loneliness is a crippling experience, fraught with a toxic dose of shame and self-criticism. We’d rather keep it hidden than admit that we suffer from feelings of isolation, emptiness, and anxiety. Yet when we try to wall off our painful emotions, they don’t go away; they brood and become even more painful. Over time these buried emotions can manifest in the symptoms of physical illness.
Connecting to the self who isn’t lonely
Healing loneliness requires more than simply seeking out company. As you’ve probably experienced, you can feel lonely in the middle of a crowd, at a holiday party, or with a group of caring friends. The root of loneliness isn’t the absence of other people but an inner absence — you don’t have a centered awareness of your true self.
Your essential nature is spirit, which is infinite and eternal. The qualities of spirit include love, compassion, equanimity, joy, creativity, intuition, pure potentiality, and bliss. When you’re established in the awareness of your true self, you feel lovable and connected, whether you’re in a packed stadium or spending a quiet afternoon by yourself. At the most basic level, the company you enjoy the most is your own. Loneliness is the condition of feeling negative about your own company and therefore requiring other people to fill an inner lack.
Feeling an inner lack is almost universal. It can be traced to a state of awareness that is constricted, unable to look beyond rigid boundaries. The more you try to defend these boundaries, the more fearful and insecure you become. Loneliness is only one symptom. When your awareness is constricted, it’s easy to get lost in the drama of the ego-mind, that limited aspect of us which feels separate. In a misguided attempt to feel secure, the ego-mind relies on reinforcement from other people to feel lovable and avoid rejection, never realizing that love is our essential nature. This struggle is a crucial cause of loneliness and pain.
Practices for healing loneliness
The first step in healing loneliness is to offer yourself compassion and begin to cultivate an acceptance of all your emotions. While emotions are commonly categorized as “positive” or “negative,” in reality every emotion is valid. But when you add self-judgment, any emotion can be damaging. When you feel lonely or anxious, rather than heaping judgment and shame on yourself, practice self-compassion. It can help to think of how you would treat a scared child or pet. You wouldn’t snap or speak harshly, tell them to “buck up” and stop being ridiculous. You’d offer them affection, loving attention, and gentle understanding.
See your loneliness as a messenger letting you know that your awareness of your true loving nature has temporarily become clouded by thoughts generated by the ego-mind. As you become more accepting of your emotions, the need to hide how you’re really feeling will drop away and you will find yourself relating to others from your authentic self. This self-love and acceptance is the basis of fulfilling relationships.
Finding fulfillment in meditation
Meditation is one of the most powerful practices for expanding your awareness of your true self and your essential spiritual nature. In meditation you go beyond the ego-mind’s restless, confused state and experience your true self, which is calm, centered, unshakable, and fulfilled. In the silent space between thoughts, you experience pure being. It is pure because there isn’t any content. Being just is. Yet this won’t feel empty like the cold void of outer space. You’ll discover that it is very full. It has infinite possibilities.
When you meditate on a regular basis, you cultivate all the qualities of spirit, including love, equanimity, and bliss — not just during your meditation sessions but as you go about your daily activities. As your awareness of your inner abundance expands, the search for external fulfillment — with its inevitable loneliness and fear — will gradually drop away.
Here is a simple meditation practice you can try right now:
Meditation on the Heart
· Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Now gently place your attention on your heart, in the center of your chest. As you breathe in and out naturally, keep your attention there. Allow any feelings and sensations to arise and pass. If your attention drifts away, gently bring it back to your heart as soon as you notice what has happened.
· After a few minutes, open your eyes. Rather than immediately jumping into your next activity, take a few moments to notice how you feel after the meditation. For the next half hour or so, observe yourself to see if you remain centered.
· Almost everyone will find that the effects of this simple meditation linger for a while. Colors seem a bit more vivid, or sounds seem clearer. There’s a sense of calm inside and less tendency to be pulled out into activity. If you meditate twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes, you will start to learn the difference between being centered in your true self and being distracted by the drama of the ego.
As you cultivate self-compassion and awareness, you’ll realize that connection, love, and joy are innate qualities of being. They can never be lost, only forgotten. As you remember who you really are, your loneliness will dissipate in the fullness of being and the radiance of infinite spirit.
Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. The World Post and The Huffington Post global internet survey ranked Chopra #17 influential thinker in the world and #1 in Medicine. Chopra is the author of more than 80 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His latest books are Super Genes co-authored with Rudolph Tanzi, PhD and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. www.deepakchopra.com