I used to have this crazy recurring nightmare in which I would awaken from sleep to find that I was the last person left in the world. I would run through the streets, searching shops and homes, trying to find out where everyone had gone, but as I ran, I realized that I was completely alone. It was terrifying.
I couldn’t have imagined anything worse. To never be able to share things with other people, to never be able to connect
with another person again was a completely horrifying idea. Without those things, I can’t imagine that life would hold anywhere near as much joy or laughter.
The funny thing is that the chance of there being a total apocalypse, while not completely impossible, is pretty unlikely, and it’s even more unlikely that if all human life suddenly ceased to exist, I would somehow be the only one to survive. So why, even after waking, did this dream send shivers of panic through me? Why did this dream continue to plague me night after night?
For much of my life, I have had a very hard time being alone. Growing up, it seemed I was always with other people, whether it was my sister or my friend next door. Even throughout college, I often slept over at friends’ houses because I never wanted to go home. I never wanted to be alone. I think, somewhere along the way, I developed this idea that if I was alone, I would feel lonely, and who wants to feel that?
In recent years though, various life circumstances have led me to spend a lot more time by myself and, quite unexpectedly, I have come to appreciate time spent in my own company. I actually can’t even remember the last time I had the apocalyptic nightmare and I think the reason is that I finally shone a light under the bed where the monster was supposed to be hiding and found that the fear was not based in anything true. Rather than finding loneliness in my time away from others, I found a greater sense of intimacy with myself, an ability to be more authentic, and a deeper sense of peace
Not only did my experience of being alone shift,
but the way that I approach my time with others has changed as well. While I certainly still love to meet new people and to spend time with my friends and family, I don’t feel such a strong need to constantly surround myself with others. This allows me to be more thoughtful about the ways that I share my time with the people in my life and leads me to be so much more grateful for the moments I share with them, the learning that can come out of each experience, and the opportunities I have to share myself and my gifts with the people around me. I am more present for each moment, and as a result, the sense of connectedness I gain through these experiences is so much more profound.
Since I have started being alone more, the interactions I do have with other people seem to carry more weight, and I find that I am more aware of the ways I interact with people. The exchange with the person ringing me up in the store, making eye contact with someone I pass on the street, even conversations with people that I still speak to regularly, but much less frequently than I used to, become illuminated and I feel more attuned to the impact we have on each other and the importance of taking every opportunity to share positivity and love with others.
Another thing that I have become more attuned to is the way that loneliness does not really result from being away from others. Loneliness can strike whether you are living a solitary life on a mountaintop or spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week surrounded by people, because loneliness is not so much a result of being physically alone. Loneliness is the result of an emotional sense of being alone, a sense of disconnectedness, and the great thing about that is that is that it really is only a feeling. The truth
is that we are all connected in infinite ways. We are never truly alone, well, unless of course there actually is an apocalypse, but even then, we can connect with all the love
that we have shared, the memories of everyone who has touched our lives, and be filled up with the beauty and joy of these experiences. We always have that choice; so as long as we choose to stay conscious of that connectedness, there may be times in life where we find that we must be alone, loneliness is always optional.
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