Saturday, December 11, 2010

Overcoming Loneliness

Loneliness is the one of the greatest challenges in life.  It is an empty and dislocated feeling that has nothing to do with how many people are around us.  Rather, we feel lonely when we are unable to connect to our environment in a meaningful way.  I find it interesting that I never feel lonely when submerged in nature but often feel very lonely when surrounded by people.  For others it is just the opposite.  They feel right at home in a crowded room but would freak out if left alone in the woods.  Perceiving our environment as something alien and potentially threatening is the common thread that winds through both scenarios.  Do we feel a part of our current scenes or do we feel like uninvited and unwanted guests?

Obviously, we are naturally drawn to the type of environment that feels most comfortable.  However, the necessities of life often demand that we also function in places that feel foreign.  Our challenge is to not just survive situations that trigger loneliness but to actually thrive in them.  Somehow we have to feel that we belong and can connect with whatever is around us.

Chassidic philosophy teaches that in order to do this we must attach ourselves to the life force that is both inherent in all situations and transcends and encompasses all situations.  There is an eternal energy called ohr p’nimi (internal light) that flows through and animates our seemingly finite world.  Only an infinitesimal amount of this G-dly light is allowed to manifest because any more would exceed the capacity of physical reality.  The energy that is “too big” to be revealed in our world and therefore beyond perception is called ohr makif (surrounding light).  The revealed light and the hidden light are opposite aspects of the same G-d.

Our five senses tell us that our world is characterized by separation and fundamental differences between types.  However, this is an illusion because the same energy is inherent in all situations – it is just manifested differently.  For example, the same light passing through stained glass shines in many different colors.  The essence of the light has not changed, only it colors.  Therefore, if we identify ourselves as belonging to the source of the light (i.e., G-d) rather than its external manifestations then we reach the comfortable conclusion that no matter where we find ourselves we have a constant companion that shares our feelings and understands our thoughts.  

I won’t feel alienated at a dinner party if I remember that the same energy that I connect to in nature is hidden in that dining room.  I just need to seek it out in the faces of those around me.  Beyond my own comfort level, a willingness to work through feelings of loneliness and alienation in order to tap into that infinite light actually increases the capacity of this world for goodness.  It is seen by Chassidic philosophy as an act of mesirat nefesh (self-sacrifice).  It pushes me past my perceived limitations and draws a “new light” into the world.  Ohr makif (surrounding light) becomes ohr p’nimi (internal light). 

We all feel lonely on occasion.  However, our willingness to seek out the G-dly light inherent in all experiences not only wards off this loneliness but it actually brings our world one step closer to wholeness by revealing a new level of energy.  Our ability to relate freely and intimately in situations that were once alien will actually introduce new light and health into the world.  What we once saw as something separate and foreign will now be experienced as vital to our well-being and pursued vigorously.

1 comment:

  1. Yasher koach. I, too, can relate in feeling lonely in certain large groups, often preferring the non-loneliness of just me and myself.

    May we indeed be zoiche through mesiras-nefesh to leave our comfort level, as you describe.