I have been lonely for as long as I can remember, and I’ve handled it in various ways throughout my life. When I was younger, I disassociated all of those feelings away. As I got older, I found the “better” method of handling my loneliness was to funnel it into work. Because if you’re busy, you don’t have time to listen to the feelings gnawing in your stomach. Over the years, I’ve found that I could combine my incessant need to drown things out via work while also trying to fix my constant loneliness. Which is probably why TTR as you know it even exists.
In recent months, I’ve found that the topic of loneliness has been on my mind again. Due to the current circumstances of my life, I find that the feelings of abandonment and neglect that I would have experienced in my youth frequently bubble up to the surface. Because I’ve gotten better at being able to look at my feelings and remain somewhat detached from them, I’ve found that I’m able to actually inspect them before being overwhelmed by them. This has resulted in a fair amount of navel-gazing about loneliness and how it relates to a person’s personal religious practice. And by extension, how it relates to the gods, and whether they get lonely or not.
I suspect that being a member of a more “fringe” religion leads to loneliness playing a larger role in our community’s experience as a whole. Unlike being in the dominant religious group of wherever any of us is living, where you can find physical places to worship with other human beings, most of us are stuck creating our own religious experience in our own homes. I think its all very foreign, this trying to allocate resources to concoct, conceptualize, and implement whatever brings religious meaning to us while still engaging all of the other aspects of our busy lives. It’s a lot of extra work, and I think many of us don’t take the time to consider what impact that can lend to one’s religious experience. It’s a lot easier to build off of something that already exists than to have to figure out how to create it yourself from scratch. It’s a lot more motivating to participate in your religion if it is socially fulfilling or enriching.
In many respects, our choice in religion others us to a degree. And in that sense, our religion creates an ideal space to be lonely.
On a whim. I asked about loneliness and religion over on tumblr. I wanted to see how others relate to loneliness, and how that influences their religious practices. I left the question vague, as I wanted to see how people interpret loneliness without a wider context. I would say that most of the responses fell into a few categories:
- Loneliness is an act of being alone. This can allow for greater freedom to connect with the Divine, because there is no one around to interrupt you.
- Loneliness as a necessary tool or experiences. That some of our experiences are going to be inherently lonely, because we experience things differently as individuals. In most of these responses, the othering that comes with loneliness is temporary or situational, and not all-encompassing.
- Loneliness that separates a person from other people, as in being the only participant of your religion that you know of, or being the only non-white participant in your religious circle. This loneliness is pervasive and persistent.
- Loneliness that separates a person from the gods, as in not being able to connect with a deity as much as one would like, due to the fact that they aren’t living in physical forms we can interact with.
In these responses, I would argue that there are two over-arching relationships to loneliness. On one hand, it seems that people equate loneliness to being alone, nothing more and nothing less. On the other hand, it seems that people equate loneliness to being disconnected from others who are similar to themself, which is the definition I tend to err towards. From a mental health perspective, loneliness is not about being alone, it’s about being disconnected from other humans–regardless of how many humans are in physical proximity to you.
The ability to feel connected with people comes from a sense of someone being open and available to you, and by extension, you being open and available to them. It’s an open-door policy that works in both directions, respects both people’s needs and boundaries and leaves both people trusting the other with vulnerable aspects of themself. You can’t be connected with others unless you’re comfortable being vulnerable with them.
When you read that paragraph, how many people come to mind? How many people are you really connected with? How about your gods? Does the definition of connection apply to your relationship with them? Do you think that the gods feel connected with you?
Connection is ultimately the “cure” for loneliness, especially if its chronic in nature. And yet, according to most research, most of us do not feel connected with anyone. I might go so far to venture that many of us don’t even feel connected to ourselves. In recent months I have come to understand isfet as being “stuff that tears at the social fabric of human society,” and by that definition, loneliness might as well be a type of isfet because not only does loneliness make us miserable, it literally cuts your life short.
And if that’s the case, wouldn’t that make connection a form of ma’at? The balm that eradicates isfet from your life and restores the social fabric that us humans require to survive?
If 2019 is the year of making ma’at, then it stands to reason that this should be the year we start to tackle the loneliness that permeates our community. I don’t have any concrete solutions, but this is a call to action for anyone reading to start pondering about how we can work on helping members of our community to become more connected. Not only with each other or the gods, but also with ourselves. Figuring out who we are, making ourselves a priority allows us to give more space to other people when they are in a time of need. Treating ourselves as an important member of our own life helps us to form deeper, healthier relationships with others. Learning about yourself also teaches you how you want other people to treat you, and by extension, helps you create better boundaries, so that you can learn to trust people better. Which ultimately leads to… more ability to connect with others.
When you think about the loneliness that is in your own life or religious practice, what comes to mind? What helps you to feel connected to others? What steps are you performing to create more connection between yourself and others? What are you doing to help yourself become more connected with yourself?
Some resources to get the conversation started:
- Campaign to End Loneliness
- Many Americans Feel Lonely
- Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Loneliness
- Connect with Others
- Ways to Deepen Your Connections