08 May Embrace Loneliness with Mindfulness
– Shanthi Lakshmi Duraimani
Spring was leaving, and summer was fast approaching. A few years back, I was living in a small town called Fairfield, Iowa, situated in the Midwest of the United States. During summer the trails of Jefferson County would open for trekking, and I used to love going for a walk in the evening. Walking under a canopy of trees, breathing fresh air, smelling the fragrance of wild flowers, listening to the sounds of singing birds, made the trails as the perfect destination to spend some time alone. I just love being alone.
One of the greatest gifts life has offered me is the time that I spend alone. I have encountered many people in my life, who do not appreciate loneliness. I thought it would be interesting to share my approach to life that made me appreciate being alone. First of all, being alone is not the same as being lonely. Loneliness has to do with deeply rooted sorrow, feeling the absence of a meaningful human relationship, negative self-image, shyness, high sensitivity, unrealistic expectations and lack of social skills. People who experience loneliness, find it very comfortable to stay in their cocoon, but they are not aware of the risk of feeling lonely.
Dr. John Cacioppo, a professor from the Department of Psychology, University of Chicago has done extensive research on loneliness. I was so surprised to learn some of his findings. He found that premature death is not majorly caused by obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, or air pollution. Premature death majorly occurs due to loneliness. Feeling lonely is sad, but for social species like human, it is not only sad but dangerous.
The only way to overcome loneliness is to learn to enjoy being alone. Here are four steps you can take to embrace loneliness:
Clearly identify the problem
Recollect when was the last time you have participated in a social event. Recollect the incident that made you choose loneliness. Noting down the negative events will help you figure out the solution to your problem.
Recognize the signal
Now recognize the signals that make you avoid participating in social events or mingling with people. The negative thought pattern or self-defeating thoughts that are passing through your mind are the signals from your mind to avoid social interactions.
Understanding its impact on your body and mind
The next step is to recognize the changes that are happening in your body and mind. For example, irregular sleeping pattern or lack of sleep, frustration, anger, tiredness, physical pain such as a headache, stomach upset, etc.
Responses to the Problem
After identifying the various aspects of loneliness, now take necessary actions to battle loneliness.
I am totally aware of the difficulty of getting into the nitty gritty of the mental side of climbing to battle loneliness. But, what if you have a cool and easy technique to climb this ladder smoothly? Mindfulness meditation is a simple and effortless technique that emphasizes on paying attention to your moment-to-moment experience, including emotional and mental activity and, when in dialogue with other people, attuning to them and the shifting dynamics of your interaction as well. The basic mindfulness techniques will help you recognize the above four steps easily and embrace loneliness.
Simple breathing exercises such as inhaling and exhaling through nostril will help calm down your mind and regularize the physiology of the body.
Noting technique helps to identify the negative thoughts and consciously replace them with positive ones. Mindfulness eventually erases the negative neural pattern and replaces them with the positive one. By gently noticing your thoughts and being curious about them, you begin to differentiate between what is true and what your mind want you to believe is true.
Focus on the Now
To discover the joy of being alone, “Focus on Now” technique is a powerful tool. To be in the present moment might be a difficult task initially, but cultivating it in your daily life will eventually engrain it in your mind. It helps you be more present in your life. Practicing this technique on a regular basis will slowly help you to break your cocoon and experience the social life.
When you are alone, mindfulness meditation practice will bring great silence and inner peace, thereby help you to discover the joy of being alone. Once you experience the joy of being alone, there lies the great power – the power to enjoy your life in totality, experience social life, and manifest the life you want to live.
Cole SW, Capitanio JP, Chun K, Arevalo JM, Ma J, Cacioppo JT. (2015). Myeloid differentiation architecture of leukocyte transcriptome dynamics in perceived social isolation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Dec 8;112(49):15142-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1514249112. Epub 2015 Nov 23.
Brown, K.W., Weinstein, N., & Creswell, J.D. (2012). Trait mindfulness modulates neuroendocrine and affective responses to social evaluative threat. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 37, 2037-2041.