Updated: Jan 10, 2021
As the solitude of an ongoing pandemic rages on, I must first pause and reflect that I have been fortunate over the past year to collect precious life experiences. I spent my summer on a farm, two months with family in the mountains of Switzerland, and have been working remotely for most of 2020. In a world that is starving for human connection I consider myself lucky to have shared these moments with friends and family.
With that said, there are times that I feel very much alone. Because although I was on a farm with Steve throughout the summer, the time came when I had to go home. And then, when it was time to say goodbye to family in Switzerland, I packed my bags and headed to the airport solo.
I have always found it natural to pursue life experiences in the pursuit of getting to know oneself better, to connect with one’s inner world and spirit. Whether this came from a lonely childhood or not I cannot be sure. What I do know is that my time in solitude and self-reflection have led me to some insights on loneliness and feeling alone in the world, and since I am sure there are many humans out there who must feel this way, I wanted to share my thoughts and ideas on loneliness today.
First, I must say that even for me, an introvert that seeks out solitude, that leaves New Year’s Eve parties at 10 pm, who goes on solo walking pilgrimages and then writes about it, who can be found in the basement hanging out with dogs at family gatherings, this past year has not been easy. Because in the end, I do not believe that humans are meant to be alone.
If anything, I believe that periods of solitude in our lives are precious, mainly because they allow us to tap into an inner wisdom and peace of mind, to connect with God, to learn how to love, which then makes us more valuable members of our communities upon our return. In other words, anything we gain in periods of self-reflection is multiplied ten-fold upon sharing our experiences with those we care about. In a way, this is what I believe to be our purpose in life. To live, to learn, to grow, to share.
Over the last week, it is conversations with friends that I have not seen in months that reminded me of what I am missing in my life, something that no kettlebell workout, kinetic stretching routine, or meditation practice can replace. Human connection. Sharing the human experience. My soul craves connection.
I saw an old friend yesterday. He moved out of his Hoboken apartment in 2020 and into a suburban house with his wife and two young children. We are both experiencing many of the same challenges of this pandemic – worries about job security, challenges of isolation, and maintaining physical and mental health – but then I watched him drive off, and as I walked back to my empty apartment, I was reminded how all of us are going through this experience on an island. It is my opinion that we will never be the same, individually or as a society, at least not for a very, very long time. Here is what I mean.
Humanity is experiencing trauma on a global scale, yet each of us, individually, is coping differently. Just as walking the Camino de Santiago alone, at twenty-two years old, reconfigured my perspective and changed the course of my life, living through this pandemic will do the same. Life will go on, of course, but we will all be very different people.
It is my opinion that loneliness is less about who you spend time with and more about how connected you feel. This is where I think we sometimes lose our way. Because yes, it is true that connection is found with other human beings, in relationships, both platonic and romantic, as well as in our communities. However, connection is also found in nature, in our work, in our purpose, in being aligned with our values and living a life true to ourselves.
One can be surrounded by community and feel alone, while another can live in a cave and touch the miracle of life.
With that said, a human being can find connection from within for only so long. At some point, our environment begins to dictate our state of mind. One can be greater then their environment, but not forever. Everyone has a breaking point.
Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, who analyzed the set of data from the Framingham Heart Study, one of the largest and longest running health studies ever, showed that there is a distinct causal relationship between an individual and their social network. If a friend of yours becomes obese, you are 45% more likely to gain weight.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development, also known as the Harvard Happiness Study, began tracking sophomores at Harvard in 1938. Today it is the longest running study on adult life, with only 19 members of the study still alive, all in their late 90s. What did the study show was the single most consistent indicator of a long, healthy, and happy life? The quality of our relationships. Community. Connection.
So, what am I getting at here? It is important to understand how important community and the quality of our relationships have on our health. In a world where social distancing and isolation is being normalized, I think we need to be very careful about the impact these lifestyle changes will have on our physical and mental wellbeing.
I am not making an argument against social distancing as a tactic to prevent the spread of coronavirus. I am making the argument that social distancing comes at a price, and we must do everything in our power not to lose connection; with our friends, with our family, and with ourselves. Because in the end, the human experience is about connection.
Once you lose connection you lose hope, and once you lose hope you begin to lose people.