So it is that I am typing this blog at 8:49 pm on a Saturday evening, a time when single males are supposed to be out on a date, or socializing with friends. And so it is roughly two months since my wife and I have separated and the situation required that I leave my wife, my three stepchildren, and my large beautiful older home. My house was always bustling with the routines and activity of kids, family and friends, household chores, people dropping by, neighbor kids wandering in and so on. While it was sometimes chaotic, and occasionally nerve wracking, it was seldom boring and there was seldom time to be alone. Now, I reside in a small, relatively modern, clean, quiet town house. I often find myself missing the companionship,din, chaos, clutter and disorganization of my former life and rue any occasion wherein I may have wished it to be otherwise. While I occasionally have overnight visitations with my biological daughter from a first marriage, or my step kids, most nights of the week, the house is empty and quiet. On some occasions, this reprieve is welcome since my professional life is quite full and often demanding. Other occasions, the aloness can be daunting. Such is the plight of millions of Americans, many of whom have far less social contact than myself. It can be stated that loneliness has become something of a national pandemic being that our crumbling social institutions of family, and community have left so many, especially those in their later years, very much alone. A recent survey by AARP revealed that approximately 44 million Americans described themselves as lonely and desirous of meaningful human connections. It appears that despite our increasing digital connectivity via Facebook, Linkedin, twitter and other social networks, Americans are feeling more lonely and alienated than perhaps ever before.
Loneliness can be dangerous. It has been linked to depression, anxiety, suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, overeating and obesity and increased risk for a number of medical symptoms and illnesses and decreased lifespan.
It is imperative to point out that loneliness and aloness do not have to be interchangeable experiences. Loneliness as with all emotional challenges can possibly be transformed into an opportunity for growth and healing. The critical thing I suppose is to recognize that aloness is a situational state, whereas aloness is an emotional experience that is the bi-product of certain psychological factors that underlie other aspects of psychological suffering.
Recent research out of Carnegie Mellon University, published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity, revealed that as with so many things, practice in mindfulness based meditation practice can ease the perceived suffering and isolation associated with aloness. Forty individual aged 55-85 were randomly assigned to a Mindfulness Based Stress Management program while others were assigned to a no treatment control group. Extracted blood samples also revealed a decrease in biological markers that can influence health and illness in the meditation practitioners relative to a control group.
Now, it is unrealistic to expect that everyone who is lonely will commence a program of mindfulness and/or meditation. So in the next post I will attempt to outline some practical steps that may help people to embrace loneliness in a transformative manner.
All are welcome to chime in. Heck, it might even make you feel less lonely.