Is Connection Really the Difference Between Loneliness & Solitude?

Funny, isn’t it, how the inner space we hold impacts our perception of the world around us.

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As I sit here on my couch with my house enveloped in fog, I’m overcome with a sense of calm and peace. Which makes me laugh, because last week, this same fog surfaced from within me a panic, a sense of feeling trapped, and a restlessness that made me want to jump out of my skin.

What is it, I wonder, that allows me to create this space of calm sometimes and yet makes feel overwhelmed by panic other times? My experience with being alone also has these two extremes; sometimes I can physically be alone and yet feel completely full, grounded, and connected while other times I can be alone and feel immense loneliness. I call the former solitude, and it is always something I crave this time of year.

Winter carries with it an invitation to turn inward. Perhaps it is the colder temperatures, the precipitation, or the shorter daylight…maybe something else? Regardless, I am seeking that space of peaceful solitude. Yet, as I seek, I often find myself in the midst of restless loneliness.

In reflecting on this, I’m reminded of the wise words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

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Feeling lonely is not something that we do deliberately…It’s just there. It happens and for very many reasons.
— Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Perhaps my focus needs to shift? How do I simply move through experiences of loneliness to find solitude? How do I discover peace through restlessness?

In Buddhism, openheartedness or warmheartedness towards others is considered to be the antidote to loneliness. It is grounded in the idea that if we can cultivate love and compassion for others with the understanding that we are all one and all interconnected (the South African notion of ubuntu), then we will never feel lonely.  

There are practices I use to re-center myself around this belief. I think they will be helpful as I seek peaceful solitude in this season. They are:

  1. Hamsa: I am that; that is me – This mantra is stunning in its simplicity. And it’s two syllables sync beautifully with breath. Try it. With your inhale say “ham-“ and with you exhale say “-sa.” Whether you say it out loud or in your head, close your eyes and find the rhythm. Ten times; ten breathes.

  2. Light Cycles – Take a moment to watch the sunset or the moonrise this evening. While awaiting the blue lunar eclipse, I marveled at the brightness with which the moon shone, at the beautiful paradox that this entity of night and darkness has the capacity to radiate such light. We have that capacity, each and every one of us. And as the light of the moon seemed to evaporate, I was reminded that light moves into darkness just as darkness moves into light; this is the cycle of life.

  3. Smile – I know this sounds simple, but what if you made your intention for the day to smile at everyone you pass? Smiles radiate warmth, light, and love. They are invitations in and of themselves to experience joy. Be that spark of joy with a smile.  

If you’re like me and loneliness continues to thwart your pursuit of solitude, I invite you to try these practices with me. For perhaps that deep sense of interconnectedness actually is the difference between the two.