On Loneliness

I may have mentioned this before, but in two weeks time I am going to be making a spiritual retreat, at the Trappists’ Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. Over the weekend, I learned more about what it will entail, thanks to some Facebook friends and connections, but I still felt…and feel…a little worried about it. As if I’m almost dreading it, in a way. I finally figured out this morning what it was all about. I’m worried, that with all that silence and peace, I’ll feel lonely.

No one likes to feel lonely, to feel restless and cut off from others, and the world in general;  to feel, essentially, worthless, that you don’t matter to anyone. You could argue that it’s a kind of Hell on earth. And yet, sometimes we need to be alone. I’m still trying to figure out if loneliness is a positive thing for a creative person. Does it help propel us into the creative life, generating a yearning for humanity and connection that in turns kickstarts the creative forces?  Or is it a hindrance? In my last post, I noted how being busy and immersed in life seems to make me more creative. So will being alone and a little lonely have the opposite effect?

Guess I’ll find out!

Maybe all creative work–art, music, poetry, writing–is  just a desperate effort to fill that ever-present, ever-widening-and-contracting hole in our psyches and hearts and souls. Otherwise, why do we do this–especially when there’s no monetary reward or fame involved!

A  hermit must always feel lonely, and yet he/she needs to be able to channel that emotion into other things. Or, simply endure it, or learn how to dial it down enough to get anything worthwhile accomplished. I think what makes loneliness particularly dreadful is the concern that it won’t end. That we will always be alone, that no one will ever care about us, that we won’t matter to anyone, ever again. And hence, the profound difference between the loneliness of a retreat, and the loneliness of old age: One will end, eventually, but the other might stretch on, until death itself.

So if I dread the taste of loneliness I’ll get at Gethsemani, it’s probably because of my greater fears and concerns about my own future, at this late-middle-aged point in my life: When will the visitors stop coming to my door? When will the world and loved ones cease to care about me? When will I cease to matter? With any luck, not until well after I’m gone…

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