By Jim Selman | Bio

Nathan Oates, a Christian minister who writes a very thoughtful blog called “Theologically Speaking”, did a nice piece on loneliness. His point: how we seem to fragment our society into all kinds of niches and end up not relating to or connecting with most of the people around us. Even in the churches that one would imagine to be the most community-oriented institutions, the norm is to break the congregation into oriented ‘special interest’ groups according to age—the tots, teens, 20 ‘somethings’, 30 ‘somethings’, middle-agers and seniors.  While such segregation might make sense in terms of some ‘educational’ objectives, it makes no sense spiritually and undermines the whole idea of a multigenerational community.

Whether we like it or not, loneliness is a problem that gets worse as we grow older. It is, I believe, the result of our times and our cultural addiction to the Cartesian notion that human beings are ‘things’. This in turn leads to a psychological interpretation of who we are and usually to a self-centered orientation to everything we can observe, think or feel. Basically, we become trapped in our internal conversations about life and the world and lose the distinction between the ‘self’ and our ‘ego’. We become prisoners of our own mind and, more often than not, locked into solitary confinement.

I went to an AA meeting once that had a big sign on the wall that declared, “Alcoholism: The Disease of Loneliness”. While this is only one aspect of alcoholism, it is a big one and one that affects everyone when we deny that we are normally blind to our own actions and are addicted to the notion that we can (or should) be able to control everything in our environment. This is what we call ‘stinking thinking’ and it inevitably leads to people thinking that they can control something that they cannot, which inevitably leads to them being controlled by whatever it is they thought they could control. It doesn’t matter if it is a substance, a behavior or some system of beliefs, the result is a self-referential ‘reality’—one in which we do the same thing over and over and move into a ‘downward’ spiral that increasingly is about isolation and loneliness.

Loneliness isn’t about being alone. Loneliness is about feeling sorry for ourselves for being alone and not taking the kinds of actions that could connect us with the larger community. It is about denying that there may be something beyond our systems of beliefs that could transform our experience of living. Loneliness is spiritual arrogance. The only cure: humility, the honesty to say “I cannot do this anymore”, and surrender to the love of others and whatever one can acknowledge as a ‘higher power’.

The longer I am sober and the older I become, the less life is about me and the more it is about other people and taking care of what needs to be done. Over time, I have come to trust that the less I control or try to control, the more I get what I really want and the more I appreciate the mysterious and miraculous nature of who we are and what is possible. And I am never lonely.

© 2008 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.