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June 1, 2023

If You’re Still Lonely, Call Lola by Marc Gafni


By Dr. Marc Gafni

I actually began to re-think the whole “meaning of life” question some years ago when I was in a hotel in Denver, Colorado. You know how hotel rooms work, there is a television, bed, a lot of towels, and if you look in the drawer next to the bed you will almost unfailingly find, at least in the United States, a Gideon bible. My suitcase with my own set of books had missed its connecting flight and I was at the hotel tired, without books and not feeling that great. And you know empty hotel rooms far from home can be the loneliest places in the world. So I open the Gideon bible.

In the beginning I was surprised to see a detailed index of how to use the Bible. If you’re depressed read Psalm 19, if you’re drunk, read Psalm 38,…. if you’re feeling lonely read psalm 23. Well I was feeling lonely … and so I read psalm 23. “The lord is my shepherd I shall not want, yea though I walk in the shadow of the valley of death I fear no evil”… I read the psalm slowly, carefully, yet I have to admit still feeling lonely when I finished. And just as I was about to close the book I saw a note scrawled at the bottom of the page. “If you’re still lonely call Lola.”

When I recovered from laughing I had one of those magic moments of grace where everything fell into place. Years of study, thinking and teaching suddenly crystallized in a few simple and obviously true sentences.

I realized that to a large extent what drives me, and I think what drives all of us, is a desire to move from loneliness to connection, from loneliness to loving. If you’re still lonely call Lola.

After all is said and done, after all of our grand accomplishments, our degrees, our financial success…we still feel lonely. What drives us in the world is to be able to somehow move beyond our loneliness to a place of relationship, of connection, and of loving.

Now clearly if the sexual revolution has taught us anything it is that Lola may be wonderful but she cannot redeem us from loneliness. Psychologist Rollo May was right when he taught us that better technique and more availability is hardly enough to quench our thirst for genuine connection. Indeed the morning after Lola we often feel our loneliness that much more deeply. The fleeting libidinal illusion of redemption- grand or tawdry as it may have been – is cruelly shattered when the moment passes and Lola leaves you alone again.

While power is important, and libido and meaning do move us forward – my own soul stirs with hesitation. Is that the root of it all? I do not think so. At my core I have heard the call of the lonely, and know of no greater dread or drive than its low hum. The desire to move out of loneliness, beyond alienation, sits at the center of our universe, placed there as the most fundamental human drive. Nothing is more important to us than the need to share our lives with an other.

Hole in One

One of my favorite stories to share from the Pulpit is about a retired Rabbi who loved Golf. Daily he was drawn to the green, addicted to his game. So much so that come Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, he feigns sickness, sends his family off to services without him, and sneaks out to the empty green. It’s a glorious day, the vast green is his alone; he sets aside his guilt and tees up.

A host of reproving angels have gathered to gape at this sacrilegious rite. God comes to join them, and with a slight smile playing on his lips, says, “Watch this!” The Rabbi swings, his form is superb, the ball flies, and with exquisite aim falls, divinely, into the hole. The angels are in a rage, “What are you doing giving this heretic a hole in one!?!” God winks, “Just wait.” Grumbling, they look on as the Rabbi’s face lights with ecstasy, his mouth fills with exultation. He turns to his right to exclaim…but only trees meet his gaze, he turns to his left…only trees…behind….trees…and then a shadow passes over the man’s face, he realizes…there is no living soul he can tell.

Imagine that you’ve won the lottery, the great jackpot. What is the first thing you do – you run to the phone to call…to tell someone you love that you’ve won! One doesn’t need a great imagination to picture the overwhelming pathos of realizing that you have no one to tell, no one to call, no one to share this great moment with.

Practice #1

Have you ever experienced this? Something big happened, good or bad, and you had no one to tell? – Tell it now! Write it in an email, send it to someone…send it to me!

There’s a medieval adage which were all familiar with, “If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Perhaps we can rephrase it, ‘If something happens to us and there’s no one there to share it with, did it really happen?’ If we are unable to tell our tale because there’s no one to share it with, if we are left mute of meaning for lack of listening – then, in the language of the mystics, we are in exile.

The basic plot of biblical myth story line revolves around trying to get to the Promised Land. In the lyrics of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (there’s a lot of them huh?) “…to get back to the Land that set my soul free.” Exile is when a person or a people are forced to leave the land. In the Kabbalah – the mystical translumination of Biblical Myth – exile is not related to leaving a geographical location. Land becomes a symbol for our emotional existential place in the world. Exile is about losing our place.

An Empty Mansion

Loneliness is a form of exile. All of our accomplishments, successes, achievements, pale into insignificance when we lack the ability to share them with an other. This understanding is in fact the core of the Biblical Myth. The bible has a unique understanding of what drives us forward in the world. It is, as we have seen, an insight fundamentally different from Freud, Nietzsche, Adler and Frankel, as well as different from the wealth of the philosophies of the East.

Let’s look for a moment at the opening of the Biblical tale – the creation story. Now the creation stories are not meant to be taken literally. It is not a manual on how to create a world. Rather the aim of the first two creation chapters is to establish the basic meaning structures of the world.

In chapter one there is a particular refrain which becomes the musical mantra of the entire section. “God saw that it was good.” At the close of every stage of creation’s unfolding God makes the finishing touches and inspects Her work, always ending with the chorus, “It was good.” This phrase repeats time and time again, God saw the light of day and it was good, and the gathering together of the seas and it was good, and the earth sprouting forth, and it was good. And it was good, it was good, and God saw that it was good. All of creation is characterized by this overarching Goodness. Good is the goal of creation – the desired end to towards which all creatures and creations stretch.

However a simple literary read of chapter two yields that all of the good of creation, ‘God saw that it was good’, is undone in one short phrase. Suddenly the universe exclaims, “It is not good”. It is not good for the human being to be alone. As John Milton put it – to be alone is, “the first thing which God’s eye nam’d not good”. Not only is it the first but the only time where the unequivocal ‘not good’ describes a state of being.

Chapter one sets an elaborate table of goodness, stars and spheres, fish and fruits, vistas of magnificence. Yet chapter two coldly steps up to the feast, tumbling the table, draping the glory in a veil of nullification and defeat. Chapter two says, ‘The entire world, all of these works, are ultimately valueless, meaningless, if man remains alone.’

The text builds, plateau after plateau, crescendoing in the climax of “It was good,” only to meet in the second refrain – a depressing anticlimax – “It is not good”. Indeed, all of the good in the world is not good as long as the human being is alone. Aristotle confirmed the Biblical intuition, when he wrote, “No one would choose a friendless existence on condition of having all the other things in the world”.

Simple mathematics demonstrates – multiply a string of positive integers together, come up with some extraordinary result, billions of googols worth of sum…but enter one single negative integer into the mix and all of it, every last googol, becomes negative. What’s more, the larger the number was before it met this one negative, the more negative the final minus sum will be. So it is with life, the larger the house, the more rooms there are to be empty. As Cat Stevens sung so plaintively, “I don’t wanna live in no mansion, there’s too many empty rooms.” No matter how full a room is with exquisite creations, with no person padding across the carpeted floor, the room is empty, the owner is alone.

Practice #2

List 7 most precious things you could have in the world…what is number one? Number two? If you have something other than ‘relationship’ there, ask yourself if the value you put there would be important to you in and of itself or because it helps you in your relationships with people.

Dr. Marc Gafni holds his doctorate from Oxford University and has direct lineage in Kabbalah. He is a Rabbi, spiritual artist, teacher, and a leading visionary in the emerging World Spirituality movement. He is a co-founder of the Center for World Spirituality, a scholar at the Integral Institute, as well as a lecturer at John F. Kennedy University. The author of seven books, including the national bestseller Soul Prints and Mystery of Love, Gafni’s teaching is marked by a deep transmission of open heart, love and leading edge provocative wisdom. Gafni is considered by many to be a visionary voice in the founding of a new World Spirituality and one of the great mind/heart teachers of the generation.

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  1. Hi Marc. I enjoyed your article, but in all sincerity I think you missed the obvious reason the “call Lola” comment you read at the end of the Biblical verse reached through your loneliness and touched you. It was the pure relational power of humor, the perfect set-up to a very funny punch line delivered by another fellow human traversing months or years to YOU right in that hotel room. I fail to see the point of a discourse on the ultimately unfulfilling nature of sex and sensuality when “call Lola” is just a punchline that makes us laugh at our own nature that says, “hey, I’m lonely, let’s have sex!”. I think it is the grace and shared gift of laughing at ourselves that is the instant balm to loneliness.
    Your friend, Stas
    P.S. – did they leave Lola’s number?

  2. Thank you for sharing. Loneliness for me comes and goes. I realize, too, that its very human to feel lonely. It comforts me to know that I am never alone. The source of unconditional love is always with me. At times, this gives me strength to reach out, thereby dissolving this illusion that I am separate and alone, through extending my love to another. Other times, the feelings of loneliness passes and I realize how much I enjoy myself and how time to myself is a gift. Less and less but still on occasion, I use avoidance mechanisms to dissolve the pain…

    I feel most alone when I am thinking about what others might think of me and when I am feeling guilty/regretting about how I don’t participate in community as much as I’d like to. The truth is, however, that I am FULL of love and I care a great deal about community and I show up a lot for people too. I still hear that wounded child that says, “I don’t matter,” but I DO matter and its easier and easier to correct my thinking.

    However, diffuse we may be, I AM love and the shadow that is my ego is what would have me believe that I am less than that.

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