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May 28, 2023

The Nature of Loneliness by Joe Perez

By Joe Perez

“For most people, the move beyond loneliness requires us to share our story with a significant other. For the spiritual elite, the receiving of our own story — and the knowing that it is an integral part of the larger story of All-That-Is — is enough. But for most human beings, loneliness is transcended through contact with another person.”

– Marc Gafni

Your Supreme Identity is calling to you from the essence of all things. It is your own dwelling place, your unique life story not only told but lived and constantly recreated. It is the force which not only remedies loneliness but gives us solace in our solitude.

Paul Tillich once wrote: “Language… has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”

Researchers tell us that loneliness may be painful, but it also associated with spiritual experiences and creativity. When being alone is freely chosen as an artist’s duty, it becomes a normal part of life. Indeed, being alone is part of the human condition in which we are often at our saddest, full of shame or fear or anger. It does not require us to be physically isolated; we can be desperately lonely in a crowd or amid loved ones if we have been prevented from being our true selves.

From another perspective, loneliness is an impoverishment in the midst of the riches of community. It may be a sign of an unhealthy disconnect between the individual and community, perhaps caused by family strife or an inability to find a religious community in which one finds a home. If we find ourselves without community, loneliness provides the necessary motivation for creating new communities of connection and love and acceptance.

Gafni notes that the original Hebrew word for “lonely” is levado which is sometimes understood as referring not only to humans but to God. God without a created world is levado, God’s own loneliness. Only human evolution and divine evolution can happen only when each take the other as a beloved. This view resonates with the research which shows that loneliness is not an evil, but a normal part of life with its own gifts.

As a member of the gay community, I want to highlight that sexual and gender minorities especially have the opportunity to learn important life lessons from our loneliness. We have been told from our earliest years that a very important part of who we are — our sexual and/or gender identities — are not welcome to be expressed and accepted. We disown a part of ourselves that is part of our essence, a sacred part of All-That-Is as it is manifesting as and through us.

Some of us defiantly blast through society’s rejection into a remarkable form of pride. Others repress the parts of themselves that they are afraid to show the world. Either way, loneliness may threaten to destroy us. We may become isolated and alone in physical and emotional and spiritual levels.

Walk into any bar, gay or straight, and the sight of someone sitting alone conjures up our judgments about loneliness. Do we view him or her as pathetic, someone who must be friendless … a loser? Or do we view them as someone comfortable in their solitude, every bit as much a part of the community as anyone else?

Spirituality advises us not to judge the loner, but to accept her or him into our community and give each other the gift of our companionship. The lonely one is a mirror of God’s own lonely heart, without which there would be nothing, for the extent world is the fullness of divine immanence and transcendence.

Some spiritual elites teach that loneliness is a type of spiritual dysfunction which can be overcome by knowledge of the sacred role of loneliness in the nature of enlightenment. In other words, we are all perfectly complete in ourselves if we understand our Supreme Identity, and so when we are lonely we accept that fact as an integral, natural experience.

So much is true, I think, but it might shortchange the way in which evolution in our spiritual life can be measured by the degree to which we overcome loneliness and find ourselves in loving union, connection with other human beings, nature, and spiritual realities. As Marc Gafni reminds us, this involves sharing our Unique Self story and our spiritual autobiographies with other people in a major way, and finding a receptive audience which listens and approves and loves.


A draft of this column originally appeared on Gay Spirituality.​




About Joe Perez–Joe Perez is a spiritual mentor, author, poet, and scholar. He is best known for his 2007 book Soulfully Gay. one of the first memoirs in the tradition of World Spirituality based on Integral principles. Joe is also a Scholar-in-Residence at the Center for Integral Wisdom. His works in progress include Gay Spirituality and Kalen O’Tolán.



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