I cannot imagine there is anyone in the world who has not had the experience of finding themselves in a room full of people and feeling utterly alone. The disorientation that accompanies loneliness in the midst of people can be devastating.
Jeanne De Salzman, who was a lifelong student of Gurdjieff, puts an interesting spin on loneliness in her book, The Reality of Being. She writes,
A moment comes when I experience a feeling of total solitude, when I no longer know how to relate to what surrounds me. Everywhere, always, I feel alone. Even when I am with close friends or my family, I am alone. I do not know my relation with them, what actually connects us.
This may seem a gloomy analysis. But, experience suggests that it is generally true that, even in the most intimate human communion, we are never totally known or fully received by another human being. We always feel a tiny bit alone.
For De Salzmann, the feeling of being alone is an important warning signal. She suggests that the feeling of being cut off from everyone arises from my misplaced attempt to establish my sense of identity or “position” by my relationships with other people.
This feeling of solitude and isolation is created by my self-centered thought – my name, my family, my position.
Then she suggests the potential value in this experience.
I need to live with this solitude and, passing through it like a door, come to something much greater: a deeper sense of total abandonment…
To live in silence, to know what is, I need to come to the sensation of a void, empty of all my imaginary projections. I try to emerge from this world of illusion that hides my reality, to not let myself be influenced by it. I concentrate on ‘here…now.’ I do not seek – as I always do – to fill the void. I feel I am this void. Accepting that there is nothing, I seek neither shelter nor guarantee. Feeling myself as an observation post that sees only emptiness, I seek silence. This inner silence means abandon and submission. My ordinary ‘I’ submits, and my mind is freer in an attitude that transcends thoughts and words. This is like meditation without mental activity.
I need to understand the feeling of real solitude, even if I feel not seen by those around me, not understood, and experience this as sadness. Solitude from what is ordinary, imaginary and false is something very great. It means for the first time I know that ‘I am’. It is a solitude from all the known and from all that is not right now, in the present moment outside of time. This solitude appears as a void. But it is not a void of despair. It is a complete transformation of the quality of my thinking. When the mind is free of all talking, fears, desires and pettiness, it is silent. Then comes a sense of complete nothingness, the very essence of humility. (De Salzmann, Jeanne. The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff. Boston: Shambhala, 2011, pp.168,169).
The inadequacy of all human relationships, indeed of all human experience in the physical temporal realm, is always a call to “a deeper sense of total abandonment.”
The fullness of life is not encountered on the level of human relationships, feelings, emotions, or intellectual formulations, but in the silence of all these things. As I open to the reality of “here…now“, I am able to observe “this world of illusion that hides my reality” and discover the place within where “I know that ‘I am.’” I am regardless of the impact I may or may not have on the world around me. I am in spite of the feelings of absence, loneliness, or abandonment that may torment my days.
The “complete nothingness” is empty of all those things to which I have looked for an illusory sense of identity, purpose, or meaning. It is in this emptiness of “things” in which I encounter the fullness of “being”. I do not need to fill this “void”. It is filled already with the freedom to be “in an attitude that transcends thoughts and words.”
When I am able to hold myself in this lonely empty space, I am liberated from fear and anxiety. There is nothing left to prove or to gain from life. My existence is no longer a project. I do not have to create myself. I do not need to struggle to fill the dark frightening void that rears up before me when the voices that once affirmed my existence fall silent. I enter into the emptiness and, with Jesus, discover that the darkness does not obscure the light. The darkness in fact is the very place in which the light can be most clearly perceived. In the very act of acknowledging my loneliness, I encounter the One who is present in the midst of that darkness.