In modern life, there are more ways than ever to connect. We connect through the more traditional channels or through social media and virtual networking. We meet others through social and sports clubs, at school, work, Church, dating aps, meet-up groups, chat rooms and through a whole host of other places and networks off-line and applications and websites online.
One of the painful ironies and contradictions of modern life is that while there are more and more means of communication, people are feeling more isolated, disconnected and lonely.
You can feel lonely anywhere. You can feel it in a crowded room with many people around you or on social media when you look at posts by people sharing their apparent ‘happiness’ which can further highlight feelings of isolation if you have them.
Loneliness is a response to isolation, a feeling of being disconnected from others, yourself, your environment or nature or the loss or absence of a connection with a higher power. We connect on three levels…within, with others and to a higher power. We feel lonely when we feel isolated from any of these channels.
There are many reasons for the heightened loneliness in the world.
More people are living alone.. close to 1 in 4 in Ireland. The importance and strength of family is changing. Many of us don’t know our neighbours. The feeling we have to be a certain way at work or with others often makes us wear masks which deepens our loneliness as we attempt to bury it and disconnect further from it and from ourselves.
So much of modern progress means there is less of a need to meet people. We do our banking online. We watch movies at home or even on the phone in our rooms. We spend a huge proportion of our time on screens connecting to technology which does not offer the same heart connection. We order home delivery pizza. We shop online.
Being alone and feeling lonely are entirely different matters. One way of looking at loneliness is the difference between your required and your achieved levels connection. The right amount of connection varies from person to person and at different stages in life.
The health consequences of loneliness are significant. It affects mental health and the immune system. A growing body of research connects loneliness to dementia, depression and accidents, disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, higher levels of stress hormones, and inflammation.
Meditation is a great way to counter loneliness as you connect to yourself as part of the practice. This connection will tell you if something is lacking. When we are truly connected to ourselves, we don’t need as much from others.
Loneliness can strike at any stage of life. Our perception of people, how we relate with others, life events that make us mistrust people can all make us put up walls to connecting or even sometimes make us prefer be on our own. At the same time, we are social beings and need connection for wellbeing, happiness and joy in our heart.
Loneliness has always been part of the human condition. It is like feeling hungry as we are hungry for a connection. It is not a failure rather a part of life, and a symptom that something is lacking and some changes need to be made for your spirit to feel complete.
If loneliness is a frequent visitor, connect more to yourself. Explore what you are feeling and what your needs are and work to meet them. Spend time with people and doing things that feed your spirit. If those around you are lonely reach out to them. By reaching within and without, we can make the world and ourselves much happier, healthier and more truly connected.