The author of What Are You Hungry For? and co-founder of the 21-Day Meditation Experience explains how to open up -- and feel more connected. Pre-register today for Oprah and Deepak's all-new meditation experience. This series of free guided meditations will serve as a powerful and energizing inner guide for transforming your life.
By Deepak Chopra
If you find loneliness difficult, you are not alone. For many of us, loneliness is a crippling experience, fraught with a toxic dose of shame and self-criticism. We'd rather keep it hidden than admit that we suffer from feelings of isolation, emptiness and anxiety. Yet, when we try to wall off our painful emotions, they don't go away; they brood and become even more painful. Over time, these buried emotions can manifest in the symptoms of physical illness.
Connecting to the Self Who Isn't Lonely
Healing loneliness requires more than simply seeking out company. As you've probably experienced, you can feel lonely in the middle of a crowd, at a holiday party or with a group of caring friends. The root of loneliness isn't the absence of other people but an inner absence -- you don't have a centered awareness of your true self.
Your true self is your spirit, which is infinite and eternal. Its qualities include love, compassion, equanimity, joy, creativity, intuition, pure potentiality and bliss. When you're established in the awareness of your true self, you feel lovable and connected, whether you're in a packed stadium or spending a quiet afternoon by yourself. At the most basic level, the company you enjoy the most is your own. Loneliness, on the other hand, is the condition of feeling negative about your own company and therefore requiring other people to fill that inner lack.
Feeling an inner lack is almost universal. It's a result of a restricted state of awareness that is constricted, unable to look beyond rigid boundaries. The more you try to defend these boundaries, the more fearful and insecure you become. Loneliness is only one symptom. When your awareness is constricted, it's easy to get lost in the drama of the ego-mind (that limited aspect of ourselves which feels separate). In a misguided attempt to feel secure, the ego-mind relies on reinforcement from other people to feel lovable, never realizing that love is our essential nature. This struggle is a crucial cause of loneliness and pain.
Practices for Healing Loneliness
The first step in healing loneliness is to offer yourself compassion and to begin to cultivate an acceptance of all your emotions. Emotions are commonly categorized as "positive" or "negative," but in reality every emotion is valid. But when you add self-judgment, any emotion can be damaging.
Every time you feel lonely or anxious, rather than heaping judgment and shame on yourself, practice self-compassion. It can help to think of how you would treat a scared child or pet. You wouldn't snap or speak harshly, tell them to " buck up" and stop being ridiculous. You'd offer them affection, loving attention and gentle understanding.
See your loneliness as a messenger letting you know that your awareness of your true loving nature has temporarily become clouded by thoughts generated by the ego-mind. As you become more accepting of your emotions, the need to hide how you're really feeling will drop away and you will find yourself relating to others from your authentic self. This self-love and acceptance is the basis of fulfilling relationships.
Finding Fulfillment in Meditation
Meditation is one of the most powerful practices for expanding your awareness of your true self and your essential spiritual nature. In meditation, you go beyond the ego-mind's restless, confused state and experience your true self, which is calm, centered, unshakable and fulfilled. In the silent space between thoughts, you experience pure being. It is pure because there isn't any content. Being just is. Yet this won't feel empty like the cold void of outer space. You'll discover that it is very full. It has infinite possibilities.
When you meditate on a regular basis, you cultivate all the qualities of spirit, including love, equanimity and bliss—not just during your meditation sessions but as you go about your daily activities. As your awareness of your inner abundance expands, the search for external fulfillment -- with its inevitable loneliness and fear -- will gradually drop away.
Here is a simple meditation practice you can try right now:
Meditation on the Heart
a) Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Now, gently place your attention on your heart, in the center of your chest. As you breathe in and out naturally, keep your attention there. Allow any feelings and sensations to arise and pass. If your attention drifts away, gently bring it back to your heart as soon as you notice what has happened.
b) After a few minutes, open your eyes. Rather than immediately jumping into your next activity, take a few moments to notice how you feel after the meditation. For the next half hour or so, observe yourself to see if you remain centered.
c) Almost everyone will find that the effects of this simple meditation linger for a while. Colors seem a bit more vivid, or sounds seem clearer. There's a sense of calm inside and less tendency to be pulled out into activity. If you meditate twice a day for 10 to 20 minutes, you will start to learn the difference between being centered in your true self and being distracted by the drama of the ego.
As you cultivate self-compassion and awareness, you'll realize that connection, love and joy are innate qualities of being. They can never be lost, only forgotten. As you remember who you really are, your loneliness will dissipate in the fullness of being and the radiance of infinite spirit.
Deepak Chopra, MD, is the author of What Are You Hungry For?: The Chopra Solution to Permanent Weight Loss, Well-Being, and Lightness of Soul, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center.