By Gedale Fenster
It’s easy to believe that loneliness is something that happens to us, that we don’t have control over it; yet the truth is that we are constantly faced with the choice of what happens to us. Our power lies in how we interpret our circumstances. We can view loneliness as a state of dejection, rejection, powerlessness, and alienation; or we can see it as an opportunity to get in touch with ourselves, to start questioning and understanding our thoughts. We can confront our behaviors, our negative thought patterns, and whether our actions and mindset are an accurate representation of our true selves.
When people are alone, they are essential going through a tzimtzum. This restriction of light can create space for despair to creep in; yet this period of waiting, of loneliness, is a chance to build a vessel for blessing. This time of introspection, of listening to our soul, provides the answers for the very purpose of our lives; our inner calling, which is uniquely different than anyone else’s.
Being alone forces us to stop and reflect on our thoughts and fears. By confronting these fears, we can prevent them from dictating our life choices. Viewing loneliness as a state of being, rather than a temporary emotion which will eventually heal, perpetuates a cycle of feelings of worthlessness, anxiety and depression. We can break this cycle by experiencing loneliness in the form of hisbodedut, which comes from the root word of boded – to be alone. This is a chance to be alone with Hashem!
The following are some examples of the different kinds of loneliness that we can experience.
1. Interpersonal Loneliness - the loss of a significant other such as going through a breakup. Rabbi Nachman taught that each person must go through a specific number of relationships before reaching our goal. By viewing every failed relationship in this light, we can recognize that we are one match closer to the right one!
2. Social Loneliness - alienation resulting from the existing fringes of a group, exclusion of a group, or active rejection from a group. Being part of a group that we’ve outgrown, can cultivate feelings of disconnect. This situation presents a chance for us to move forward to another social environment that will better suit our needs and facilitate our personal growth.
3. Cultural Loneliness – the sense of not belonging to a greater culture. This feeling of loneliness can be rectified by joining a culture of acceptance. In Breslov, there’s love and acceptance for all. Welcome!
4. Intellectual Loneliness - Feeling intellectually unmatched with peers. Confronting thoughts that tell us that we are intellectually inferior to others. These feelings can present themselves to a student who is struggling in a Yeshiva program that doesn’t fit his needs; whereas he would easily perform better in another environment. It’s important to remember that there are many forms of intelligence, and each person’s intellectual capacity is tailor-made to help him actualize his unique mission.
The path to self-introspection and self-acceptance is paved by graduating from the need to seek approval from others. The ultimate graduation of needless approval-seeking is to gain consciousness and know that we each have our own assignment in this world. This empowering realization can free us with the knowledge that the opinion of others has nothing to do with our task on this earth. Our worth, our greatness is not changed by the interpretation of others. It is our own interpretation of our circumstances which creates our reality.