How to be vulnerable, part 2. Loneliness

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this is the strangest life I remember

I’m often asked if I don’t get lonely on my travels. And then I answer ‘no’, and the person asking the question usually hears ‘yes’, because they think they would be and cannot imagine any other possibility. A lot of people dreaming of taking a step to the side of society fears loneliness, as in being outside the herd. I’m not lonely on my travels, but I do get lonely on those occasions when I visit society. 

Loneliness is not something that happens when you’re alone. It’s contagious. It’s an open wound, a gaping, roaring chasm that, ironically connects all modern humans. Nothing brings us together more than our loneliness.

We think ourselves so alone that we look to other planets, even go as far as to communicating with or attempting to revive the dead for company.

We scrape together small groups of families and friends, and they might put a lid on the loneliness, but they can’t heal it. They might, if you’re very lucky, put such a lid on your loneliness that you can ignore it for as long as you live, apart from in those silent hours of dawn. And you will always be afraid that they will leave you or die. Which they will.

The usual way of dealing with this, when taking a step to the side, is to make yourself not want company. This is taught in several religious practices, such as Buddhism, and most western self-help pseudo religion. You learn a sort of smarmy detachment where you love and respect all as long as they don’t get too close. You either build a shield around you or you cut yourself off to such a degree that you think yourself beyond all emotional damage, eternal in your enlightened loneliness.

Western philosophy is infected with solipsism, the idea that we are all alone in our heads and that we can not know what other beings think or feel or if they even exist. This is shared by most of the people who have influenced our way of thinking and it’s utterly absurd. In some ways, they’re right of course. It’s difficult to put yourself into the mind of another, hence the confusion when people ask about my presumed loneliness. The flaw is to believe we exist in our minds and that it matters what or if anything else thinks.

In modern (by modern, I mean what has grown and gained traction for the past 5000 years or so) society there is loneliness embedded in the system. Civilization works by cutting people off from the world and from each other, teaching us to look to gods or leaders or rules for meaning and that if you simply exist, there’s something wrong with you, or you’re not living fully. 

For a lot of people, the markers of loneliness are formed by opportunities. Not what they have, but what they are told they can have, conversation, sex etc. Often it surprises people that none of these things make the loneliness go away when achieved.

The loneliness we have is from being severed from life and death. From ‘nature’ if you will. The word ‘nature’ itself shows how far this has gone. That we even have a word to separate us, make us lonely. Our language, while usually seen as a mean of forming connections, is full of more or less subtle ways and words for cutting us off. It doesn’t need to be though, as this article on the Irish language explores.

Nature is not the trees, it’s not a bird or a beetle. It’s everything that lives with and feeds on everything else. And to be civilized is to have your whiskers plucked out, tendrils severed so we can’t feel, we can’t notice the life that surround us. Even outside the hermetic houses we only get the vaguest sense of what’s there. We are existential cripples.

Or in other words, we’re lonely.

Rewilding means healing this as far as possible. In this context, with this in mind, it’s not dangerous to love. Or, to attach yourself to what seems fleeting and unsure. And you’re never alone. I do love. I do miss people that live where I grew up. I miss people I meet on my travels. I grieve when someone dies, and I have losses I will never get over. I can start to care about someone really quick and think about them often. But not being with them doesn’t mean that I’m lonely. Not as long as I get to be outside civilized society. Not as long as I can hear birds. I’m not afraid to love. But it does scare me how fast my new found senses deteriorates as soon as I step back into a city, or even an agricultured landscape. So why do I go back? Oh, for the company of those I care about of course. I’m nothing if not the embodiment of ambiguity.

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