On Loneliness and Community

I write to you today from a hotel near the Portland, OR airport. I sit here, alone; feeling my loneliness deeply. In part I believe this loneliness stems from turning in my car (Liam) yesterday, and living at a random hotel for two days carless and companionless. I think another part of me has always been lonely, since the early days of my youth. Finally, I think this loneliness is a result of a lifetime of living in my head and not in my heart.

I didn’t intend to write about my loneliness today. In fact, I haven’t even processed and internalized in consciously yet. But then, before I began writing, I read this piece; one I had noted for a future post.

The notes I made were about community and how I think that’s what I’ve been missing in my life. I’ve mentioned this topic a few times in different ways. For example, when I was writing about my times in Oakland and Tucson, I mentioned my awe at neighbors interacting with each other. After reading the above article, I began realizing community was what I was witnessing at play (and craving) during these adventures.

When I was observing said community, I resonated with my loneliness. I didn’t realize it then, but now I see I was reminded how I “spent my days focused on optimizing myself: Endlessly working and improving, on a permanent quest to do as much as possible in the unforgiving confines of 24 hours.”, and how much I was losing myself in this quest.

In these moments I was also coming to understand how “community is about a series of small choices and everyday actions: how to spend a Saturday, what to do when a neighbor falls ill, how to make time when there is none,” and now see how my behaviors and choices began to shift.

For example, the other day, after a wonderful afternoon wine tasting with a friend, I had a few hours before a dinner in town. On the advice from said friend, I decided to stay in town, grabbing a coffee and walking by the river, as opposed to driving the 20 minutes back to the house to “get something done”. I was rewarded with some awesome inspiration:

Columbia River Beach
Not a bad place so sit, enjoy coffee, and reflect on life, huh?
Columbia river gorge
A view of White Salmon from afar.

Another example is when I was walking the dog I was sitting in Bend, OR. Her longer walks were in the mornings before work; walks which I found myself wanting to rush through to get back home to start my day. I often noticed myself rushing, and then paused to slow down. One day during this practice I was rewarded with yet another beautiful scene:

Fallen Tree in a river
I still can’t tell if the branches in the water are the tree’s reflection or actual branches… the river is so clear!

A final example is when I spent another day wine tasting (Hey, I like wine. Who’s judging?) with a second dear friend (and host who I was staying with back in The Gorge). Much of the day I focused on being present, being vulnerable and open, and just laughing a lot. Here take a look for yourself:

Lis headshot
Happy to be with a friend at my favorite Gorge winery. PS how great is the sky?

It doesn’t take much to see how closely community and loneliness are tied together, and it’s no wonder then that this quote from the author stands out for me.

“What does help lonely people is to educate them about how our brains can turn in on ourselves, causing us to retreat into self-preservation mode and be on high alert for social threats. This naturally makes people engage less and feel even more lonely, creating a vicious cycle.”

I feel this last quote in my bones. I identify with it, and I am ready to admit it.

Now, I know what you’re thinking (if you know me). “Lis, you are surrounded by great people who love and care about you all the time. How can you be lonely?”

Maybe it’s because by living in my head instead of my heart, my “brain turns in on itself” and I “retreat into self-preservation mode”. Meaning, I hold back so much of myself that I don’t actually feel connected to others.

Of course, I talk with others and provide all the care I can muster to those I love. But, there are more times than not where I choose not to share what’s truly on my heart for fear of exposing myself as different, weird, not acceptable, not lovable… the list goes on.

I think there are many of us out there who do this. In fact, I think most of us in my culture do this. That’s why I think we see so much loneliness out there in the world.

Being honest, I’m tired of this loneliness eating away at me. I also know I’m being called to the solution each and every day of my journey, and that said solution is always accessible.

Each time I talk with a stranger, make a new friend, or speak with an old friend the answer to my loneliness appears. It says:

Reach out. Be Your True Self. Connect with Your Community.

Tomorrow I head back East where I’ll strengthen my resolve to do just that.

A Spell in NYC

About a week into the New Year I made my way to New York for a spell. I’m lucky enough to have dear friends, no, to have dear family members, who live in nearby New Jersey, and whom are generous enough to provide me with a place to live. When I arrived here I didn’t have a return ticket, though I knew I wouldn’t stay for too long. I love New York, sometimes more than I give it credit for, but it is no longer home.

That said, when I arrived at LaGuardia airport I felt at home. I even feel at home, sometimes, as I walk the streets and spend time with friends. It’s quite the sensation to be visiting such a big, confusing place and yet feel I know exactly where I’m going at all times. Talk about a metaphor… but I digress.

What was I saying again? Oh that’s right. I feel at home here, and yet I know I’m not. The person I was when I lived here still exists, but being that person doesn’t make me feel at home. I’ve noticed that person at times, and I’ve accepted and sat with her. But what I’ve also noticed is a different person. She is the woman who walks through the melee with immense calm and observation. She is the person who is far more selective about the way she spends her time and with whom that time is spent.

One of my few trips into Manhattan involved a lecture I had read about online. I went alone and I met no one there. I simply sat, listened, enjoyed, then gave myself permission to leave when the Q & A went a direction I was no longer interested in.

Another trip into the city was to go to a play I’d heard about on the news. Another dear family member came into town from Connecticut, and we set out from New Jersey to take in the culture:

Theater
The Booth Theater… waiting for American Son to start.
Man and woman in theater
Clewi and I take in some NYC culture!

Instead of packing my calendar with events as I used to do when in New York, I’ve been setting more healthy boundaries. I’ve been cooking for myself and my friends, a lot, and enjoying it immensely.

Thai Noodles with Beef
My version of Beef Pad See Ew. Delicious!

I’ve also been reading and thinking a lot in an attempt to maintain balance:

Cover of the Tao Ching
More reading material.

Finally I’ve been exploring, although in smaller ways than driving cross country. For example, yesterday I wandered into a shop to view this beauty:

notebook
This notebook caught my eye.

My intentions, and the actions that are based off of them, are much more clear, at times. Still, there are times when the other woman appears and I have to sit with her again; give her the stage for awhile and see what part she plays and why.

All this to say a lot of internal work has been happening with the external here in good ole NYC. It’s been good, yet challenging. To tell friends I can’t meet up with them is a hard one for me, but then to realize our friendships have changed is even harder.

It’s kind of like my relationship with my old home which is no longer my home, but which I still love dearly. Maybe when relationships like these change all is not lost, just shifted? Maybe I can love, then leave but still love a place or a person? Maybe one can leave a home, and still see it as a home despite no longer living there?

Maybe the home, person, place will always be a part of us, or maybe, they never were in the first place? Hmmmm.