Today is January 29, and it’s my birthday. Well it’s not only MY birthday. It’s also Oprah Winfrey’s birthday! Like many of you this year, for me (and maybe Oprah?), this particular birthday is being celebrated quietly, pandemic style. And while I’m quite comfortable with aloneness, today I have a distinct feeling of loneliness, which is a tender and vulnerable feeling to write about.
As an only child, an Aquarian, and a rugged individualist, aloneness has been my friend and saviour for decades. And, as a gay kid growing up in a tough blue-collar city, I certainly know what it feels like to not fit in.
But lately, I’ve been experiencing a kind of “not -fitting-in” that frequently comes as a consequence of being on the spiritual path. I first recognized this flavor of loneliness when I was practicing meditation intensely with Paul Muller Ortega. Several times a year, I would go on retreat to a remote location, sit for multiple rounds of daily meditation, chant mantra, journal, attend satsang, eat, sleep, rinse and repeat … for ten consecutive days. Re-entry into the “real world” after all this inner work was often painful and disorienting. The coarseness of everyday life felt like an assault on my senses, a culture shock, and I felt like an alien on my home planet.
When I refer to loneliness in relation to spiritual awakening, I’m referring to the experience of seeing the meaning I had once given to certain things suddenly vanish. There is a stripping away of sorts. And during such times, I experience a vast chasm between myself and so much of the world. This is a troubling paradox since, by definition, YOGA actually means to unite, to join, to connect. These episodes of alienation are temporary and usually appear when I am making a breakthrough in my sadhana, so that’s a good thing. But before I feel fully integrated, I often experience a profound frustration that the majority of the population is not doing the same inner work.
Gosh, I do hope this is not coming off as arrogant or spiritually pretentious! I am certainly just as flawed a human as the next human. It’s just that I find my process of awakening to be unfolding while so much of humanity appears to be unconscious. Luckily, this signals to me where my work lies. It’s no longer about my skillfulness in navigating my inner world; it’s about becoming more adept in engaging with my outer world. Less judgment and frustration. More compassion and understanding. Less escapism, more engage-ism.
I am reminded of the final day of my Advanced Nidra training with my teacher Kamini Desai when she closed with this sentiment: “Speaking from experience, progress on the spiritual path can feel like a very lonely affair.” This surprised me, coming from a very powerful, successful woman who is happily partnered. But now I see what she was alluding to.
So this one goes out to all you seekers who occasionally find yourselves wandering in a world that doesn’t seem to “get you.” That’s a gift to be cherished, and it means you’re on the right track.
By the way, Oprah just texted me, and she agrees.