Tell Me About Loneliness

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. || Mary Oliver

When we entered lockdown in March of this year I went through a mixture of emotions, as most folks did. As an introverted person who worked from home already, I felt that my life would not be markedly different with social distancing measures in place- but of course, I was wrong about that.

My life does look the same as it did last year. But it doesn’t feel the same.

I am a married woman who is fortunate to have a core group of close friends and family members that I can connect with regularly so I did not feel that I was alone. My work has always centered around community building which means I am blessed to have many friends and acquaintances all around the world, people I chat with regularly online. I often feel like I can’t give enough quality time to all the people I want to, so I certainly never thought of myself as lonely.

But as the months went by and I realized that the in-person gatherings, public yoga classes, family visits, music festivals, road trips, and casual social events were not going to be happening I began to feel the effects of social disconnection. I realized that I can be busy with purposeful activity all day long, have others in my immediate life to care for, friends, and family members who care for me – but I could still feel disconnected.

If I, a self-avowed introvert, who is also a married woman, a mother, a sister, a daughter, and a friend to many can feel so disconnected – how are those who are more socially isolated holding up?

How are my single friends and family members doing? How are those people who live alone or who are forced to live in relative isolation due to their work coping with this experience? These are questions I have been asking myself through this entire pandemic and they are particularly top of mind lately as it is a topic that has come up in conversation in the online communities I moderate.

So I wrote a letter to my community and threw out some questions on my social media feed so I could get a feel for how folks were doing.

I was honoured to receive a number of lengthy email responses where folks shared with me some of the challenges they have been facing, the range of emotions they are feeling, and what they are doing to stay hopeful in the face of so much grief and fear. These letters are deeply touching. I can’t share all that I received here but below are some of the answers I got from two of the primary questions I asked. These are taken directly from my Instagram stories and I kept the repetition of answers in so you could see them.

How are you feeling? Tell me. I really want to know.

a bit sad, settled, anxious, sensitive and triggered, slightly hopeful, meh, disconnected and a bit sad, patience level low, sad and overwhelmed, lonely, frustrated, cranky, grateful, lucky, tired,  5 out of 10, very tender but also deeply knowing we can make it through, tired and lacking patience, lonely, trying to find joy where I can, living in survival mode mostly, calm and hopeful, anxious and cooped up, grounded, relaxed, so many feelings these days…, struggling, overwhelmed, so tired, lonely even though I am not physically alone, reclusive, tired, cozy, contemplative

What are you missing most in regards to community connection?

in-person yoga classes, hugging, the freedom of connection, hugs from friends, my yoga studio – it had to shut down,  in-person anything, my family in the States, hugging my little niece, simple connection, hugs, live music, dancing, crowd energy, restaurants, live art and performances, emceeing, in-person women’s circles, hugs and shared wisdom, smiles, seeing a whole person’s face, going to a live class, the ability to freely relax around my friends, the opportunity to combine physical exercise with social interaction, a safe space to gather in, being able to make plans with friends, hugs and laughter IRL, having a lover, gathering at musical events, meeting with others without the fear of making them or myself ill, sharing meals, hugs, the simplicity and ease of just seeing people, community events, dancing with others

Wellness Cannot Occur in Isolation

In 2016 while  I was attending a trauma-informed yoga training I was struck by a statement that the facilitator made which was – healing cannot occur in isolation. 

This statement hit me hard, in the way that truth often does, but it was also something that I immediately wanted to push back against. As someone who left home early and has an over-developed sense of independence, this was not something I wanted to hear. I prided myself on all the hard work I had done in caring for myself and overcoming the challenges of my life.  In many ways I felt that I had done this work alone, certainly, I felt that I could not rely on others to support me since even those that loved me were often unable to be consistent in their care.

But when I examined this more honestly I saw that it was not true at all, and in fact, all the greatest shifts forward that I had ever experienced on my own healing journey were facilitated by the kindness, care, or compassion of others.

Whether it was a friend who sat with me when I was grieving,  a mentor who supported me, or the simple witnessing presence of others in like-minded community, there have been many points of connection in my life that have helped me to learn how to care for myself with greater kindness, self-compassion, and respect.

Reflecting on this I had to agree with what had been said and today I might say it like this – wellness cannot occur in isolation.

Another teacher of mine once said something powerful that has always stuck in my mind. If you have been to my classes you have likely heard me say it in some form or another. In speaking about the work of caring for ourselves she said. We must do this work for ourselves. Nobody else can do it for us. And yet, we cannot do it alone.

We need others. It’s a fact, whether we want to believe it or not. We need basic human connection, on a regular basis. We are literally wired for it and our wellness depends on it. Don’t take my word for it, there is enough good science out there to back this up. Listen to this podcast to start (it’s a good one). 

So what are we to do in this time of increased social isolation?

This is the big question of course and I think it is one we each need to ask ourselves. What can we do to support ourselves in acknowledging the loneliness or disconnection we might be feeling and how can we support others?

Though many of us are bound by circumstance right now and cannot rely on familiar ways of making connections, there are still things we can do. And you have likely been doing them already – picking up the phone, sending texts, writing letters, sending care packages, talking to a neighbor over the fence, giving air hugs to your friends and smiling extra hard at strangers underneath your mask – all these things matter. Keep doing them.

Hug the folks who you are able to, every single day. Give the people you are in connection with your focused attention. Make eye contact, slow down, listen. Cuddle with your pets, hug trees, look around at the natural world. Recognize the truth of interconnection.  All this helps.

And also, take advantage of the technology we do have for connection. Use it well. Zoom fatigue is real and if you have to be online all day you will get burnt out for sure,  but if you don’t need to be online all day then you can use it selectively to nourish connection.

I used to hate video chats but now I love them. I need to see faces! I never wanted to offer live stream yoga classes but then I realized that if I could not connect in a studio this was the second-best choice, and it works. None of this replaces being in physical space with others or being able to enjoy physical touch, but all of these things can help us to get through this moment we are in.

And we need to get through this in a way that supports our wellness. .

What am I committed to?

This is really important to me so I am am going to be making extra effort to create opportunities to connect online through the fall & winter months. I asked all of you what you were wanting most and I got some fabulous answers which have helped me to think of what I can offer. Some of you want closed communities and safer spaces to connect in, while others want the simple convenience of an online class you can drop in to for shared practice and light conversation. Some of you want community spaces where you can focus on certain topics and others want open spaces where you can speak to what is relevant at the moment and witness others as they do the same.

I’m listening to all of this and will do my best to help meet some of these needs.

For the month of October, I will start with a couple of weekly classes, one that is movement-based and one that is focused on meditation practice. We will meet with the intention of engaging in practice together but also for the sake of virtual co-regulation, which is why they will be live-streamed on Zoom. Nobody needs another pre-recorded class right now. You can find out about those classes here.

In my year-long membership programs, I host monthly live stream classes where we can share in practice and conversation, and these are very supportive communities that I have been building over a few years. For those of you in those programs, I encourage you to take advantage of those monthly live stream sessions, and for those wanting to join you are welcome to at any time.

How are you nourishing hope?

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination… || Mary Oliver

If you have read all the way through to here I thank you for your attention, I know this has been long and it still feels like there is so much more to say, but I wanted to finish up by sharing the answers I received from the question – how are you nourishing hope – because they are so beautiful, so simple and so touching. These answers give me hope and they remind me of the little things I can do each day. So, here is what you shared with me. Thank you.

How are you nourishing hope? 

outdoor adventures, prioritizing movement, being kind, using self love, resting, spending time with my dogs in the forest, creating art, I look for the little things everyone still does for everyone else, trying to be there for others, sending positive messages, hiking, yoga, tuning in to people who have a larger vision, time in the mountains, creating things, pausing and noticing, breathing, finding a joyful discipline, time outside, moving my body, meditating, working fewer hours a week so I have personal time to nourish hobbies, following my curiosity, reminding myself that life doesn’t have to work up to one single goal, letting go with lots of small ceremonies, waking my witch!, writing, journaling, focusing on learning, volunteering, tending to my indoor garden, daily routines done with respect and care for myself, staying centered in the moment, lucid dream work, just living my life taking everyday as it comes, letting my kiddo keep me busy, taking up new artistic hobbies, lots of slow time, soaking in the beauty of each season, watching my children and seeing how they navigate this new world, practicing pausing, simple self care, ritual, meditation, face time calls, breathwork, encouraging myself to still day dream and stay curious about my desires