One morning last year, I woke from a dream and my head was full of thought; hanging like a wave waiting to crest for some time. The kind of billowy thoughts that are undefined; really more of a feeling. It was heavy and I searched to define it until I remembered the word; melancholy.

On this particular morning, I struggled to find reason for my melancholy. I was in the middle of an adventure overseas, I was surrounded with friends and I was drinking whiskey, not gin. I was not unhappy. I was content.

I made coffee and sat at my favourite window in a house I love. The sun was warm on my back and I was without obligation but to embrace the moment. Still my heart would not quicken and I could not lift my soul. And I remembered then; this is the Lonely. There was something within me longing to be heard; but the one to hear was not with me.

So I let it sit, let it dwell with me for the day. Loneliness becomes a more tolerable companion as soon as you acknowledge its presence, I’ve found. I let others assume the reason for my quiet reticence that day and then in the evening, alone in the quietness of my room, I said to the Lonely, ‘Thank you for today and good night.’

The Lonely wished me a clear night of sleeping and gently exited the room. What happened so that when I woke, the Lonely was no longer with me?

What the Lonely Is Trying To Tell Us.
Scientists speculate the human brain contains over 100 billion nerves, communicating complex messages. These nerves are responsible for communicating pain, injury and harm. But the soul, the spirit has no such system – or at least, not one so clearly defined or as understandable as neurons. So the intangible self must find ways of alerting us to when something is wrong with our spirit.

I believe that much of what we feel, sense and experience in life, good and bad – is part of the complex communication between the articulate mind and the intangible, voiceless soul. When change is required, when change is happening, when something good or when something bad is emerging – feelings emerge to guide us down the way.

The challenge is that we confuse these feelings for being a ‘state’ rather than a message. A message is something to hear and respond to; a state is something you have to morph from. The Lonely is trying to tell us something and the lonely won’t go away until it’s been heard.

I was talking with a friend who is recovering from a relationship breakup, the real kind where your whole being is redefined in moments. He spoke with sadness and tenderness about the emerging loneliness in his life and I witnessed many of the ways he tried to change his state of being. And this week, I’ve heard the same from many others as Valentine’s Day approaches.

“If I can just find plans for the weekend, I won’t be lonely.”

“So long as I’m with friends on Valentines Day, I’ll be ok and not think about it.”

“I’m not going to be alone, I am going to find a new relationship.”

Judge a person by their questions, not their answers.
That morning, I woke and encountered melancholy and realised my soul was trying to send me a message.

“Why are you here today, while I am in the company of so many friends? What are you trying to tell me?”

I asked the Lonely what it was saying.

Over the years, the Lonely has visited me before along with Sadness, Frustration, Hopelessness. At other times, Joy, Anticipation, Delight and Contentment have visited me too. But for today, here’s what I’ve learned the Lonely is trying to tell me.

I might be isolated. With people or alone, but either way disconnected. Usually it’s when my thoughts have traveled inward and haven’t been expressed. I have something that ought to be shared with someone but I haven’t shared it.

I might feel invisible or unnoticed in a crowd. This is the plague of the third-wheel, the calamity of the social single. It’s not always, but sometimes you feel you could be lost from the moment without people noticing you were gone.

I am lacking in intimacy. A thousand people to small talk with but no-one to understand the bitter-sweet irony of a moment or a glimpse of something we’ve seen before. An absence of shared memory or history. Often, loneliness exists in the midst of our dearest friendships and relationships because we’ve fallen into the habit of being with someone without being present to that person.

I am not engaged. For human beings, Bored and Lonely are sometimes telling us the same thing. We’re not engaged in the present. With the ones in front of us or with what might be discovered in front of us. We see things as they appear to be. We assume the blue hat is on the hook by the laundry door because it is so frequently there we forget to look for it. We stop noticing the small changes in the pattern of what we see everyday.

I am feeling uncomfortable or in a new environment. I long for something familiar. I long for security.

I feel Other and insecure. I feel alone and unlike anyone else. I am without a sense of home in this moment.

Sometimes I am just longing. Loneliness tells me my body needs touch. I need the embrace of another, the warmth of human skin and to share the breath of life. I need closeness and for my pleasure receptors to be firing. I need to respond and be responded to. That may not mean sex and sometimes it might. Loneliness reminds me that my body, mind and spirit are connected. Two cannot carry the load of three endlessly.

“Why are you here today, while I am in the company of so many friends? What are you trying to tell me?”

In the simplest of forms, loneliness is most often telling us that we need interaction and engagement with other human beings. The burden is that we may not always be able to dictate what kind of interaction we have. But be disciplined and choose which desire to feed.

Which do you feed?
There is a Cherokee story about a boy and his grandfather. The grandfather explains there are two wolves in battle within us; one that is good and represents hope and peace. The other evil and represents anger, sorrow and ego. The boy asks his grandfather which wolf wins and the old man answers, ‘The one you feed’.

When we assess data and information; we have to be careful to not let our assumptions lead to the wrong conclusion. You can find evidence for nearly any hypothesis, depending on the question you ask. So, if you assume that loneliness is a state and you must simply wait until circumstances change so that you are no longer lonely – you are using the wrong data. You have to be careful not to feed your loneliness based on the incorrect data.

But wait about on Valentine’s Day? Or family holidays? Similarly, it is incorrect to assume that a single form of interaction might appease the loneliness or need you have. It is madness to assume that any single relationship can satisfy the needs of a human being. We are complex and multifaceted creatures with maddeningly simple and complex needs. When loneliness enters your life, it’s not because you are single or unhappy in your marriage. It’s because your mind and body is trying to tell you something. When you respond to the message, things will change. Respond to the message first and then deal with the circumstances later.

I will not be any more or less lonely simply because I might one day share my Lonely with another. They will not be able to banish the lonely, but they may share it.

Today, I am single but that’s irrelevant. I am a person who is connected, engaged, present, intimate with a few, friendly with many. I can reach out for a hug when I need it or caress the cheek of a friend. I could take a lover or I could find a mate. But I will not be any more or less lonely simply because I might one day share my Lonely with another. They will not be able to banish the lonely, but they may share it.

You can hear me this Sunday night (February 14, 2016) talking about loneliness on NewstalkZB with Sam Bloore from 6 – 7.30pm.