Have you noticed that there are times when being alone is the most delicious thing in the world…Loneliness? What loneliness! And then there are other times when you are with people, maybe even people you love, and you feel incredibly lonely. Hmm…
It’s Valentines Day. And today I want to talk about loneliness. (Because, why-ever not!) And about beginning to meet our very own dear selves with curiosity and tenderness.
Carl Jung, founder of analytical psychology, scientist, and prolific writer among other things, knew a thing or two about human feelings and motivations. He said:
“Loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you.”
In other words: loneliness isn’t so much—or necessarily, at least— about the who but about the what… With the what being what’s important to you, for starters, and then for purposes of not feeling lonely, being able to communicate that what.
So, my dear, what’s important to you? Do you know? Do you even know where to look? No worries if you don’t. We all start somewhere, and loneliness is certainly as good a place as any to start on the journey of getting to know the one person you are guaranteed to fall asleep and wake up with, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do you part!
Now, depending on where you are on this journey of knowing you, what I just said may make you gulp or roll up your sleeves or jump up and down excitedly. That’s OK. Any of those? Totally OK.
How can you listen for and put yourself in the frame of mind-heart to hear at very least the stirrings of what’s important to you today? And once you hear something, is there a way you can express, even if just one tiny part of whatever it is that stirs you? (I talked about some possibilities for how to do that a few days ago here).
Dreams are one of my favorite ways to listen for important, just under conscious surface, things in me. When I write down my dreams, especially the ones that wake me up in the night or the ones that stay with me upon waking in the morning, it is my way of practicing being curious and turning toward what is important.
Dreams speak in the language of images and metaphor, which is why sometimes (actually, quite often!) they can seem very odd. And often it’s the disturbing dreams that catch our attention. “I had a bad dream last night,” you might find yourself thinking or saying in the morning. But if you turn toward the dream, no matter how seemingly odd or bad (even or especially if it feels like a nightmare!) with curiosity and a wanting to have it open up for you, you might be surprised by what treasures you find.
I’m not talking about dream interpretation here, not per se. But rather an openness and curiosity toward whatever your dream has brought to you.
Years ago —around 20, actually!— I read a little book by Gene Gendlin called “Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams.” It was the book that first introduced me to Focusing, which is a wonderful and very learnable process of listening to and getting to know ourselves. Incidentally, I count Focusing to be among the 2 or 3 things that most has helped me come into kind relationship with myself over the last 20 or so years (after waking up from a failed attempt to check out of life). Changes in my life have not happened overnight, so to speak, but a lot of them DID happen, and certainly started happening, in the night and in my dreams.
Just last night I had the strangest dream. And this here is me showing you how I turn toward whatever it might be bringing me…
First I relay it. Usually this happens by me writing it down. Sometimes I tell it to my husband or to my Focusing companion, with whom I meet once a week, but not always. Even just writing it down for myself counts.
In my dream I’m visiting a hospital like McLean Hospital. In my dream I’m going there for business, though not exactly business, and also not exactly personal affairs either, though of course I have feelings about these kinds of hospitals, having been in a psych hospital when I was just 18. And again 26. Anyway, in my dream I go round the bend to the entrance, which is in the back of the hospital rather than right on the street, and I am met with a very very steep and paved driveway. Incredibly steep. Steep like I don’t know however one would ever go down it, let alone climb it to leave! But I do. Somehow I manage to get to the door and in. The place is welcoming and organized. People who know what they are doing work there and they are neither cagey nor secretive, nor overly solicitous: just straight up decent, smart and doing their jobs well. Someone is showing me around. Then, in the next part, a girl-young woman —not a baby but neither a fully grown woman— wants me to pick her up. And so I do. She gets in my arms and falls asleep there. She is so close to me, right up against me with her head nuzzled into the crook of my neck, and I notice how much comfort and how comfortable and how comforting it is for both of us. She was in this hospital, this girl-woman-baby, and when I arrived she jumped into my arms. A woman who works there keeps showing us around, leading us down maze-like hallways and into and out of offices and rooms here and there and everywhere. The last room we enter in this dream, after which I wake up, has a huge window overlooking a wide and shimmering ocean.
That’s it. That’s my dream. And this is how I get curious about the dream, open toward understanding what it’s showing me as important right now in my life, open to hearing what help it might have for whatever is challenging or “up” for me these days. (For dreams always bring help, always, even if they are just showing us something we otherwise don’t see).
So the hospital in the dream is not unlike the psych hospitals I found myself in when I was 18. And 26. At which time I really was rather alone, literally, and, oh god, lonely as hell. I didn’t have myself, and certainly didn’t know what was important to me (other than finding the next sweet food to binge on!). And I didn’t have much in the way of family or other people.
OK. There is that. That feels resonant. The kind of hospital in my dreams is familiar to me.
But… the one in my dreams is also different! I am arriving to visit it, not to stay in it. I am there on business, though my interest is also personal.
Could this be about the work I do with clients? And the work I am doing much more of now as I focus on helping people with anxiety and depression?
Yes, maybe. Certainly not no, but not quite a full hit of YES. Let me stay with it… What else… What happens next?
There’s that girl-woman who gets in my arms and whom I end up walking around holding while the good people who work there show me around. Ah… that bit, I remember now when I was writing it, that bit choked me up: not a baby and not a woman. Something like me when I was 18. And 26. Feeling so lost and alone in the world. Excruciatingly lonely. A lot like that. And, at the time, in that kind of hospital. Yes. But the part specifically that made me cry is the bit where that girl-woman trusts me so much. And how much comfort and comforting there is when she is in my arms.
There it is. The nugget. The important bit. The bit I wanted to tell. There it is. She is me-then. She is me-then who is still, often, with me now. And at different points in my life I’ve had such shame about her. And I’ve tried to pretend her away. Or hide her, certainly. But not in this dream. I am walking around holding her, holding me, close. And, goodness gracious, could it be? Even telling you my dream about it, about me.
So, my friend, my client, my dear, what’s important to you today? When you turn toward yourself with curiosity, what do you find?
See if you can make room for whatever, for whoever is there. EVEN if (and maybe especially if) what you find is a part of you that’s afraid to look. Because that is often the case when we start turning toward rather than away from ourselves.
Go gently, go kindly, and go ever so curiously. It’s SO worth it! ❤️ Happy Valentines Day, love.
Lastly, I leave you with this poem by Derek Walcott:
Love After Love
The time will come
When, with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror,
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,
And say, sit here, Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you
All your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
The photographs, the desperate notes,
Peel your image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.