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Loneliness, self, other

  • Posted on July 12, 2013 at 11:34 pm

I last wrote about the connectedness of all life, the lack of real boundaries between things, and a sense of belonging in the universe. This was brought close to me beautifully last week, when I went to learn about and do chakra dancing. That isn’t my subject this week, but suffice it to say that I found a belonging and inclusiveness that understood me, and that I understood. The dance itself was so much what I do already, but with structure and context. The mindset was familiar and the welcome not unbelievable but deeply reassuring.

It’s time I read a couple of books I have on and by David Bohm, to explore more the way he presents how everything hangs together, but behind his thinking is the idea that things are not actually separate and that boundaries are impossible to define. In my unread thoughts, then, take a subatomic particle that happens to statistically ‘belong’ with a carbon atom, that belongs in a molecule, that is part of a cell wall in your skin. Then take another identical subatomic particle that happens statistically to ‘belong’ with a carbon atom, that is part of a carbon dioxide molecule in the air in contact with your skin. Now widen your scope and become aware of the whole of your skin-air boundary: do ‘you’ really end where the air begins? In the sum of things, what keeps the two ‘belongings’ distinct? Is it in fact distinct at all? Those subatomic particles do not belong anywhere fixed at all, and move around at distances immeasurable greater from each other than their own ‘dimensions’. Like a whirlpool in a river, we are identifiable but inseparable and lacking definable boundaries.


However, we are very particular about our sense of self. We check it against other people, societal expectations, religious beliefs, internal philosophies, dependencies and so on, all the time. We preserve this sense of individuality against all manner of pressures, but go with those pressures when we feel we would be made ‘other’ or non-included – which I guess throws us in the opposite direction. We are all happiest being individual providing we still belong. Maybe we are not so different from the subatomic particle that might statistically belong with a carbon dioxide molecule in the air one instant or an organic skin molecule the next. It too has to belong, because subatomic particles don’t wander round looking for friends, or find themselves alone. They can’t.

And then we have an equal sense of the otherness of others, especially when their differences might change us. We can never be another, or become another, so why do we fear the influence of others? Is it partly because in realising others are in fact unknowable, we do not fully know ourselves? And that this is in fact a fragile state of affairs? And so we preserve our sense of self and belonging by over-defining our boundaries and sticking to those others who are most similar. At the same time we exclude the less-alike because they might change our fragile sense of self or contaminate the in-group we feel we belong with.

Do we ever really belong as a result of what we are? Or of what we think, say and present as what we think we are? Or is it just a tacit human agreement that similarity is safety, so be similar? How many of us risk standing out as individuals at the expense of belonging, of being included? It’s really noticeable when someone does.

As someone who has stood out very deliberately as a matter of survival, and who has been excluded by a number of people, I am confronted by what it means to be fully aware of self, and how close or known another can ever be. I thought love was a kind of merging of minds or souls into a deep or inseparable bond, until rudely awoken to the fact that even the love of family was accommodatory. At the same time, it has been said to me how damaging codependency is, and at its mildest, this means making one’s own needs subordinate to another, not out of altruism, but in an unbalanced relationship of unequal power. I don’t think I was there, however desperate I was not to lose the love I had.

In the end, I had to choose between my sense of self and the love of another, knowing that being more real would lose their love for me. (Is that a choice anyone should have to make?)


‘Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real.’

Iris Murdoch, Existentialists and Mystics. Writings on Philosophy and Literature

Now isn’t that a powerful thought? I am real. I can know that (cogito, ergo sum?) – but can I know that another is real, and not a projection of myself, or illusory? Well, let’s agree at least for now that we are always ‘with’ ourselves, but never actually ‘with’ another. We can be proximate, even with intimately entwined bodies – but we are never part of another, and they can always go away, as we never can from ourselves. So how does our sense of our own reality compare with our knowledge that another is real?

When we come to realise that another is as real as we are, then an awareness of complete equality arises. Only then can love find its truest form. And if two people both understand this of each other, there is a bond that is, I believe, extremely rare. I wish I had this experience! I want it! But it demands something of me before something of the other. With the complete equality comes the truth that the separation of the self and the other as truly autonomous is also illusory.

And this is an extremely difficult realisation.


Philosophy is fine, and I am a constant thinker, but I am also that ‘other’ to you, and I feel loneliness. I am alone for approximately 50 per cent of my life now. That means the other half is spent in the company of others. For me a sense of loneliness is partly a function of the loss of all intimacy, all real closeness, almost all physical contact with another, after many years (almost all my adult life). It is also bewildering. On one level I understand it well: I became ‘different’ by finding out who I was and how I was. That placed me outside the zone of inclusiveness felt by others. I mean, ‘I was a man and I became a woman’, didn’t I? What else should I expect?

However, on another level I am completely at a loss as to why my continuous sense of self-reality should hit such a disconjunction. If another loved me, then surely they would realise that my reality has not changed at all – how could it? Do they think theirs could?

I feel loneliness keenly, because my sense of belonging has been completely undermined. My sense of being ‘known’ at all, has been shaken to its foundations. Suddenly there is nobody other who recognises, truly, that I am as real as they. I don’t mean they can’t see, hear and touch me (though they don’t do the latter very much) but that I can be easily disconnected as ‘not being what I was’, and therefore be illegitimised from certain roles and places of belonging.

That brings me back to my inner belief of belonging in the universe. I feel strongly that I am one with something much greater and all-inclusive, and that gives me hope that I can gain that crucial understanding of another as being real. That I can understand love, and that perhaps I might find another who is in the same place.

At this distance, I know that I have never experienced this yet.

And at the same time I know that if I do find intimate companionship ever again, it will be with someone non-religious but deeply spiritually aware, and also with a sincere sensuality, who understands what I am saying here. Their gender? I think that is quite secondary.