It’s 6:20 in the evening and it’s already dark outside, very dark. The sun set nearly two hours ago on this mid-November day on the shores of Lake Superior.
The only lights in view are that of the single light above me, my computer screen and the fire in the wood stove – my source of heat and comfort – in this off-grid cabin. There is no Wi-Fi, not even one in signal and I have no phone here. Only a few people even know where I am. I’m very much alone.
The temperatures are hovering around freezing, the leaves have fallen and it has been a very wet fall. It seems that most days the sun is hidden behind the clouds.
This simple wood cabin sits in a small plot of woods, two miles from Cornucopia, WI (pop. 98) and is surrounded by thousands of acres of forests and the expansive Lake Superior.
I will be here into the heart of winter, spending about two months writing, resting and clarifying my mission and vision and living simply and sustainably in connection to Earth.
Although this cabin is new to me, this way of life is not. I have long been a seeker of respites from humanity, of deep immersions with Earth and of solitude and silence. Although I spend much time among society, meeting many thousands of people, my living situations, my adventures and many of my daily activities are often done alone. Having chosen the path that I have, I live far outside of many societal norms, so even when I am fully immersed in society, I am often on my own path in a sense. It has now been over five years since my last long-term romantic relationship and that was my only long-term romantic relationship since I graduated University in 2009, some fourteen years ago.
Do I Ever Feel Lonely?
Thus, it comes as no surprise to me when people ask me the question, or silently wonder, “Do you ever get lonely?”
The simple answer is yes. I could leave it there, but I am quite sure that those of you who ponder this thought are seeking more of an answer, so I will expand further.
My Experience of Loneliness Throughout My Earlier Life
Throughout much of my life, I have experienced loneliness. Upon graduating from University, I set out on a five-month solo trip around the world. I managed to get pretty alone in the jungles of Borneo and the lesser visited National Parks of Kenya. Even when I wasn’t alone, I tried to be in places where few people spoke English and there were few amenities for outsiders. Looking back, I can vividly remember being in some of the most incredible places on Earth, the places I had yearned to be so deeply, having seen them on TV or in magazines. And today, as much as I remember the beauty, I remember the feeling of loneliness. I remember thinking at times how much more special the moment would be if I had someone to share it with. As the sun set, the loneliness would often trickle in and the nights were by far the loneliest. Yet, even at that age, I was very much on a mission to find completeness within, to not be dependent upon others for my own happiness and satisfaction. This journey has deepened substantially in the last decade, and even more so in the last few years. But it began in my childhood.
Although I felt great loneliness in some of these moments of solitude, much of the loneliness I have felt has been in the presence of others and even in the presence of great crowds of people. In fact, I have seen no correlation in loneliness occurring when I am alone or with others. Thus the loneliness can clearly exist without the “lone”. I have felt lonely when I was at large events full of people, yearning to find a connection with someone there. I have felt lonely with small groups of people when my needs to be understood were not being met. I have felt lonely in my romantic relationships when my partner was not available for me or wanted something different from me. Yes, I have felt lonely countless times in this lifetime.
A New Chapter in My Life
However, the chapter of my life where loneliness was the relative norm seems to be coming to a close. The last few years have been different. I have found more balance in my life and have embarked on numerous week-long solo journeys into the wilderness – in The Everglades, The Boundary Waters and the Appalachian Mountains. I have gone five days without seeing another human being and spent nearly a week without speaking. There have also been many nights or multi-day trips alone with no humans in sight. Although there have been many moments of anxiety (something I am still working to overcome) and some fear, loneliness has been rather rare on these solo journeys. I have reveled in the silence and solitude and found deep connection with Earth and the plants and animals we share this home with. I have found incredible levels of peace and healing in these times alone.
Vipassana and a Year Without Sex or Romance
There has been a practice that has, perhaps, more noticeably decreased my feelings of loneliness. In January of 2023, I embarked on a 10-day silence retreat, also known as a Vipassana. Reflecting on this experience now, I don’t recall experiencing any loneliness at all in those ten days. What I recall is experiencing great levels of focus, clarity and inspiration. I recall feeling deeply in tune with Earth and everything surrounding me. I recall feeling calmness, mindfulness, balance and the experience of being in the present moment. I also recall frustration, restlessness and anxiety. But I do not recall loneliness.
Leaving the Vipassana, I knew that I had begun a new chapter of my life. There would be life before Vipassana and life after Vipassana. Not to say that I was a new me. I was still very much me and to anyone outside of my mind, there would likely be no major difference in their experience with me. But it was clear that I had made substantial strides in breaking unhealthy patterns and reprogramming my mind. Just before my ten days of silence began, I also made a year-long commitment to taking a break from romantic relationships and sex. I have been quite surprised at how smoothly this year has gone and how relatively few times I have longed for sex or the company of a romantic partner. I have no doubt that the Vipassana helped to set me up for a successful year. At the same time, I believe that the practice in itself has been incredibly healing and empowering. Both of these practices have nurtured a sense of completeness and wholeness within.
My Practice of Compassionate Communication
Lastly, this writing would not be complete without addressing my practice of Compassionate Communication, or Nonviolent Communication (NVC). This practice is far reaching across the entire spectrum of existence, however, a substantial part of NVC is about how we communicate with ourselves. The judgments we have of ourselves. The thoughts we have about ourselves. Our beliefs about ourselves. The practice of NVC has helped me to substantially reduce numerous unhealthy patterns that are prohibitive to becoming whole and complete within. I have fundamentally changed many of my thoughts and my ways of communicating and relating to others. This has set the foundation for reducing my sense of incompleteness and my yearning for things outside of myself.
Some believe that to end loneliness they must find the right partner. But that is not my core belief. I do believe that being in a wholesome and loving partnership can play a positive role in overcoming loneliness and feeling complete within. However, I believe that the only way that any of us will become truly complete, is to find completeness within ourselves, not in someone else or with an attachment to someone else. The only way to become complete and whole within is through an incredible amount of diligent and dedicated practice. This diligence and dedication must be continued for a lifetime. Sure, there will be chapters within the lifetime where the practice trails off, but it must be picked back up and resumed. Few of us will ever achieve absolute wholeness within, but every part of wholeness that we gain can contribute to our own well being, and used wisely can contribute to the well being of Earth and humanity.
So Now, Do I Still Get Lonely?
So now, if you were to ask me, “Do you ever get lonely?” The answer is still yes, even with all of the practice I have put in. Even with all the growth. Even with everything I just shared. The answer is yes, I still feel lonely sometimes. Will that always be the answer? I don’t know. I hope that this new chapter will continue for the rest of my life and that I will not regress to experience more loneliness. On the contrary, I believe that through a lifetime of dedication to becoming complete and whole within it is possible to fully transcend the feeling of loneliness. However, the more likely scenario is that I will continue to experience loneliness and I will simply say to myself, “And so it is”. And so it will be. I will not place any negative judgments upon it. I will simply observe my loneliness, knowing that it will pass. And the loneliness will pass, as it always has.
My Practice of Finding Completeness and Wholeness Within
This year, I have been quite diligent about not listening to music with lyrics and to not watching video content that does not contribute to my well-being. What I have very clearly noticed is that when I listen to songs that are about yearning for love or romance in general, I have felt trickles of loneliness seep in. I have very clearly seen that when I watched videos that involved dramatic relationships, I often yearned for something outside of myself. One of my core practices for creating completeness and wholeness within is replacing all content that contributes to a yearning for something outside of myself with content that helps me to meet my basic needs, allowing me to then feel more whole and complete. This especially includes avoiding any content with advertisements, because advertisements are created to get you to want something. Not only that, but many of these ads are specifically designed to target our weaknesses and trick us into thinking that their product will make us feel better. That’s dangerous stuff for me to be watching, when I’m trying to nurture wholeness within. As much as I wish that I was not susceptible to billion-dollar advertising budgets, I am, and we all likely are.
That point brings my thoughts full circle back to why I choose to be alone quite often. It is difficult to find completeness in a society that is being preyed upon by powerful corporations, governments and organizations that do not want you to be complete. When I am walking past the ice cream store, it often takes great willpower to not give in to a moment of yearning or craving. But when I am alone in a cabin, miles from the nearest ice cream shop or grocery store, it is quite easy to not eat ice cream. This applies to so many of the temptations in life that prevent me from growing and can instead keep me in a place of stagnation, or even regression. Spending time in solitude gives me time to deeply nurture myself. To rest and find peace. To gain clarity and focus. All so that I can come back to society from a place of balance and power. This is how I stay on course.
Nevertheless, I sometimes stray from the course and that is when I return to my practices of solitude and silence. My Vipassana was not a one-time retreat. I intend to do a 10-day silence retreat yearly. My solo expeditions into the wilderness will continue for the years to come. My practice of Compassionate Communication will continue. My commitments to immersive activism such as my year of growing and foraging 100% of my food will continue. It is not required to be in solitude to overcome. There are so many practices that are accessible to every single one of us to find our balance and wholeness and to maintain these states of being.
What is Loneliness? What Lies Even Deeper?
When I began writing this, I was feeling lonely. But today, I ask the question, why? And actually I don’t know why. I have come to believe that loneliness for me is generally a surface level feeling and that there are deeper feelings lying underneath. I have given myself two assignments to reduce my experience of loneliness. First, when I feel lonely I will explore why I’m feeling lonely. What is the truth here? What am I really wanting? What do I really feel like I’m missing? I think I will often find that I am not lonely at all, that there is something else going on. My hypothesis is that when I discover that it’s not loneliness, but rather something else, I will no longer feel lonely, or I will at least reduce my loneliness. Second, at other times when I feel lonely, I will sit and observe my loneliness. I will not judge it. I will not try to make it go away. I will simply observe it. As I observe it I will say. “Hello loneliness. There you are. And so it is.”
Now, after writing for an hour-and-a-half, I feel much less lonely than when I started. I feel a sense of connection. I feel connected to you, to humanity; and that is you. Equally so, I feel connected to myself.
I am connected to myself.
I am connected to myself.
I am Never Alone
There’s one last thing I’d like to share before I conclude.
I have come to believe it is impossible to be completely alone.
Over the last five years, I have very much deepened my connection with the plants and animals we share this Earth with. I have very much overcome the belief that humans are separate from the millions of other species. (I have fully overcome the belief that we are superior or more special. Yes, we are unique and, yes, we are special. But that does not make us superior in my view.) I feel great love for many of the plants and animals that I interact with whether they be trees and flowers, flies and mosquitoes, or squirrels and birds. I feel a greater connection to the bacteria inside and on my body, without which I would cease to exist. I feel a greater connection to the soil, the water, the fire, the air, the sky, the sun and moon and the clouds. At every single moment, I am with other beings. At every single moment, I am in the elements. At every single moment, I am connected to other life, simply by being alive. Yes, this is easier when I am surrounded by vivid and abundant life, but life is everywhere, even in the most seemingly dead places. (However, this is why I avoid climate controlled and sanitized spaces as quality of life is drastically reduced there.) Thus, I am never alone. And if I’m never really alone, why would I ever be ‘lone’ly?
Connection is the Antidote to Loneliness
Connection is the antidote to loneliness. Connection to other humans. Connection to our animal relatives. Connection to our plant relatives. Connection even to the insects and bacteria that so much of humanity hates. And most importantly, connection with ourselves.
I am connected to myself.
I am connected to myself.
I deeply love myself and accept myself for who I am.
I am whole.
I am complete.
Yet I will continue to grow my sense of wholeness and completeness.
Always, by fostering a connection with myself.