This morning, I woke up with these words in my head and aching through my heart: I feel so alone.
But I don’t feel alone, I thought. So what does this message mean – and who is it for?
Mom? Dad? My husband, still asleep? No.
One of my children? No.
I got up and shook it off with a vague sense of guilt, as if I were letting someone down. Was there someone to whom I was meant to deliver this message?
A few hours later, I was sitting here – working on the last chapter of my book, a bear of a thing – a manifesto about choice and suffering and prayer – when I understood that early morning message.
I knew who had called.
It was you.
You. Me – and everyone we know. In fact, the whole world is calling. We all feel so alone.
I don’t know how to write about this. I am not a clinician, not a research scientist. I am a writer – an intuitive. I see what I see and try to name it.
And what I see it this: Though our world has never been so interconnected; we have never, individually, felt more isolated.
I have two columns to write this week and a father to visit in a nursing home. An hour in the other direction, my mother sits trapped by her own infirmities in her home. I’ve already missed yoga. I have two kids in college. I am overwhelmed with work – trying to finish a book (which may turn out to be two books.)
This blog, which is supposed to be a refuge, a haven where I come to meet myself – and you, is starting to feel like another responsibility. I am resisting that – trying to keep it clean. To keep it clear of that nonsense I get into when I feel pulled upon and put upon.
And forget about keeping the house clean.
Here’s the thing:
We expect too much of ourselves – and of life.
We expect ourselves , and each other, to multitask – to be always available, by cell phone, email, instant message, and text. We expect ourselves to be able to work so hard, and then, to work some more at playing.
We have hobbies to do, health clubs to get to and supplements to take. We have Joneses to keep up with and celebrities to gossip about (as we copy them) and American Idol to watch.
Lately, I have been watching as bloggers and teachers I admire have been saying, “Nope. Not gonna this anymore.”
I need a break – a big break – from all of this.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Twitter. I love Facebook (kinda.) But there is an insidious pull here, what Bindu Wiles called, a ‘sucking quality,” that takes me in directions I don’t want to go.
Instead of constantly checking portals for feedback, I could be sitting with my dad, talking about God the way he likes to do. I could be sitting with Mom, making her coffee and getting her a sweater because when the heat goes up and then down, her frail body gets the shivers.
Lately, I’ve been wondering: What would my grandmother, stirring chicken soup, have said about the way that I rush out of the house in the morning leaving last night’s dishes in the sink? What would my grandfather, a Hebrew scholar, make of the way that I hurry through research, put off interviews, fall asleep with a book about the soul in my hands every single night? And what of my grandmother, a literary bookseller – what would she have made of this e-book I’m composing out of light?
I’ve been thinking about the way that our modern plagues – clutter disorder, cutting, eating disorders – are psycho-spiritual cries for help. How each is a mirror of other, deeper ills
- Our excess clutter is also a symbol, in shadow, of our terror that we will wind up penniless, homeless, empty.
- Our cutting telegraphs our numbness, our desperation to FEEL our bodies, our very lives
- Our anorexia telegraphs a deep hunger, for soul connection to meaning and purpose; it also represents our fear of its opposite, obesity
- Our obesity shows us our yawing hunger – as do the grocery superstores expand faster than our waistbands, aisle after aisle of empty processed food ‘products’ (what I call ‘consumable clutter’).
Each of these disorders is a manifestation of an emptiness that is too wide and deep for anyone to fill alone. Paradoxically, though each is an attempt to fill our emptiness, it is just more emptiness, and winds up isolating us even more – from society, from our families and friends, from ourselves.
These symptom of our disconnection with the soul are shadows – empty calories, empty entertainments, empty sensations. Our airwaves and classrooms are equally soulless – have you opened a textbook lately? they are mind-numbingly dull – offering nothing that can help us reconnect, understand or make meaning.
At the same time, we are bombarding ourselves with stimulation until, in a kind of collective autism, we shut down, rocking.
As our world feels increasingly out of control, we spin cocoons of protection – staying inside or retreating inside to worlds of fantasy and, increasingly violent imagery. From inside of these cocoons of our own making, we look out, desperate with longing: we want to FEEL our lives and to FILL those lives with meaning.
To me, the greatest problem our world faces today is powerlessness- the feeling of being frozen and unable to act. I believe this powerlessness arises from two sources:
1) Too much information.
- about things that have nothing to do with us
- that we cannot do anything about
2) Increasing fear of ‘out there’
– which leads to our increased isolation.
This fear is encouraged by a media that seems to want to frighten us, and pelts us daily with stories of murder, rape, abuse, violence. But if the only window onto the world that we use is that box of light around which all of the furniture of our living room is arranged, the world will soon come to seem like a very scary place.
So I look through other windows. This is what I do. This is why those bloggers and other healthy people – people with a strong sense of what they need (and their right to have it) sometimes say, No.
They turn off the TV. They unplug from the internet. Knowing that the only way out of this loneliness is to turn and look it right in the eye.
They take their cameras out of doors and snap pictures of the snow settling on a blue bicycle, their breakfast tea steaming beside a nice blueberry scone.