The Lonely Desert Dweller Club

lonely desert

(W)e humans need to love and be loved. We need and need to be needed. These are basic. We cannot be fully human unless these needs are met.
John Bradshaw

Some time last year I placed a few index cards strategically around the house on which I’d written “Happiness is a Choice!” I’d read somewhere that sadness and discontent can be nothing more than a habit and that like so many other bad habits, we can turn it around through awareness and practice. So I began to “practice” happiness. When prompted by a card, I reminded myself to be thankful for what I have and to actively smile. Research says that through the simple act of smiling we cause an increase in the release of the neurotransmitters associated with feelings of happiness. Similarly, Brene Brown’s research has revealed that feelings of gratitude are actually a requisite precursor to feeling joy. So I began to practice smiling, being grateful, consciously embracing all that is good in my life. And I think it worked, when I remembered to practice.

Then I got sick.

There’s nothing like not feeling well to mess with our best intentions. Whether it’s a new exercise regimen or mindfulness practice, illness tends to halt our progress and cause us to slide back down the slippery garden path to our previous levels of dissatisfaction, whether it be with our waistline or our emotional state. To add insult to injury, my illness meant I wasn’t getting the usual regular doses of adrenaline and other endorphins from surfing and kiting, nor the vitamin D from being in the sun. What was a mild case of the blues began to spiral downward into the dark abyss of deep sadness (I’m reticent to call it depression, as I have no idea what my brain chemistry is doing, and on the one occasion in my life when I experienced true clinical depression the symptoms were much more pronounced, so for now let’s just call this some serious sadness).

I’ve been reticent to admit this, but the sadness I’m feeling is the kind that comes from loneliness, from not having someone to share the day to day ups and downs, the drudgery and special moments that make up our days, someone to join over dinner to share thoughts, dreams, quiet togetherness. I think you’ll agree that one of the things that gives life meaning is in sharing it with the people we love. Not having that special someone with whom to share all these tiny beautiful moments is what I’m missing. Like the quote above says, we need to love and be loved, to need and be needed. These are essential to our well-being, part of our core make-up as human beings. We are social animals. And forgive me those of you who have chosen otherwise, but I believe there is a certain pathology to not wanting to share your life with someone…not just anyone, but someone with whom you “click,” someone who gets and accepts you, wino-tendencies and all.

When I told a friend how I’d had it up to my eyeballs with being alone, he pointed out that I wasn’t leading a life or living in a location that lends itself to “waltzing into the traditional loving situation.” He continued, “You being in the desert is of course metaphorical. Some days, I’m sure, [must be] almost Bukowskian in bleak commitment.” So there you have it.

Current laments aside, I’m not one to wallow. I believe in taking action when I find myself pushing up against something prickly in my life. So when the spines of loneliness began to sting too deeply I acted.

One night a couple of months ago, after hearing from the umpteenth happy couple about how they’d met online and with my inhibitions erased by several glasses of cheap red wine, I bit the bullet and joined an online dating site. [You have NO idea how hard it is for me to admit that.] My actions that night expressed an attitude I’d begun to wear like a mildewed jacket. “What the hell,” I thought. “I’m never going to meet anyone as long as I’m in this place.”

Next morning when I realized what I’d done I felt a surge of fear, horror, and self-loathing rise bitter and acidic – not unlike the previous night’s wine – in my throat. I was consumed by doubts about the process, about putting myself “out there,” about admitting I was at the point where I no longer trusted that it would happen organically. It felt, dare I say it, cheap. And I judged it an admission of failure. Ha! “Yeah,” I reminded myself, “You’ve ‘failed’ to find true love among the illiterate Mexican ranchers, pothead surfers, and retired beer-bellied Ex-Pats that comprise the miniscule population of this bleak Baja desert.”

To say I was non-committal about the process at first is an understatement. My heart sank when I found out how much the service cost – on top of everything else, I was broke. Until I agreed to pay their extortionist fee, all I could see of potential suitors was their first name, place of residence, and profession below a shadowy outline of an “everyman” head where their profile photo would be if I paid up. I couldn’t even read the contents of their profile. To top it off, I’d completed the questionnaire designed to evaluate my personality and connect me with like-minded gentlemen the same bleary-eyed night I signed up, so a question nagged at the back of my mind, “Just how accurate can this thing be?” I figured it’d be my rightful comeuppance if all I heard from were W.C Fields bulbous-nosed drunks.

I posted a profile that I hoped was an honest reflection of who I am, sober, or at worst only mildly hungover. But by the end of that first day of exploration, I began to realize that the Lonely Desert Dweller Seeks Ripped and Ripping Surfer Project would require a significant investment of those precious commodities, time and money. I asked myself once again, “Is this really the solution to my discontent?”

To be continued…

Duck Soup

In a recent blog, Forgetting Forgiveness, the issue of when to bring up past injustices was discussed. In this case concerning a specific slight felt at the hands of a friend, a long, long time ago. A friend who was no longer in the life, but with whom communication had recently resumed thanks to the miracle of Facebook. It was wondered whether the subject should be raised or just left in the past and forgiveness granted silently.

After some days of consideration, the decision was that the issue should be raised. Because, in the words of the advice giver, “trust must be the basis for all relationships.” He felt it was a matter of the trust having been broken between us and that the other must apologise before the friendship could be renewed.

In the days leading up to the history composition, a feeling in the gut was felt each time the topic was considered..a subtle sense – call it intuition – that this was not the right course of action. Even as the message was written, detailing the circumstances and their emotional results, the sensation continued – nagging and churning in the pit of the stomach.

Despite the misgivings, the friend received the email with great understanding and compassion, even tenderness. It was admitted apologetically, however, that neither the incident nor its long term consequences were remembered. But how was this possible? The pain experienced was recalled with such clarity, as though it had been branded into the soul on that day 27 years ago.

The recipient of the email did offer up an explanation of sorts, which in a few days time would gain deeper, more universal meaning. She wrote,

“I was so caught up in my own suffering, I was oblivious to your pain.”

We were both suffering, unaware of our shared emotional pain. The thought arose, “How could this be when we had been such close friends?”

And then the larger context of what had happened begged to be understood. What causes suffering? Why do we human beings seem to be in an almost constant state of suffering. Discontent, anger, resentment, bitterness, anxiety and depression seem to be the predominant emotions permeating the planet. It seems to be rare to encounter someone who seems genuinely happy and isn’t just saying “I’m great!” in an attempt to hide the truth or convince themselves that all is well in the world. Because we also share a blindness to each others suffering, the charade of pretending to be happy can be seen as even more tragically ironic.

The Buddhists say that life IS suffering. And we are only released from it upon realizing enlightenment. Okay, fine, but what about those of us who are mere mortals a long way from Siddhartha’s Banyan tree? Surely we aren’t meant to go through life suffering day in and day out? What would be the point of that?

The answer came a few days later in the form of a book.

Eckhart Tolle, in his book “A New Earth: Awakening your life’s purpose,” professes to have the answer to these questions and many more. Most importantly and impressively, he tells us how to end suffering. All suffering.

According to Mr. Tolle, the EGO is at the core of all unhappiness and conflict in the world, on an individual, national and international level. Infighting, petty bickering, crime, wars and all manner of conflict, he says, result from egos out of control, trying to dominate and maintain power in the individual and in the world.

While it is normal to have an ego – and we all do – the problem arrises when the ego runs the show – suffering can be the only result. To accomplish its end of getting and staying in control, the ego tricks us into thinking “we are it” and that the ego is therefore essential to our very survival. Fear of death is directly the result of our identification with the ego.

This ego-indentification occurs gradually as we grow up and mature, becoming particularly combersome during adolescence when self-consciousness, insecurities (all products of the growing ego) become the emotions driving our actions and all too often reactions. The more we identify with the ego, the more we feel separate from the “other” and become blind to the fact that they are experiencing similar emotions.

Identification with the ego distracts us from the reality of life. The “beingness” of life that can get us out of the cycle of suffering.

The ego, it turns out, is a lot like a whining child looking for attention. The ego likes to bring up the past and make us worry about the future. It is concerned with “I”, “me” and “mine.” It is that part of each of us that clings to the past by identifying so strongly with “our story.” It needs to be right and prove others wrong. It is the voice in the head that never shuts up. It keeps us from living in, and thereby enjoying, the present moment.

Mr. Tolle would assert it was the ego that in the present circumstance needed to bring up the past injustice, that needed to be consoled, apologized to, told it was right and the “other” wrong. And that by doing this the ego empowered itself, guaranteed its continued existence and, sadly, continued suffering.

Two ducks on a pond meet and begin to fight. Feathers fly and they squawk and honk and make a ruckus. Then, as quickly as it started the fighting ends and they swim away in opposite directions. The ducks then both stretch their necks out and shake all their feathers. They settle and then glide back together as though nothing happened.

The duck at the core of the Being urges us to shake out our ruffled feathers and move forward. To let go of the past and recognize that we are all the same at heart, all afflicted by the same suffering. And rather than dredge up old grievances, to be happy that at long last, the lost friend is back in the life.

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To buy A New Earth: Awakening your life’s purpose go HERE.

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