If you find loneliness difficult, you are not alone. For many of us, loneliness is a crippling experience, fraught with a toxic dose of shame and self-criticism. We'd rather keep it hidden than admit that we suffer from feelings of isolation, emptiness and anxiety. Yet, when we try to wall off our painful emotions, they don't go away; they brood and become even more painful. Over time, these buried emotions can manifest in the symptoms of physical illness.

Connecting to the Self Who Isn't Lonely

Healing loneliness requires more than simply seeking out company. As you've probably experienced, you can feel lonely in the middle of a crowd, at a holiday party or with a group of caring friends. The root of loneliness isn't the absence of other people but an inner absence—you don't have a centered awareness of your true self.

Your true self is your spirit, which is infinite and eternal. Its qualities include love, compassion, equanimity, joy, creativity, intuition, pure potentiality and bliss. When you're established in the awareness of your true self, you feel lovable and connected, whether you're in a packed stadium or spending a quiet afternoon by yourself. At the most basic level, the company you enjoy the most is your own. Loneliness, on the other hand, is the condition of feeling negative about your own company and therefore requiring other people to fill that inner lack.

Feeling an inner lack is almost universal. It's a result of a restricted state of awareness that is constricted, unable to look beyond rigid boundaries. The more you try to defend these boundaries, the more fearful and insecure you become. Loneliness is only one symptom. When your awareness is constricted, it's easy to get lost in the drama of the ego-mind (that limited aspect of ourselves which feels separate). In a misguided attempt to feel secure, the ego-mind relies on reinforcement from other people to feel lovable, never realizing that love is our essential nature. This struggle is a crucial cause of loneliness and pain.

Practices for Healing Loneliness

The first step in healing loneliness is to offer yourself compassion and to begin to cultivate an acceptance of all your emotions. Emotions are commonly categorized as "positive" or "negative," but in reality every emotion is valid. But when you add self-judgment, any emotion can be damaging.

Every time you feel lonely or anxious, rather than heaping judgment and shame on yourself, practice self-compassion. It can help to think of how you would treat a scared child or pet. You wouldn't snap or speak harshly, tell them to " buck up" and stop being ridiculous. You'd offer them affection, loving attention and gentle understanding.

See your loneliness as a messenger letting you know that your awareness of your true loving nature has temporarily become clouded by thoughts generated by the ego-mind. As you become more accepting of your emotions, the need to hide how you're really feeling will drop away and you will find yourself relating to others from your authentic self. This self-love and acceptance is the basis of fulfilling relationships.

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