During a conversation on the board the other day, another member and I started speaking about loneliness in its various forms. Certainly there is the physical state of being alone, but there is also the mental state of feeling alone. Surely you can have one without the other, as we have all experienced that feeling of being in a crowded room, yet feeling mentally alone while surrounded by others. Likewise we have all experienced the solitude of no one around and yet not felt lonely because we knew mentally that we had friends, family, etc. who loved and cared about us.
Some would say that we as humans create our own state of loneliness because we build walls rather than bridges. On the one hand, walls are very safe; their purpose is to keep out danger and that which is unwanted. Bridges, on the other hand, are somewhat frightening in that they allow the flow of ideas, people, and emotions from one area to another. The real question is why do we build walls and thus create our own loneliness in many cases? Why are we as humans more likely to close ourselves off from that which we often desire the most--companionship?
I think the answer is rather simple: fear. Sometimes it's the fear of the unknown. Other times it's the fear of what we feel we know will happen. Both are equally powerful, enough so that we feel we must build our walls higher and stronger to fortify our inner being. A bridge would allow all that we fear to slide right into our inner sanctum, it would allow it access to the essence of who we are--the gooey center if you will, and we wouldn't want that now would we? But, why since the thing we often desire the most is for someone to "know" us--to really know and understand us?
Simply put, prior experiences. As children we are, for the most part, open and willing to trust. We both literally and figuratively heal more quickly because we have fewer life experiences on which to build our fears. The affected area grows back smooth and untarnished, but as we grow and accumlate these experiences, they have a callousing effect. (Yes, I made up that word. ) Those callouses are what become our walls. Each time we put ourselves "out there" in the world and take that risk by building a bridge rather than a wall, we open ourselves up for attack. Anything and everything can just wander right on into the sanctity of our safe and secure walls. Then, when that "thing" (be it a person, an emotion, or an event--whatever) does not turn out to be what we thought it was going to be, and we are forced to extract it, there is damage. The longer the "thing" exists within our walls, the more of a callous that forms upon its extraction. Think of it as a splinter around which the skin grows if you will. However, even those things that do not reside within our walls for lengthy periods of time can sometimes do great damage depending upon what they are--these are perhaps the things we regret the most later because we simply recognized a split second too late that we did not retract the drawbridge when we should have.
So, why ever put down the drawbridge? After being calloused time and time again, why do we as humans continue to put ourselves out there? I know, for myself, it is sometimes much easier to withdraw--to fortify the walls of my being and cauk all the gaps. But, that retreat usually only lasts for a relatively short period of time; then I find myself enveloped in loneliness once again, which in turn makes me miserable. It is at that point that I have to overcome my fears (of the unknown and of what I feel is known) and lower the drawbridge once again. It is always a frightening time because it leaves me vulnerable to attack. There are many out there who are malicious and have the worst of intentions. They are not always easy to spot; they prey on those who are in that vulnerable state much like a lion looks for the zebra that has strayed from the herd. They lay in wait--hidden within forests of tress and behind the tall grass. They come disguised in the form of friendship and companionship. Certainly they leave scars, sometimes deep ones. However, we as humans need interaction. We ARE pack animals and crave companionship; therefore, it is a necessary risk. I think that all we can hope for is to learn from the mistakes of the past, move forward, and be a little more careful when lowering our drawbridges, for if we never lower them again, we will surely starve because companionship IS an essential nutrient in a healthy life. Without it, we will die--perhaps not literally, but most assuredly mentally...spiritually, and that is perhaps the thing we all fear the most.