Loneliness is a well researched subject, but I would argue we’ve only scratched the surface. The reason we’ve only scratched the surface is because we are only trying to scratch the surface. If you’re like me, you’re not satisfied with guessing at what triggers loneliness and tricking yourself into feeling like you belong. Instead of asking “why do I feel lonely right now?” you want to know “why do we (human beings) feel lonely” in the first place.
The most popular natural explanation for this chemical feeling of loneliness is the following: we experience loneliness because long ago, humans (or subspecies or lower life-form) survived better in groups, and creatures who did not feel loneliness must have wandered off into danger and died while loneliness drove others to stay with the pack, find identity, reproduce, and thrive [Association for Psychological Science].
There is some truth in almost everything, and that natural explanation is no exception. Loneliness keeps us together in the place where we survive better, so the better survivors carried it along through the years. Basically, chemicals and years of natural selection explain why we feel the way we do. The trouble comes when we continue that thought to all its implications, such as this: every relational characteristic of humanity we value, including love, reconciliation, forgiveness, and long-suffering happens primarily because of an ancient desire to survive. Essentially, our actions are a result of our natural chemicals and consciousness and nothing more.
This article is not about psychology or science. This is an appeal to your soul. You can still give your own value to those qualities of relationships, but then it’s anyone’s guess what they really mean. Let’s explore our identity by investigating how relationships are a clue to the meaning of the universe and lead us to why we feel lonely.
Relationships in All Realities
Observe how everything we experience is a collection of relationships:
Physical reality can be broken down into subatomic relationships; protons, neutrons, electrons.
Personal reality is your relationship to what you see and experience; places, people, ideas, feelings.
Social reality is broken down into your relationship to others; family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, heroes.
Virtual Reality can be broken down into binary relationships; “0”s and “1”s.
Cosmic reality: We live on a planet, part of a solar system, part of a galaxy, part of a universe, part of a (?).
The Circle of Life: The lion eats the antelope, the lion dies and becomes grass, the antelope eat the grass (said Mufasa, even when the African safari was all he ever knew).
Existence = relationships. @soulsinspace
Point is, you cannot escape the relational order to the universe because you live in it. Existence = relationships. When a cell divides into two cells they form a relationship. So too, you are bound to your relationship to others, even in death. Your isolation or disconnection creates a relational void where there were potential connections. These voids affect everyone. That’s why the following statement from Martin Luther King Jr. makes so much sense.
We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.
Whether you like it or not, you play a part in one massive network that cannot be fully qualified or quantified by human intelligence, and if you choose not to be a part of it, you create a blank space no one else can fill because no one else is you. Nothing even makes sense without relationships and neither will your life.
The Absolute Value of Human Existence
Now I’m going to ask you to do something very strange, but I hope it helps wrap this up. Look at everything around you. Now look at one thing in particular and ask “what meaning does this have?” As you ask, don’t think about anything at all except for that one object (or picture, or device, or whatever). Have you found a meaning?
Or were my instructions incredibly confusing? The only meaning you can find is this: this thing means itself. It means nothing.
I happen to have a rubber duck on my desk at work and he’s dressed for St. Patrick’s Day. Don’t ask… But when I look at it, I think about how the animal duck relates to the animal kingdom. I think of how the Irish garments relate to the Irish celebration. I look at how the rubber relates to chemistry. I think of the object lesson the duck was meant to convey.
But what if the duck had no relationship to any of those things? Would it mean anything to me? Could it even exist without relationships? Down to the protons, neutrons, and electrons, it cannot be defined or assigned value without relationships. In other words, the following is an axiom of existence: one thing means nothing without at least one other thing.
That is why I am asserting that relationships are the absolute value of human existence. When you take every physical thing away, even your ability to perceive the world around you, all you have left is relationships. That’s why a deaf and blind person can still relate through touch – because the relationship is still there.
To bring this home: when you die, there will be two things left here. One, the memory of you defined by how you relate to others. Two, your body. But “you” won’t rot in a box because you won’t be in the box. Your body isn’t you. Your relationships don’t just tell about you, they define you. Take them away, and you won’t be there anymore. In the future, I’ll talk about how relationships are eternal. But for now…
The Meaning of Loneliness
What does this mean about loneliness?
So far, we know it means loneliness is not just your soul’s way of crying out for friendship, it’s your soul’s way of crying out for meaning. Without human relationships, we feel that we have wholly missed the point of our existence because we do not exist in the network of other people, and it feels like we do not exist at all.
And in this case our feeling is a sign pointing to the meaning of the universe.
And now that our compass is actually pointing North, we may be able to find an answer.