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Loneliness is a gift || Acharya Prashant, at BITS Pilani, Goa (2022)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
6 min
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Questioner (Q): Pranam, Acharya Ji. How do we deal with loneliness in the pursuit of a very personal goal? I have to paint a small picture for it. Let’s say, you’re going through a struggle which no one knows about. No one appreciates it, but you’re battling with it every single day, one hour at a time. And the funny thing is that you’re winning, but there is no one with you to appreciate it. The brain starts to play games with you. It starts to convince you that you’re losing, even though you’re winning. It overpowers you when you’re feeling low. So, how do you deal with this crippling loneliness?

Acharya Prashant (AP): Loneliness, you know, is the best gift that life can offer you. Seriously. If you are not lonely, then the alternative is to be with something terrible. What would you prefer?

Let’s say you are travelling by bus or you’re on a flight. The seat next to you is occupied by a hideous person. Is that better, or is it better to have a vacant seat? I’m not saying that the seat remains vacant for the entire journey, but must you be in a hurry to very quickly fill that up? Must you be in a terrible rush?

That’s the thing. Most of us have such low tolerance for loneliness that we fill it up with crap. Either the wrong kind of job, or beliefs, or person, a location, or something. Loneliness, I said, is a gift because it gives you the opportunity and the freedom to go for the best. “I’m lonely,” means “I have the opportunity.” And the opportunities available all life. Do you want to give it up?

Why are you taking loneliness as a curse? Remember the alternative is far worse. People who are fed up of loneliness fall into all kinds of terrible places, but they usually don’t display or acknowledge that. So, you feel, “Oh, the ones whose hollows are filled up are luckier.” No, they are not. Get into their reality, and you will find that being lonely is far better.

And it’s again, I repeat, I’m not advocating compulsorily loneliness. I’m just asking you to be careful. A vacant spot is a pure spot. No nonsense has filled it up. How would you want to be? Do you have single rooms, or do you have double occupancy?

Q: Double occupancy.

AP: Double occupancy. How would you like it better? Single room or a roomie who is quarrelsome, dim-witted, aggressive, and neurotic.

Q: Single room.

AP: That’s what, you see. And now, to put things in perspective, what do you think about the bulk of the world's population? Are they wise people or neurotic?

Q: Neurotic.

AP: Neurotic. So now you know what I’m saying. Just going by probability, the odds are, the great chance is, that if you have somebody as your roomie, or partner, or whatever, the fellow would show up as neurotic. What good that would be? Better to enjoy your loneliness that gives you a lot of opportunities. You can experiment, you can do this, do that.

And when you can spot the right one—the right object, the right thought, the right book, the right person—you can bring it into your life. Be with it. Be nourished by it. Be in loving company, uplifting company. And when the time comes to bid goodbye, gracefully say ‘goodbye’. You can’t be with a book all your life, can you? Of course, you can return to the book. The goodbye need not be final. You can return to the book after six months, or two years, or whenever you need it.

There has to be a way of life that’s founded on freedom, not compulsiveness. As human beings, and particularly as Indians, we are trained and steeped in compulsiveness. Things happen, and then things get frozen in concrete. You’re left with no freedom to fly. And that’s a wastage of life.

Even this problem that you are experiencing against loneliness might actually be a cultural problem. Coming from all the gossips that you hear in the family and in your peer group, all the movies that you watch where it is shown that the ultimate purpose of life is to have a partner. What are ninety per cent of movies about? Man chasing a woman. That’s all, right? Maybe ninety per cent is understated. More than that?

So, what are they teaching you with respect to loneliness? Fill it up and fill it up with a young person of the other gender. First of all, there must be no tearing hurry to fill it up. Secondly, it need not be filled up with a person. Even if you have to fill it up with a person, why does it have to be a person in flesh and blood. I’m not talking of ghosts.

Q: (Laughter)

AP: I’m talking of books. What are books? They represent the best that a great person has to offer. Let’s say, a great person lived for seventy years. There’s so much that happened in his life. Some part of that would be great; some part would be very ordinary. Now, what does the book represent?

The book is a selective collection of all that is great about a great person. Why don’t you live with that book? It would uplift you. That’s what would make life living. Why don’t you make a great purpose as your companion? Why can’t you live for a wonderful mission? Why can’t that fill up your loneliness? Why does it have to be a man, a woman, or something like that? Why do you have to belong to a crowd? These are just questions. Let these stay with you.

Q: Isn’t loneliness different than being alone? Are you talking about being alone then?

AP: Read Krishnamurthi, you are coming from there. Yes, obviously, but you know before I get into that academic discussion—'What is loneliness? The mind is lonely. What is aloneness? The true self, the Atma is alone.’

To people of your age, it’s more important to practically explain that loneliness is not the curse our culture paints it to be. Loneliness might actually be a blessing if you keep your biases aside.

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