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A Journey Through Loneliness

Written by Katherine Parker
Adapted from a Windhorse Talk by Phoebe Walker, Windhorse Clinical Director

The timing of the most recent installment of the Windhorse Education Series, offered monthly and now open to clients as well as staff, was perfect. The topic was loneliness, and Valentine’s Day was right around the corner- a holiday meant to celebrate love and intimacy and connection, but is also the cause of intensified suffering for many whose need for love and intimacy and connection is not being met. Loneliness, like all human emotions, is an incredibly complex and nuanced experience that is difficult to succinctly define. Edward Podvoll, founder of Windhorse and author of Recovering Sanity, in thinking about loneliness, resisted the urge to succinctly define it and instead made the distinction between loneliness and “aloneness”. Phoebe Walker, Clinical Director, gave a captivating presentation that shed a brilliant light on this crucial distinction.

While loneliness, in Western society, has a negative connotation, Podvoll believed “there is a subtle dimension of loneliness that is a source of strength and power…which holds a quiet dignity.” This dimension is called “’aloneness,’ or the ability to be alone, or lack of fear of being alone”. The journey through loneliness, though painful, helps the individual gain the confidence to say, “I can think, I can fast, I can wait”, (a statement attributed to the Buddha the author Hermann Hesse, in his novel, Siddartha.  According to Podvoll, this ability is “one of the tasks of becoming a full human being.”

Yet Western society offers little support or guidance for how to succeed in this task, unfortunately allowing loneliness, for many people, to disintegrate into its “catastrophic” form which can imbalance the mind. In this experience, we enter the landscape beyond despair, beyond hope, beyond the “human” infrastructure of loneliness. It is a place from which it can feel impossible to return.

Basic Attendance and Psychotherapy at Windhorse helps guide clients through the confrontation with loneliness- through the journey from catastrophic loneliness to “courageous” aloneness, which we believe to be in fact possible. We are here to build a bridge with clients- to “share in their aloneness”, and offer a steady container to hold their vulnerability and fear so that their aloneness can become an opportunity to look into oneself, “fragile but persevering, listening, waiting.”