Deep Loneliness and the Raft of Self

Anyone who has taken the risk to live their personal meanings is likely to come up against a difficult fact: that to live in this chosen (and destined) way may also mean deep loneliness. It is not always so, of course, but unless you are willing to fully surrender to where your destiny might lead you, including some very empty spaces, it is not likely that you will achieve the goal of finding your own truest heart and your rightful place. Perhaps this is why many never rise to their actual potentials.

It is difficult for any of us to sincerely face loneliness. It is an incredible Buddha, and a ruthless one. There are any number of Zen koans that can push us to the edge of knowing, challenging us to give up our rational thinking in favor of pure intuition. Loneliness is our emotional koan, an enigma needing no words at all, but pointing nevertheless to the very thing we seek. It forces us to retreat into ourselves to discern the greatest meaning, if we can, and give up every pretense. For loneliness in its essence is separation from the Source. If you feel that separation then you know both the Source itself and the gap, the place you stand now and the river that must be crossed.

They say, of course, that true leaders know loneliness, and this leads to an irony in human society: we must be doing something wrong if those in such an important role as creating community are themselves lonely.

I think of a good friend who works tirelessly in the name of creating meaningful conversations in workplaces. She has encountered innumerable enterprises, and a huge range of people. She is very successful financially. She is incredibly well regarded for her work and well put together emotionally. And yet, for all her leadership to create community through her work, she goes home alone. What is this? And how many of us are there?

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I do not believe loneliness of itself is the problem. Loneliness is only the symptom. There are plenty of psychological writings on loneliness. Yet when we try to put these concepts into the context of leadership, they are inadequate. Loneliness for leaders is the existential condition of being the one who initiates, who brings something new — whether that “something new” is an awareness, an idea or simply a willingness to risk — the one who brings that new quality to a situation where maintaining the status quo will no longer provide any value to the community. And loneliness is also the result of all the projections onto the leader(s) from a community, the residual stuff of unfulfilled adulthood, that has to do with the decisions that get made, especially the unpopular ones.

This is why I wrote “The Raft of Self,” a book of meditations and photographs. I wrote it for all of us who have had to come up against the fact of our aloneness — in our experiences, perspectives, and desire to be true to ourselves. Aloneness, of course, is different from loneliness. Maybe there is a transition from the one to the other?

Loneliness is a very difficult master. For any who wish to download the pdf version of this short book, here it is. If you are displaying the book in Adobe Reader, set the Page Display as “Two-up” and also “Show cover page during two-up.” You should end up with even numbered pages on the left and odd numbered ones on the right. Feel free to distribute the book to others, but please don’t use it for any commercial purposes, and please give attribution for excerpts, including photos.

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