Loneliness is an illusion—we are never truly alone.
I say this as someone who used to feel lonely most of the time.
Even with my spouse, even with my best friends, in my heart I felt separate, as if behind an invisible wall. At first, I chalked this up to poor socialization. Beset by frequent moves, childhood trauma and family unhappiness, I had grown up isolated. I hadn’t learned how to relate to others, so I could not connect with them.
Years later, I learned about attachment theory and realized the problem ran deeper. My mother suffered from low moods (she died in a psychiatric hospital when I was six years old). I have good reason to believe she was feeling poorly after my birth, a condition now called postpartum depression. She probably found it hard to resonate with me, her infant son, so my feeling of being walled off seemed traceable to gazing at my mother’s face, who was pained and distant rather than joyful and attuned.
Understanding that my feelings of isolation grew out of my earliest experiences, did not lessen them.
There seemed little to do but muddle through life as best I could, alone behind my wall.
Luckily, I was wrong.
There has turned out to be a way I can feel profoundly connected with another being, not just on occasion, but all the time.
Who is that being?
My own body.
How I came to appreciate my body as an intimate partner is a long story
Key factors include my training as a surgeon and familiarity with the body’s biology. Then came a series of medical crises, that both ended my clinical career and forced me to pay attention to my health. When a yoga institute enlisted me to teach anatomy and physiology to its trainees, I found that these sciences could be used to deepen my self-understanding. In meditations and yoga poses, I explored how human awareness relates to the organism who supports it.
This led to the key insight: the body isn’t a mechanical conveyance, as I’d assumed on the basis of medical training, it isn’t a blood-filled robot.
The body is a lively, responsive animal.
Like a beloved dog or cat, the body is capable of wordless love. In other words, my body and mind are in a relationship. My mind, who felt so lonely, is not alone—at every moment it is embraced by the warm animal who surrounds it. By upholding my consciousness in myriad ways (breathing air, circulating blood, digesting food), this sensitive, vulnerable body is holding me with love.
Consider: If another person did as much for us as our own bodies, we’d have no doubt about that person’s affection.
One of the main points of yoga is to help us recognize the unity of body and mind.
How can the body love the mind if the two are one?
There are many answers to these questions—here, I’ll offer an analogy:
Two people in a marriage are separate, yet in their loving partnership, they are one.
Perhaps the goal of yoga practice isn’t to erase all distinctions between the mind and physical body, but to build a sweeter relationship between them.
To get a sense of how this relationship can be developed, here’s a simple but useful meditation.
It is best done after relaxation practices or a period of mindful breathing.
Bring to mind an adored partner, child or pet. Visualize the beloved in your arms. Feel the warmth that blossoms in the center of your chest. Now imagine holding your body with that same tender regard, feeling the same sweet glow of affection. As your mind honors the organism who gives it life, recall how the body supports the mind with its own encompassing embrace.
Your body works on your behalf every minute of every day.
Feel how your consciousness arises within this living, vibrant animal we call a human body. Appreciate how your body surrounds you with boundless concern for your wellbeing. Even in times of illness, it does its best to keep your life on track. You are your body’s beloved.
Practices, like this one, gradually melted my sense of isolation.
As my mind grew to understand its intimate partnership with my body, it no longer felt walled off. Instead, I felt nurtured and realized I was never alone.
At every moment, human awareness is wrapped in a sort of biological hug.
How wondrous! How healing!