A new story from The Hero’s Journey for The Daily ZU – read the full story at www.thedailyzu.com.

If there is a curse in this world, it is loneliness, an old woman once said.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that although there are more people on the same-sized land surface than ever, people seem lonelier than ever, too.

Loneliness is a feeling. It’s often transitory, and based on incomplete or inaccurate information.

Solitude is a condition. It’s often spiritual, and derives from the deeper aspects of ourselves.

The topic of loneliness is now topical because most of us are locked in on lockdown. I haven’t seen another face up close in a couple weeks. I haven’t had a face-to-face conversation in more weeks. I haven’t touched another human body in months.

The faces I see, the voices I hear, are on Zoom – in a Brady Bunch array – where it seems as if all the faces are looking at me. The faces I see are on old DVD’s or reruns of Super Bowls 23 years past. Yesterday, I watched Pat Sumerall and John Madden deliver the broadcast for the Packer’s Brett Favre and the Patriot’s Drew Bledsoe. It’s surreal, like watching reels from a time capsule sent by an innocent race before apocalypse. I feel sometimes like the last man on earth. That’s loneliness. What about solitude?

I am truly blessed to be surrounded by forests of ponderosa, pinyon and juniper. I walk about a half mile east, and towering stands of ponderosa sway in the blue skies, their vanilla bark teasing my nose as I rest my bum on a fallen log. Crows caw overhead, always in pairs even if I’m not. And I don’t care that I’m not, because I’m in solitude.

Sometimes, the flight calls of mallards fill the air as I scare them up from the bulrushes and cattails tat rise beyond the forest. Great blue herons wading along the shore slowly flap up out of the water as I approach. Redwings in their sunset songs, zealously guard their nests, flitting over my shoulder as I hike by. I try to tell a turkey vulture from a red tail hawk circling on the thermals overhead. In all this I am not lonely, but captured by solitude.

It’s only when I see a couple walk down the dirt road with their Water Spaniels, or hear the incessant drone of tractors on the land next door and see a man and his  friend grading their road, that I feel the compare of loneliness. It’s the world of people and their companionship that reminds me of my sole condition. For although I’m not the only one alone, when you’re alone, it feels as though you are terminally unique in that separation and apartness.

It is a truism that the times I have felt the loneliest was when I was with others. And the times I’ve felt that I’ve most belonged when I was by myself.

Everett Ruess was an American artist and writer whose journals became famous after he disappeared at the age 20 near Davis Gulch in the canyons of the Escalante River, Utah. The circumstances of his death remain a mystery. Near his last known whereabouts, the word Nemo was inscribed. It means No One in Latin. In his last known correspondence, he made clear that he had no intentions of revisiting the world. The wilderness of southern Utah was enough for him. The beauty that held him was sufficient, even though his only companions were a couple of burros.

Worldwide, most of us live in cities; big conurbations that many of the urban dwellers wish they could escape. And some do, dragging their ways along with them until there’s less opportunity to create the initial conditions for solitude in the places to which they’ve sought exile. The conditions necessary for solitude are silence and stillness. Yet I am surrounded by people in an increasingly noisy and busy world. With this fact crowded fact, I must atone.

If I break it in the right place, atone becomes at-one. Oneness is a solution to loneliness. Yet in order to execute this solution I must include everyone in it. I can’t keep out the noisy neighbor or his barking dog. Right now, he’s got his chainsaw whining and who knows who he’s chopping up? How do I reconcile all these new neighbors and the noise and busyness they bring with them from the cities with anonymity of soliude?

I’m not sure. I’m more sure of the fact that solitude can’t have much to do with the physical state of being alone, anymore than the physical condition of aloneness has much to do with the feeling of loneliness. Solitude is an inner state, not an external one, just as loneliness is also an inward condition that has more do with feeling cutoff from myself than it does with whether I’m surrounded by other bodies. Loneliness really comes when I’m feeling disconnected from myself. Then, I can’t help but experience disconnection from others, and I’ll feel lonely, even in a crowd.

And so I guess what I’m coming to is this: solitude is connection. It’s the experience of being connected with a deeper aspect of myself. I can experience it when I’m in a crowd, in a city deep at night, or at the very end of Hole-in-the-Rock Road, not far from where Ruess dissolved into at-oneness. At-oneness  is solitude, for when I’m in solitude, I’m at one with myself and with everyone and everything else.

In the end, all we’re left with is love. Isn’t it strange that this is the last thing we choose as a balm for our loneliness? Almost as a consolation prize. And we uncover it in the last place we look: deep within ourselves, and just as much, in the eyes of everyone.