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Love in the Land of Loneliness by Joseph Dispenza

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“Lonely People Face  Higher Risk of Heart Disease,” Science Daily headlined recently,  revealing perhaps more than it intended about what alternative medicine  calls the mind-body connection in human health.  As if we needed to be  reminded by science that loneliness is literally a state of  heartsickness, heartache, and even heartbreak.

“Lonely individuals tend to perceive their social world as more  threatening than non-lonely individuals,” states the study in  Psychosomatic Medicine, where the findings were first published. And  the problem gets worse as one gets older. For instance, one of the  barometers of heart disease, systolic blood pressure, “rose with age in  lonely men and women while it remained more stable in men and women who  were not lonely.”

Look around you and, if they are not at home hiding under their beds,  you will find a fair number of lonely people close by. In fact, you may  be one of them. If you are, you may be taking your blood pressure  medicine dutifully every day, putting up barricades to the threats of  the social world — and waiting for the miracle of romance that, with  one forceful whoosh, will pull you out of your misery and into the life  of awe, wonder, and joy that you have always imagined for yourself.  Umm, love.

According to  psychologists, these are some of the symptoms of lonely people. They  tend to be self-preoccupied with excessive work, they are unhappy with  family relationships, they have negative attitudes towards life, they  drift into self-condemnation (and into judgment of others), they have  few or no friends, they will often feel worthless, helpless, powerless,  unacceptable, and self-absorbed.

Oh, and another important indicator: they hold exceedingly high and  unrealistic expectations about relationship, which they often view  through rose-colored glasses. When these impractical hopes and  aspirations are not fulfilled in ordinary connections with other  people, the lonely person will become frustrated and disappointed.  Depression follows, and then, if it is allowed to spiral downward,  despair.

If one is lonely, what can be done about it? One of the most powerful  messages we receive from our culture is that romantic love will heal  the pain of loneliness. The refrain is everywhere in our movies and  literature, advertising and the Internet. Listen to any lyric from the  Great American Songbook of the last fifty or sixty years, and you will  get the message: I was alone and forgotten, I was living in Heartbreak  Hotel, it was just me and my shadow — then you came along, and now my  life is perfect.

But is romantic love the only answer to the problem of loneliness?

While it may be true that love heals all, holding out the expectation  for the kind of romantic love we read about in books or watch on TV or  at the movies to heal a lonely heart might be unrealistic. Can anyone  live up to the paragons that are presented to us by popular culture?  Can any relationship measure up to the ideal of courtly and romantic  love that has been served up for us since the Middle Ages?

In an era when loneliness is endemic, we may be called upon to create  new ways of being in connection with one another. The old model of  relationship of one man and one woman (or man/man, woman/woman) — which  does not guarantee a rescue from the depths of loneliness, in any case  — may be obsolete. Fully half of all marriages end in divorce; figures  are not kept on abandoned relationships outside marriage, but we must  assume that, without a legal contract, many more than half of all  couplings uncouple after a while. Mutually satisfying one-on-one  relationships seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

Could community be a new model for relationship? Living together with  two or three or four or more people may actually be a way to enjoy the  heightened companionship we had on the best days in the old “just  me/just you” model. Living in community may not fill all our needs (I  am thinking of sexuality), but for those of us of a certain age, having  already surpassed the terminal ages of our grandparents, or even our  parents, those needs may not be as urgent as they were in our personal  past. With time our biology changes; a familial kind of friendship,  with its shared loyalties and intimacies, may be enough for us to feel  fulfilled.

Our culture offers us precious few models for a second blooming of love  in our lives. Instead of forever pining away for the man who got away  or for the girl of our dreams who never materialized, experimenting  with communal living might be the door to the comfort, security, and  joy we had expected, perhaps foolishly, from older ways of doing  relationship.

Living in community also has a spiritual dimension. “It is possible  that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual,” says the  spiritual teacher Thich Nhat Hahn. “The next Buddha may take the form  of a community — a community practicing understanding and loving  kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most  important thing we can do for the survival of the earth.”

This new model of relationship could not only heal us from the of  misery of loneliness — it might also help to heal our ailing planet, so  desperately in need of our attention and affection.

Joseph Dispenza is a spiritual counselor in private practice. He is a co-founder of LifePath in San Miguel and the author of God On Your Own, and several other books.

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