Musings on death and loneliness

A longform message written on Spicy Lobster's team chat in the winter of 2022.

The topic of loneliness has been on my mind a lot lately. At this moment I am on a train headed north towards my childhood home in Norway. The mother of a dear friend is dying, so I want to be there for her. Having lost my mother nearly a decade ago in my early 20s, I’ve had a lot of time to contemplate and process this inevitable part of life. It can be a profoundly lonely time, and can hardly be endured without helping hands.

Thanks to many teachers – like my parents, friends, partners, spiritual guides and psychedelic experiences – I am quite comfortable with the concept of death. It’s just another doorway we have to walk through as part of this wild ride of life we’re on.

Looking around, it could not be more obvious that there’s nothing final about death; it’s merely another stage in the cyclical process of all living things. From a seed in the ground a flower springs to life, only to return into the ground once more, transmuted into the soil from which new flowers will sprout. And encoded in the DNA of those flowers is a memory of all the flowers before them. There would be no new flower without the old, and as such they are one and the same. Death is not the end, but rather the beginning of the great unknown from which new life springs forth.

Similarly, my mother never really left. Her body is gone, but her embodiment of kindness is forever in the hearts and minds of anyone lucky enough to have been a recipient of her love. As one of her children I received it in abundance.

This community I am co-creating with all of you fine people is deeply informed by the practice of kindness passed down to me by my mother, which she imparted through actions more so than words. Simple acts of kindness speak volumes. The unending current of kindness connects us together, making us less alone.

Even so, however kind I am to myself and others, loneliness still creeps in sometimes. Lately I’ve been feeling it rather intensely, for a couple reasons.

For one, I’ve been reducing my intake of cannabis, which for the past decade has been a pretty remarkable wonder-drug for me. It has acted as a powerful tool for introspection, anxiety relief and mood stabilization, as well as inducing states of increased creativity and hyperfocus. I also thrive in solitude when I’m “high”. But for the past year, following increased consumption during the Covid pandemic, my body has begun rejecting the ‘medicine’ with bodily sensations resembling an allergic reaction whenever I consume it too frequently.

I’m actually quite excited about reducing my dependency on weed, as I’ve noticed myself for several years now becoming increasingly reliant on it in situations which I’d be better off facing with a clear mind. My catch-all coping strategy for any hardship in life turned into learned helplessness. So in an odd way it feels like my body is helping me do what my mind wanted, but was unable to enact by sheer will alone.

The other catalyst of loneliness of late has been a change in the dynamic between me and my life partner. Fully explaining the nature of our relationship would require a few too many paragraphs for this already long stream of thought, but in short: We’re still together and in love, but we are going through a separation of sorts in order to make room for, well, everything else. We’re several years into this slow and steady experiment and it feels as right as ever, but that doesn’t prevent it from sometimes being difficult, as it is for me now.

I’ve been single for most of my life and over time I’ve grown very comfortable with solitude, to the point where I frequently fantasize about heading off into the mountains to just be away from it all for several months. This recent surge of loneliness and longing for more human connections has challenged my idea of who I imagined myself to be. Turns out my ego felt safer yearning for disconnection rather than the opposite.

So what am I doing about it? I reach out. I ask for help. I talk to friends, daring to be vulnerable and open with them just as they’ve previously opened up to me before. I’ve started seeing a therapist for additional support. I pay extra close attention to what my body needs to feel good, which essentially comes down to eating mostly healthy food, plenty of rest and either low or high intensity exercise every day. I’ve never once gone for a walk and regretted it afterwards. Never.

And whatever feeling emerges in my mind, I don’t try to push it away. But I don’t identify with it either. Instead I try to heed the advice of a beloved teacher: Whichever thought arrives, invite it over for tea, and just sit with it in non-judgement.

I’m sharing all of this here because the mere act of doing so is helping me untangle my emotions, bringing me ever so slightly closer to equanimity. I’m sharing with all of you because relating to my experience might help untangle your own. And I’m sharing to make space for this type of personal venting, so others may share their hardships as well.

This community is made up of people from all walks of life, with some, like myself, far more privileged than others. As such our individual conditions of hardship differ greatly. But the experience of suffering is universal to all human beings, and no one deserves to suffer quietly and alone. A golden cage is a cage nonetheless; suffering is relative.

Just as we’ve connected through openly sharing our work with one another in pursuit of common interests, we can continue to deepen our connection by sharing our lived experience in pursuit of greater togetherness and belonging.

I love you all! ❤️