Words and Illustration by Féi Hernandez
To many, loneliness(1) is a trickster that makes you think solitude(2) is a thief. We watch our closest friends hanging out with other friends online, or random strangers we aspire to be like: living, laughing, loving while we stuff handfuls of Hot Cheetos or spoonfuls of Haagen Dazs ice cream into our mouths, spiteful. Why can’t I be living like that? Why can’t I have a body like that? Why can’t I have friends like that? We scroll endlessly looking to fill ourselves: our bodies, our minds, our hearts with all that could be, never what actual is. We don’t give ourselves permission(3) to be enough. Loneliness is hungry for our feelings of disconnection, the imaginary belief that we are singular on a planet full of interdependent organisms(4). Loneliness’ favorite entree is seasoned with you, feeling unlovable, forgettable, disposable. It munches on our belief that sadness from being alone is unacceptable and if we have fallen into its grasp we have somehow “failed” at life. We become bitter, distrusting, and participate in the very isolation we sought to be liberated from.
However, the true function of loneliness can be starkly different! Yay (we don't have to stay in this doom forever!). For starters, sadness that comes from being alone is HUMAN. We have not “failed” if we feel this way at times in our life. Everyone has experienced this, unquantifiably! The only way to actually lose is if we let its quicksand pull us into isolation, into the bitter, dismissive mask capitalism wants us to wear: Forever Lonely. The sadness loneliness bring, I invite you to believe, can be considered a beautiful slow moment of reflection that can help us unearth wisdom in us rather than the treacherous, addictive feelings of anxiety and frustration that your life is TRAGIC(5), pointless, and forlorn. Loneliness is a long dim-lit hallway that with mindfulness can lead us to the other side of its powerful light: solitude, freedom, self-care, and empowerment.
Although this essay is not limited to queer people of color, I am coming in through loneliness from the lens of my communities––it is for them. As people of color, specifically queer folk, we have not been afforded space and time to process or given tools to build a relationship with loneliness. Much of our lives are intersectionally(6) impacted everyday systematically, emotionally, mentally, and physically, so how can we NOT be tragic when you're up against so much daily? Television, social media, even our own communities perpetuate cultures, language, and habits that isolate us and instill loneliness in us, so how
do we ever feel completely full? Whole? Enough? You're not Mexican enough. You're not trans enough. You’re not going to find a nice partner because you're TOO MUCH. Too Fat. You’re not cool or talented enough. We all have nuanced upbringings, but the reality is that even in the biggest of families or the smallest, we inevitably feel the wrath of loneliness. Loneliness at age 5 is asking where and who or what “Dad” is. Loneliness, at age 10 is heating up hot pockets for yourself after school. Loneliness at 23 is being partnerless and feeling unlovable because you've gained 20 pounds due to your almost-deportation. Loneliness at 25 is knowing how to shift loneliness into solitude and healing. This our journey together begins.
In the following sections I will share my personal experiences and provide how I conquered loneliness, or better phrased: how I learned to mold it, live with it when it takes the form of a stinging pain. Loneliness should not be an abusive partner! It should rather be a caring, communicating lover. Fundamentally, I will delineate how to transform loneliness into a place of empowerment and reflection rather than a novela you sit and watch over and over and over again repeating the dialogue under your breath.
I do not have all the answers. I have mine, the ones that worked for me, but I hope that with my sharings you can take something meaningful and particular to your intersections. Even a rebuttal of points of view can create more expansive dialogue that will help us all heal more deeply.
1) After much research here’s my definition of “loneliness” as it pertains to this essay: (Noun) feeling isolated, apart. Harboring sadness and depression because you are without company.
2) This is the definition of “solitude,” used in this essay: (Noun) intentional time alone away from engagements to connect with self through intrapersonal reflection.
3) The idea of giving myself “permission” to be what I need to be came from my mentor Lady Basco (Arianna Basco) who stated,“Give yourself permission to be greater!”
4) “Emergent Strategy,” by Adrienne Marie Brown. Adrienne Marie Brown just came out with “Pleasure Activism” and it’s also a must read! Both books have helped me ground a lot of my spiritual, ratchet, bruja wisdom in the context of introspection, evolution, and fundamentally speaking all my languages at the same time.
5) In my early 20s I developed the bad habit of claiming my life is “tragic.” No man loves me because I'm too much! Tragic. I’m tired of dealing with the macro and micro aggressions at work as a queer person every day. Tragic. I almost got deported. Tragic. While these examples are very VERY real, I used them as a clutch for a long time to hold on to suffering. I had to learn the hard way to accept that these things were real situations, but that they cannot hold me still.
6) “Intersectionality,” is a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. For an explicit delineation of the term read essay available at: http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199328581.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199328581-e-20
For many of us solitude is an assumed gateway into disconnectedness, into a comfortable surrender into isolation. We disconnect, live from a third conscious perspective because you’re afraid to engage so intimately that the separation stings when it comes. What’s the point of fully attaching anyways, if it’s gonna end soon! Instead of putting our phone down and connecting, we avoid looking at our immediate environment (the rich nectar of the moment): the fabric of our clothes, the brick of our apartment, the lines in our hands, the breath filling our lungs, the socks that warm feet, our friend's laughter, the wet earth under our apartments, the smell of home. Intimacy scares us––connecting with things that matter, scare us!(7) We participate in our own isolation at times too. The only way to shift that is by being aware of when we revert to these habits.
We miss the intrapersonal connection with ourselves and the interconnectivity we have with the spaces we occupy, the world, because we have been acculturated to always look outside of ourselves for comfort and/or to worry about: trauma, partners, friends, our parents, finances, immigration status, passing your class (if you had the privilege of a college education), getting food on the table for your family, but never ourselves! Introspection is necessary, but with fear and time as factors, how do we bridge this? How do we get intimate with ourselves when we’re fearful of connecting with others? By the time we do sit with ourselves we are on unfamiliar territory and BUG OUT. We don’t know what to do with ourselves. We glitch, and all of our habits surface: biting your nails or cuticles, shaking legs, scratching, dry mouth, profuse sweating.
7) In high school, a group of friends and I sat around my living room and when I pulled my eyes from my phone I realized everyone was on their phone! I immediately exclaimed: “WOW. Technology stole my friends!” Since then it's an ongoing way to call each other out (kindly) so we can get off our phones in each other’s presence to truly be present. It’s not about policing each other, but gently reminding us of our cherished time together.
Here are some things to do with yourself!:
Slow down! Literally move slower than usual. Our mental and physical quick paced-ness is fearful of slowness in this capitalist black hole we live in. It is radical for you to slow down.
Sit still! Relax your shoulders and breath the moment in. Breath in for 3 counts, exhale for 5.
Be aware of every one of your movements. Pour yourself a glass of water and enjoy it! Remember that our bodies are 80% water. Have dialogue with water and thank it for always sustaining you.
Have dialogue with ALL the natural forces that sustain us. Thanking water (liquids), air (breath), fire (burning sage, incense, food), earth (the ground that holds you, harvest, gravity!) for holding us is a gentle reminder that truly these forces HAVE YOUR BACK! You haven’t been alone to begin with. By practicing gratitude for the little things we are reminded of our humanness and the greater gifts in life. In every moment, we are enough. These forces indiscriminately love us and hold us––literally.
Set your phone down and:
Connect with your body
Rub essential oils on your hands and breath into your palms.
Stretch! Your body wants to connect with you! But you keep isolating yourself from it.
Follow your in breath and how it circulates through your body! Your body is not just a vehicle, it is your friend that needs your attention too!
Drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.
Unclench your fist and place your palms upright (8) on your thighs or any surface close to you.
Rub your temples gently with your eyes closed.
Stop shaking your legs. Plant your feet firmly on the ground and imagine roots growing into the depths of the earth. Once you’re “in” ask Earth to pull from your head, body, heart, all that doesn’t feel good. (it’s okay to ask for support from the natural world! Get comfortable with identifying your needs from people, institutions, friends, but most importantly the Earth)(9).
8) Keeping your palms upright helps universe energy pour into you. This will revitalize you.
9) Initially I felt so wrong doing this because we already “take so much” from mother earth. However, she is our mother. She gave us life and is here to aid us. How you return your gratitude is by the lifestyle you choose to live. For example: transforming loneliness into gratitude, empowerment, and a moment to feel more confident alone to be able to healthily return the help to humanity, mother earth.
10) The real work begins with actually believing these mantras. But just like anything, the more you say it the more you’ll believe it. Slowly unlearning all of your “isms,” all of your self-imposed limitations, will wash off.
Be your own lover.
We romanticize our relationships with our best friends and lovers, but rarely do we romance ourselves, largely because we don’t know how to love ourselves.
Here’s a list of question that can help identify your needs.
How does my body feel?
Am I hungry? If so what kind of food would make me feel good? Or do I just need tea or water?
Do I want to go out for a walk? If so, should I got to the beach or hike or go around the block?
Do I need to meditate while I figure out my needs?
Once you’ve identified the path you want to take with yourself create the date!:
Dress up/ dress appropriate to the date.
Talk to yourself (outloud or mentally), do whatever makes you feel most comfortable.
Refer to yourself as “we.” for example: Should we get some HoneyMee after dinner?
What would you do with an actual lover? How would you act? DO THAT!
Speak to yourself lovingly. There are huge pockets of folk speaking and listening mindfully, aware of their positionality and their privileges. We don’t let our friends talk about themselves badly. Do that same for yourself!
Remember there’s a world to discover in yourself! Keep it fresh and exciting with yourself as you would with any relationship. You need to recommit (12) to yourself everyday!
Occupy your attention on you–fill your time with your favorite things! (13)
During pockets of alone time fill them with all the things you love to do! (14)
Everything you do (mindfully and gently) for you is a hug or kiss to yourself!
You don’t know what you love to do (alone) because you’re afraid to feel like a loser? Do it! Embrace the uncomfortability there's no better gift to yourself than being the home you sleep in and not just rent. (15)
Do what you’ve always wanted to do but were too scared to! Dance and sing crazy in front of the karaoke version of your favorite song. Stare at yourself naked in front of the mirror. Be sexy! Allow yourself the luxury of pleasure—for you and no one else. (16)
Faith is something you grow. You don’t have to have faith in a god or religion, or spiritual practice. Faith is about belief, creative imagining, and YOUR purpose.
I always tell my clients, friends and families: The universe, God, Mother Earth, whatever larger force, stitched every strand of DNA, your flesh and your particular experiences to have you here, as you are! All of these intersections of fate and will and experiences are not random.
This is my invitation to you to discover what your purpose is. Usually we get stuck not knowing what that purpose is––especially when we are lonely. But if you observe your surroundings, walk with your thoughts, and follow your gut you’ll be able to see purpose, your effect in everyday life. Follow that path unapologetically and blindly. Everything: opportunities, synchronicities, love will follow.
11) A lot of our self worth, our feelings of being complete stem from how we relate to others. We should be sure and sturdy in ourselves. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.
12) Anthony (Ant) Williams reminded me of the beauty of recommitting to love everyday. That’s the only way to sustain anything! Nothing is inherently forever!
13) Not as means to be productive and take your mind off it! It’s more about intentionally doing all the things you want to do. That includes Netflix and rest. It includes working out and even sitting still! Planning for yourself and only YOU is medicine.
14) I always get anxious when I sit still with myself. I perform on stages or in front of crowds regularly and or always have plans with friends or mentors. When I’m feeling anxious about the loneliness that creeps up, I gently pack my bag with the books I’m reading, go to my favorite vegan restaurant and sit and read or draw at Barnes and Nobles. Initially this is all I knew to do (which involves money and travel expenses). I learned to be more creative with my immediate spaces as the new healthy habits sprouted that were economical and practical, realistic. Figuring YOU out takes time. What takes the most time is actually understanding the magic of this exchange with yourself. Be patient and tender with yourself.
15) I remember a lot of the embarrassment I initially felt about spending time alone came from how we are socialized: friendless! How shameful. But the reality is that if you’re okay with yourself you don't need outer validation to be whatever you need to be: in this case a human being on planet earth moving to their own rhythm, interconnected with everything but not immediately needing someone next to them to feel that connection. Get out of your head! Stop thinking about what others are “thinking.” the reality is that they're probably minding their own!
16) I’m telling you! You need to read “Pleasure Activism”!!!!
Keepin’ it Real
We can’t right off the the force of loneliness: it’s a heavy and real acculturation. It is a real entity. However, with any culture comes the construction of habits. Why don’t we begin by creating a new culture where we’re not torn between the freedom of wholeness with self and suffocating loneliness.
Loneliness, I’ve identified, brings out one of two extremes (or in some cases both, like for me): codependency to others (17) and the polar: I-don’t-need-nobody-I-got-me. Loneliness, untamed, stood between the two extremes of me.(18) I couldn’t quite balance myself between both because I didn’t confront my loneliness. (19) I found that instead of fighting with it, trying to prove it wrong, or cheating on it, Loneliness needed my attention.
Loneliness became an important liminal door once I understood it’s biting language: the language of me, my needs, my love, my tenderness that only I could fulfill. I realized the darkest realms from which loneliness was born too! My father abandoning me did not mean I abandon myself. I picked myself up and listened mindfully to me while I cried on my couch. Together, loneliness and I became solitude. Became lovers. Became each other’s best friends! We call each other out when needed, and are gentle and soft when that is needed as well. We grow together. I did not smother it, I did not destroy it or deem it non-existent. I learned to love it.
17) My friends have always been “family.” Growing up alone forced me to latch on too tightly on my relationships. I expected too much and when most of my friends got partners I stood looking around me realizing how much of my life was dependent on them. They didn’t disappear or go on honeymoons and forgot about me, although it felt that way initially. It was a moment to acknowledge myself, bring my attention inward rather than always outward.
18) I call this period in my life the Cardi-B Bad Bitch Era. I played Sza, Paloma Mami, Frank Ocean’s Nights and shook my ass a lot, even with bad knees.
19) All emotions, or untethered trauma, feelings, thoughts will do this! They will get louder, throw a bunch of signs at you and if you choose to ignore them they’ll only get louder and louder. Be mindful of the changes in you. Slowing down helps identify what's churning before it becomes a tempest. Discipline here is what’s hard. But I promise you, YOU’RE WORTH IT.
“What Happens After Peace?” A Spiritual Index
Loneliness has always been jealous, has always needed your attention. It was only when I asked it for coffee, talked to it, established an amicable relationship with it that I arrived home. I realized that loneliness came from me not acknowledging me. I always sought validation externally. I couldn’t believe the things that happened in my life actually happened until others knew that I WAS GOING THROUGH A, B, or C. A lot of this stems from the erasure, invisibility of my intersections and their impact. But the only way, I realized, to not feel abandoned by my friends, lovers, coworkers, my family, was to stop abandoning myself. I am not disposable. If someone cannot see that, it is not a reflection of myself.
I began dating myself. Slowing down. Speaking to me the way I spoke to my loved ones. However, even when I rationalized our interconnectedness with the natural world was indisputable and understood that everything is inextricably linked, why did I still feel lonely? Why did I return to loneliness after all the work?
My inquest has led me to dismantling the ego. Challenging the ways of intimacy with myself and others. It has taken me on spiritual retreats to discover freedom: freedom of feeling alone and not needing outward validation to exist. I have written articles, journaled, written poems, made artwork, have shifted my particularities and softened, adapted. The truth of the matter is that no matter how much I rationalize that loneliness is technically not real because we’re all kumbaya-“interconnected,” the deep sinking feeling doesn’t just disappear. Or it does for a while, but comes back! Right?
At one point in my journey I became obsessed with studying love. I felt that the only way to not feel lonely was to find love...or a lover. So I became technical, creating guidelines, expectations, seeking out for what would fit the ideal. Even the Buddhist lens I studied and cherished I manipulated to box the people I dated. Finally, I read “The Mastery of Love” by Miguel Ruiz, “‘All about Love,” by bell hooks, and half way through “The Seven Secrets to Healthy and Happy Relationships,” by Don Miguel Ruiz I tossed the books out the window (20). I stopped. I froze. Let my hands drop. I had it all wrong. The answers will not be found outside of me, ever. To quote myself: Stop writing the love story and LIVE IT.
20) I didn’t actually throw anything out the window! I gently placed them back in their designated area on my bookshelf.
We shrink when we think about loneliness, because so many of us feel: disconnected, “cut off from others” and sad because we are “alone.” We cringe at the thought of eating alone and quickly copy and paste the same text message to all your friends hoping you don’t have to experience the uncomfortability of being that loser, sitting at the restaurant without anyone to laugh with. Here are some quick tips to establish a language between you and loneliness to transform together into solitude!
––Time Yourself––five minutes to be tragic and then MOVE ON. Return to it if you need to as many times, but do not move IN. you're renting the space––it is your studio. Create, discover, explore, reflect in loneliness, then go home! (21)
––Be Present!––study your surroundings and remember: I am here for a reason, look around and integrate yourself to the flow of the moment, even if it's not what you expected or who you expected to be with.
––Be Grateful––even when you realistically don't feel it! Blessings come disguised and if we’re only used to taking things for face value then we will lose the magic of unmasking the moments to find our personal meaning to life. (22)
––Decide how you want to live and LIVE IT!––if you’ve been moping and sad, that’s okay! But if you’ like to be adventurous and try new things, then do that too, without shame! Sustain your joy as much as your loneliness, sadness, and heaviness.
––Disclaimer (mental health is important: we are not robots with buttons we can magically push to make us “better,” however we can make little changes, shift slowly to, over time, be able to let go of habitual patterns and enter the new you. Letting go of our fixations is hard, so be patient, but work hard!)
After much work, my relationship with my friends, family, students, co-workers, strangers became… truly meaningful. There was chispas, wherever I went––sparks. Not that they weren’t there before. But this time I was present. I could see the vibrancy of synchronicity. I wanted to listen and store their voice inside. I didn’t think about when our time together would end and how I’d return home alone. After much discipline I have found home in me. I look forward to dates with me––I can feel when I haven't given myself enough time to be with myself too which is a huge advancement! At times, enamoured by my time in solitude, I isolated myself and this too slowly didn't feel great either. I was able to balance the tug and pull of loneliness. I learned to reach out to others and move away from the comfort I created in me.
Solitary through the day, but never alone. I cherish the memories, the meaningful exchanges, embrace new exchanges, new friends, and don’t hold on too tightly anymore. My friends remind me to “tread lightly.” I let the present moment fill me. And like every breath I inhale, I let it go. Free. Because if I learned one thing, it is that I was never, ever alone. Giving myself the time to delve deeply into my most feared spaces was the biggest gift to myself and all those I love. I hope this essay helped you one way or another. And again, although it’s a difficult journey, YOU’RE WORTH IT and never, ever “alone.”
21) Home: joy, peace, love, tenderness, care.
22) Corny but, “Don't judge a book by its cover,” although it’s so hard to actually do this!