THE BLOG

The Art of Loneliness

21/03/2014 11:26 GMT | Updated 20/05/2014 10:59 BST

When I was eighteen, my close friend died, tragically. I have never felt compelled to write about the subject. Even here in this writing I would not have made the attempt if only for another dear friend. Into the early hours of morning, a short while ago, this other close friend and me indulged in a drunken conversation involving a sense of candor, appreciation of similar experience, a shared language, and honest revelation. There was a compelling pureness of feeling and it really made me reflect on friendship, but also, for some reason, loneliness. I am grateful for him having made me think more on these things, even if somewhat by accident.

Having a friend die young, one realizes that their own existence is not guaranteed simply because of their youth. It might seem obvious, but it can be easily overlooked. Friendship is a quintessential and resplendent activity for each of us all, indeed, a luxury for the living. There is such a violent depletion left, however, after the death of a close friend. It makes one concentrate their mind on the golden value of cherishing the existence of those few real friends whom we do have. Or, rather, whom are so gracious to have us. I have also been no end memorable about the fact that one cannot make old friends. Old friends have to be earned. As said Cicero, "Only those are to be judged friendships in which the characters have been strengthened and matured by age".

Our own nature has made us social animals, built up over time from the collective experience of our ancestors, structured from natural selection. A state of loneliness is not something we share in conversation with each other, something seen by some as a weakness, concealed as embarrassing and shameful in our hard culture of success and popularity. Loneliness is an anonymous heckler, a merciless colonizer, a savage presence. It never raises its voice and convinces those inflicted not to neither. It drives up blood pressure, accelerates aging, and brings with it a mental lynch mob of disagreeables. So it is, quite simply, something worth talking about. One of its biggest catalysts, especially in young people, is social media.

There are a multitude of great things to be said for such technology, unfortunately you will have to look elsewhere, I am full of technological science, most of it wrong I am told. Social Media, glamorous, sexy, and fast-paced, has a major focus on the quantity of relationships as opposed to the quality of them. We can delude ourselves that connection through technology can in many ways substitute our physical companionship's. All of that fluttering unpredictability, that splendiferous nuance, internal chemistry, and subtle rapport within conversation are being neglected. Neuroscientists and evolutionary psychologists of decent repute and rational observation have indicated that those with whom we share most of our time help influence the actual physiology of our brains. We are wired to socialize, and those with whom we socialize with most, influence the patterns of our wiring.

A persons life is most affected by those whom they share themselves with intimately, sincere friends define each other and one should take much deliberation during the selection process. Choosing a friend or companion is giving another human being access to influence you mind on an elemental basis. Sometimes it can be good for us to end a friendship, or sever a relationship if it is not good for us or no longer fulfils for us what we think it should.

Social media invites us to present a persona to one another, usually more happier, usually more popular, usually slightly fictional in ways, which stimulates feelings of deep inadequacy and jealousy in one another. A reputation, after all, is nothing but a house of rumors. Social media tricks us into thinking we are always being heard, that we never really have to be alone, and that we live in a kind of hive-like society. Convincing ourselves as sometimes we do, that by having these connections we are avoiding being alone. If we do not learn to be alone, and not see it as a gift in some ways, we will be lonely. Time to time one should step back from all the noise, the bluster, the sheer malaise of socializing, in order that we repossess ourselves and remind ourselves what we really think and value. Fortunately, I have great friends, those close, are few. To trust, to confide, to share. This is not a pedestrian acquisition. It is a rarity. Like finding a piece of hay in a needle stack. A prickly affair. My friends are my oasis.

I am writing this on World Poetry Day, 2014. Poetry is about connection. Connection with oneself and to others, it is an act of rebellion and an act of surrender. It is a confrontation with the unconscious, a connection with history and its transmissions, it is history. We are able in Poetry, like with social media, to be something else. Last week, speaking with Irish Poet Brendan Kennelly, he told me that "One of the greatest things about poetry is that it allows you to slip into a different identity". The late Seamus Heaney, another Irish Poet once said, "Poetry is like the line Christ drew in the sand, it creates a pause in the action, a freeze-frame moment of concentration, a focus where our power to concentrate is concentrated back on ourselves". Perhaps we may think of Poetry as living in this sense, we should cherish our true friends for their continued existence and love, and learn how to be at peace with oneself. We should learn to master the art of loneliness. I shall give the last word to Michel De Montaigne: "The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself".