Helllp! I seem to have fallen into a Netflix trap, one that features crime dramas from the UK: first there was Shetland, then there was Hinterland, then Broadchurch, and now River, featuring the incomparable Stellan Skarsgård, who somehow conveys an incredibly wide range of emotion—all without moving a muscle of his face.
One of the lines in River that popped out at me is an Orson Welles quote “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.”
How’s that for a downer?
Loneliness is the “L” in the HALT acronym some of us adopt to bring more intention to our relationship with food, specifically when we are about to put food in our mouths. The practice is to stop (halt!) before eating and ask, “Am I truly Hungry, or am I Angry, Lonley, or Tired?” and, of course, to only eat if we are truly hungry.
Loneliness is a topic that comes up frequently in my sessions with health coaching clients: in all the bustle and connectivity options around us, many feel not just alone but lonely—whether we’re alone or in a crowd.
Building a truly supportive community is not easy even for the most extroverted individuals who regularly engage with people in person at work and socially; if we add introversion, solopreneurship, and/or telecommuting/working from home to the mix, it can seem downright impossible.
There are stages of life in which we find ourselves losing a community we thought we’d keep forever: moving from elementary to middle school, from middle to high school, and as relevant from high school to college and beyond and
through the stages of our careers, marriage, parenthood, empty nesting, and retirement.
What I’ve noticed in my own life, which has included living in seven US states and one foreign country for an extended amount of time, is that certain members of our communities can remain in our orbit while others spin away into deep space.
The ones who remain are our “perennials”—with a little love, attention, and intention on our part, they make life beautiful for the long term.
They’re the “keepers”—the ones you can talk to once a year (or less!) yet every conversation feels comfortable and naturally picks up where you left off as if it was just yesterday.
So I have to disagree with Welles on this—or at least say that sometimes illusions are healthy.
There’s been a lot written recently about the gut-brain axis, gut health, and all those bacteria that live in us, and that’s not where I’m going with the idea of internal communities at all! I’m referring to those voices inside our heads. (Yes, I’m dating myself, and you’re welcome for the earworm.)
Let’s go back to John River, this time quoting Jean Paul Sartre: “If you are lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.”
[Spoiler alert: John River is rarely truly alone, and the show is as much about how he navigates the company he keeps in the world—and in his mind—as it is about catching a murderer.]
I’ve written a bit about our inner voices and our inner board of directors, and it occurs to me that in order to not be alone, we cultivate our external communities; in order to not be lonely, we can curate our internal communities in the same way: intentionally, over time, and with an eye toward balancing out the members!
With our natural negativity bias, we tend to hear the negative voices much more loudly than the positive ones, and bumping up those positive ones is something I work on with my clients.
Sometimes that’s as simple as bringing awareness to our inner chatter: would you speak to someone you love the way you just spoke to yourself?
Other times it take a bit more work—and it’s always fun to hear people learning to do what my daughter calls “High five, self!”
Ultimately, the result is less negativity in general, much better company inside your head, and a sharp decrease in loneliness.
make the connection
Full disclosure: I haven’t finished River yet, and I can’t wait to see what the title character does with his communities—external and internal. Knowing Stellan Skarsgård, though, I’ll bet it’s going to be done well (this is me, fangirling)!
I’m thinking a lot about community and how to build a positive one—keep an eye out for some community-building activities coming at you in June! And in the meantime, check out how you can connect with me in person on my Events page!
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on loneliness, being alone, and curating/cultivating community—drop a comment below, and let’s discuss!