Befriending the lonely space within ourselves

Photo by Chantelle Grady

There is a space within that can feel confusing and scary. And at times very dark and lonely. I feel many of us sense this space. We know it’s there. But often try to avoid and distract ourselves from it. For within this space we are confronted with only ourselves. And often feel completely and utterly alone.

There is the underlying feeling that something is missing from our lives, and a desperation to discover it. Before it’s all too late and our life slips by.

I’ve just finished reading a collection of letters written between my late mother to her uncle. The gratitude I feel to have them to read is beyond words. But my uncle said it perfectly in his letter to me in 1989.

“These letters written from your ma, were just too good to throw away.
They are like jewels one keeps in a treasure box.

They are like a biography and it will help you one day in your adult life to stay above the waterline.”

The letters started when she was in her early twenties. Their relationship was very close. I sense through her writing that she looked to him like a mentor for life. There were thoughts and questions within the lines of everyday conversation that I resonate with. And they come from this space deep within that longs for something.

A longing to feel fulfilled. To belong and feel safe within oneself.

Written from my mother in 1983 (at 30 years of age) -

“…have you ever wondered what life had in store for you, or questioned what happiness is?

The days go by so quickly, with the state the world is in, you want to do so much, but at the moment I am wondering whether I’m working in the right direction.

If all this sounds crazy to you, imagine how it feels in my mind.”

And I wonder, is it in this space where depression begins to form, if we look to it with fear and run, rather than confronting and trying to understand it?

Is it that we need to learn to enter this space and find comfort in its confusion? Is that when we will finally feel safe within ourselves? When we accept that this space or void is a completely normal part of being human. And that throughout our life we must practise nurturing this confusing space, with love and compassion, rather than running away from it in fear or filling it with noise and distraction?

I’ve just finished reading a book called ‘Eternal Echoes, Exploring Our Hunger To Belong’ by John O’Donohue. It’s funny how it coincided with reading my mother’s letters.

It talks about our longing to belong. Not only within humankind but within ourselves. And this emptiness we feel within which we often seek to avoid or fill with distraction rather than accept. It’s within this space that feels very dark and lonesome that helps us to discover what really matters. And it’s necessary to enter this space, for it contains insights about ourselves that help us flourish and move forward gracefully.

“There is something within you that no-one or nothing else in the world is able to meet or satisfy.

When you recognise that such unease is natural, it will free you from getting on the treadmill of chasing ever more temporary and partial satisfactions.

When you befriend this longing, it will keep you awake and alert to why it is you are here on earth.

– John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes

In Timothy Butler’s book ‘Getting Unstuck — A Guide to Discovering Your Next Career Path’, he also taps into this confusing space. And calls it Impasse. It’s in these times of psychological impasse that we feel stuck and paralyzed.

“We sense that life is flowing all around us, but we sit like a boulder in a river,
yearning to be swept along and transformed by the river’s great energy.

The experience of being carried off by this energy is the surge of life,
a time when our ideas and the will to act on them come from a well deeper than our own small selves.

We feel connected; we get things done; we sense something exciting is at hand.”

– Timothy Butler, Getting Unstuck

I wonder if my mother never quite befriended this space of longing. She was very aware that it was there. But rather than listen to its whispers (or at times screams), distracted herself by always keeping busy so that she didn’t have to confront it or face the engulfing feeling of confusion.

I enter this space every now and then. And when within it, it can feel so frustrating and confusing. Like a red flag that what I’m currently doing is going against where I need to be. It brings up all sorts of emotions. But when the dark clouds begin to subside I have a sense of clarity. I feel again that I can breathe and move forward on a path that better aligns with who I am.

It’s hard to accept this space, and it often feels so scary and heavy. But I think understanding it, learning to sit with the discomfort, and listening to its message can help us grow stronger. It helps us to connect with ourselves more deeply. And move forward in life expressing who we truly are.




Author at | Reflections on what it means to live well

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Chantelle Grady

Chantelle Grady

Author at | Reflections on what it means to live well

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