Contemplations on despair, grief, loneliness and aloneness

By Swan Michelle

“In the path of devotion, absence is not the opposite of presence.” -Krishna Das

Good Grief

Grief is so incredibly soft and tender. It strikes directly into your pain unannounced, shattering your every guard with total vulnerability. It comes without warning even if you knew it was inevitably coming. It has many layers, resounding precious moments now missed or lost forever. Trying to make sense of it with our minds is like grasping onto frayed fragments vanishing into thin air. 

Grief can feel like a desolate and cold winters night, muted of color, or a gut wrenching, nailing to the floor, as though unable to rise. Grief seems to feel as though no one could understand something so jarring and barren, plunged into utter abandonment,  struck by a cascading downward spiral, blinded and lead astray from all assumptions of familiarity.

Some endings are planned on our calendar. Some come with a jolting panic of shock, a sideswipe of devastating insecurity the destruction of something once so fondly cherished, now a memory.

Every ending has always meant a new beginning. This isn’t something we really care to attempt to embrace while in the layers of despair.All of us will feel grief at some point in this lifetime if ever we have loved another with every particle of our whole being.

I have both despaired and grieved deeply in this lifetime. Through them both I have found despair and grief to be recognizably different. 



The Desperation of Despair

Despair is filled with dimensions of shame, sabotage, panic, confusion, a loss of self control, complication, self righteousness, depression, blame, loneliness, or things simply not going our way. Each of these masks reveals themselves on a different day. Each layer feels ruthless, drastic, fraudulent, flimsy and with little to no forbearance. 

A bright inner peace is difficult to grasp when the unaffectionate stranger of absence sets in. Despair convinces us we are victims and that others are to blame. It avoids instead of contemplates, and justifies shame by turning everything around. In honoring my grief, I have not felt like a victim. In despair, I do. This is a major differentiation for me.

I feel both despair and grief stem from a perception of loss, yet one avoids or resists the real source of pain while the other slowly dives into the turning of the waves as to feel, go through it, and then beyond it. Grief, even if fragile,  has always still whispered to me that there is a way to turn loss into acceptance and into healing. Despair has never whispered such a thing.

If we invite the process, we can turn despair into grief. Grief breaks it all down so that the many parts that need facing may transform. Respectfully paying homage to what is no more, grief allows us to feel at home within ourselves. Despair makes us feel like a further stranger, alien to why it is we are reacting and hurting ourselves or others.

“I saw despair as losing connection and faith as the point of connecting again.” -Sharon Salzberg

If ever an experience of love felt more like a transaction,  despair will knock at some point, and love will feel as though it has departed us. Remember this; Love does not depart as it is eternal, but it may grieve. It would be a hollow, narcissistic, narrowly lived existence without having felt grief nor empathy of ourselves or another in pain and loss.

Without feeling grief, we turn the narratives around, claiming we are victim, desperately finding the fault of this loss instead of letting this loss truly go. It is the interconnection of grief, which is highly empathic and feels each loss to the bones marrow, that shows you that you have felt and faced everything deeply. 

Grief is the elder energy. It is the Sage archetype of having travailed experience, even if it means carrying for a time some of the bruises of loss. Showing up for your feelings with honesty bridges priceless memories to maturity and an accountability to all that has been learned. Our wise spirit knows that the rest of our experiences moving forward will be even more heart felt, sincere, conscious, deep and real because of this moment of felt grief.

Grief is an acceptance, a processing, and an exquisitely honest and healthy Soul cry that all Spirits hear.  Animals and the ingenious do this in calling out to their ancestors, whaling in loss, shattering through the physical barriers of limitation.  Allow for these howling’s of the night when it is your time. Grief will protect you. Make no mistake. This has all made you all the richer and deeper.

“In the Lakota/ Sioux tradition, a person who is grieving is considered waken, most holy. There’s a sense that when someone is struck by the sudden lightening of loss, he or she stands on the threshold of the spirit world. The prayers of those who grieve are considered especially strong, and it is proper to ask them for their help. You might recall what it’s like to be with someone who has grieved deeply. The person has no layer of protection, nothing left to defend. The mystery is looking out through the person’s eyes. For the time being, he or she has accepted the reality of loss and stopped clinging to the past or grasping to the future. In the groundless openness of sorrow, there is a wholeness and a deep natural wisdom.” Tara Brach

As humans and animals, we are wired to connect. It’s built into our chemical makeup. Oxytocin, a socially bonding hormone, secretes in humans when the heart is open. It is also equally important to be able to be with and encounter ourselves in this open heart, tending to our feelings, and where it is that we are fragile, raw or broken.  

We have all felt many of the same pains, as well as joys. We are never by ourselves, even in sadness, joy, or in healing.

In the dignity of aloneness, we can easily be with others: Adding, and listening instead of pulling at others for acceptance or approval as though in desperate need of attention. If we are lonely, we may continue to feel alone no matter how many people we surround ourselves with.

We can feel bereaved, if we need to, but what we are really doing is allowing the soul its chance to quench its thirst to feel  down to it’s core. Soul feelings are satisfying and full, not depriving. Inadequacy is not real.

I remember asking my grandmother at one point near her leaving her body if she was afraid to die, since she would be alone, feeling that we all die alone.  She stated, “It is impossible to die alone. You die into everything and everyone.”

In The Book of Joy by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, his Holiness stated that, “You can be by yourself or even with others, and in total isolation. This is true loneliness.  You can also be by yourself and remember and sense everyone, staying connected to every fiber of all that exists, that is aloneness.”

Many of the Tibetan Buddhist monks that I have met in Dharamshala meditate in the caves for 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days and come out realizing they were not alone. This was, of course, a process. Much of that process is traveling through the layers of grief. 

It is important to never deny ourselves grief, as it leads us to the realization of interconnection. Despair reinforces separation. To not have grieved loss may be what is truly alarming or self sabotaging. This is a disconnection and disregard of the whole and the holy that is traumatically difficult to repair.

It has been my experience through inquiry that loneliness is related to despair and grief is related to aloneness.  I certainly have felt both in my life. Haven’t we all? 

Loneliness often comes from a false sense that the ego has of being entitled,  special or, diminished, inferior and inadequate, which is despairing. We will then soon be a stranger and fraud to ourselves; disconnected to the essence of kindness towards others. Despair makes things far more difficult than they need to be. We often hurt many others from this place, often not grasping the level of hurt we have indeed caused.

Aloneness is first belonging to yourself so that you can bring “belonging” with you when around others.  “You are free when you realize you belong no place. You belong every place- no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great” Maya Angelou

To belong to yourself is fullness and adequacy, which empowers and benefits us all with a generosity of shared, fertile spirit.  The deeper we feel, the more we belong to ourselves and unconditionally love others without end.

Grief is a thinning of the false belief of gap or separation. Contrary to what we might first feel when in it, it is separation that brings suffering, not grief. In grief, separation is no more, for we are closer than ever to that which we miss.

Despair will try its best to ignore, complicate, resist, turn stories around or demonize the truth, circumstances or others. Stay present and listen to what is in this moment; that is the path of healing and in being a healer. True healers will need to spend time with others. And, they will need to spend time alone.

“Entering lightly means not ignoring suffering but treating it gently.” – Ram Dass.


Loneliness and Aloneness 


“Whatever you are running from takes on more significance the more you run from it.” The Most Important Thing, Adyashanti

The walls of inadequacy, pushing, running, and a disregard for empathy cannot get us through the heartbreaks of life. There is really nothing lonelier than this. Despair holds to suffering as its false power. Despair will hide, or hold on to something far after a sadness has run its course. This isn’t your true source of healing.

“What’s dying is the frightened mind, so the love inside us can get a chance to breathe.” -Marianne Williamson, A Return To Love


It is not possible to give total unconditional love to another if we believe we are not enough.  There will be no shared togetherness or unity there. Despair or loneliness is truly a grieving of finding ourselves, thinking we ourselves are lost. True aloneness means we believe in  and trust ourselves..  It is in this selflessness that we are totally open to compromise and communicating our wounds with honesty.

The Soul does not really grieve as it intrinsically knows it is not separate, but grief leads us to our Soul and to the unified Souls of which we are a part. Aloneness, along with grief, thrives in compassion. It does not thrive in the minutia and triviality of comparison nor emphasize things that in the end just do not matter.

If peace floods your heart and body, if love calls you in every heartbeat and every breath, you will experience grief. Grief is the gateway to the softest embrace of all, where shortcomings no longer matter nor a need to perpetuate the unnecessary hardness of pain exists.

This is whole. That is whole. Take away from the whole, and still, what remains is Whole.  There are infinite realms of existence. You being alone or having really lost anyone is utterly impossible.

“We delight in the beauty of a butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve the beauty.” -Maya Angelou

The dignity to grieve breaks down walls and jumps through hurdles as to never shut down our loving heart. Grief’s journey will reveal the Real you ever more deeply. It will unravel your true intentions, character and what you value dearly. 

As this year ends, if grief arises for you in endings, let it pass in and through. What feels like negation is only an undoing where the whole was hidden. Hold still. Be wise. New beginnings are on their way, and with even more depth than ever before.

“What a caterpillar calls the end the rest of the world calls a butterfly.” -Lao Tzu


***This is devoted to my parents, who just lost their 4 legged beloved  Ginger Baker on this day of completion of this essay, and to those I too will see no more in this physical form in this lifetime.  

“I will not say do not weep, for not all tears are evil.” –J.R.R. Tolkien

In dignity, Swan Michelle

Purnamadah Purnamidam. Purnat. Purnamudachyate. Punasya. Purnamadaya. Purnamevavashishyate