Most adults have nobody to talk to about problems

Rising loneliness and increasing social isolation can be helped by meditation

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Loneliness is one of the many challenges in our daily lives. A survey by  Time to Change found that 66% of adults felt that they didn’t have anyone to talk to. This news closely follows government commitments to try to tackle problems linked to social isolation, including the creation of a Loneliness Minister. Research also recently discovered that up to nine million people in the UK described themselves as “always or often lonely”.

I’m supportive of attempts to reduce suffering, the surveys draw attention to a real problem and the appointment of a Loneliness Minister should be applauded. But perhaps this is addressing symptoms rather than causes.

Most of us will feel alone at some stage in our lives but the sheer scale of the problem indicates that there is something structurally wrong here. I’m not suggesting the causes will be simple to identify or resolve but what are the underlying conditions leading to such misery? Social isolation has a number of factors both social and personal. But I  would argue that declining compassion in society is a key issue in this debate. On the level of the individual we all may be part of the problem to a greater or lesser extent. Do we engage with the people around us, or create the conditions for others to appropriately engage with us? To what extent would we seek out those friends and relatives we know to be generally on their own?

The idea that meditation is the panacea that can resolve all of societies woes is I think overworked. But nondual compassion based practices are particularly good at providing a degree of perspective on self and other, even in dire circumstances. By considering isolation as a condition created by both the individual and society, solutions can manifest effortlessly. The nondual approach also offers some protection against sentimental outcomes that might make an individual feel good without improving the problem.

Author: Stephen Gene Morris

Post graduate researcher of relationships between meditation and wellbeing. Decades of practice in spiritual and secular forms of meditation. Teaching and research of compassionate and nondual practice. Extensive exposure to Buddhist and other spiritual systems. Training in diverse forms of psychology and reasoning.

5 thoughts on “Most adults have nobody to talk to about problems”

  1. I thought this was a fantastic post because it lines up three things that I think are all tied together and very much worth talking about and addressing: we do indeed have structural loneliness in our society, and it’s a big problem. And I think isolation is part of it, as you note, but the idea of a lack of compassion is even more worth talking about, because it’s fundamental, I’d posit, to our isolation. There’s a level of ambient antipathy and even hostility out there these days when you try to join new groups…or maybe it’s just the groups I’ve been looking at, but at any rate, it’s easy to encounter it. And it even happens in groups that think they’re all about compassion in some ways. It speaks to all of our need to try to grow and do what we can about it. Do we engage with the people around us, or create the conditions for others to appropriately engage with us? To what extent would we seek out those friends and relatives we know to be generally on their own? This is exactly right. Thank you for writing it.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful insights.

      I’m increasingly drawn to the idea that we are the primary architects of our own psychological wellbeing. And loneliness is no exception. In a less compassionate society the desire to ‘get above’ others in all ways becomes stronger, sharing time, knowledge and attention become power games rather than just a normal way of life. When people demonstrate this tendency to push us away and exclude us how do we react?

      I’m still shocked to see unpleasantness demonstrated in groups committed to compassion or social justice. But on reflection this is normal, people might engage with meditation not because they are compassionate but because they might wish to become compassionate. The key point is how do I react to the rejection? By holding onto resentment I enter the world of unhappiness and loneliness, I become an army of one, waiting my chance to trip the others up.

      Alternatively I could take the discomfort and make a commitment never to make another feel as I have felt, in this way the sense of loneliness and isolation may dissolve, replaced but my compassionate strength and power. I have no time to dwell on the negative because it limits my positive. This approach only became possible for me through the transformative nature of compassion practice.

      May all the beings have happiness.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thankyou for writing such an insightful post. I’ve certainly found compassion meditation helped me be more open and loving to others, as well as myself. There’s an in/out aspect to this. Loneliness can be about both being isolated from others, and a sort of terrible internal desert, isolation from inner sources of comfort. Where to start is an interesting point: I’ve worked through guided meditations which started with the self, and ones which started with a loved other. The question was raised: how is it easiest to raise the feeling of warmth and love, so that I can nurture it for myself and others? It’s the opposite of fearfulness, which is pervasive in our culture.

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  3. A useful first stage according to my training and experience is to have a degree of self understanding. I can only talk generally about the subject, not knowing your background and experience. If you have a reliable meditation teacher you can discuss these issues with them, they may offer you some specific instructions.

    It’s quite important to define compassion, I can offer you a traditional explanation:

    “the wish that no beings suffer and are free from the causes of suffering”

    Consider this applies to all, including yourself, without limit or exception. You can use this as a way of expressing your true feelings, it also makes you an ally of every living thing in the universe. Consider the wish that no being of any kind suffers, this is an idea that links you not to suffering but to the absence of suffering. Compassion is not (at this stage) the abandonment of self, your ability to express compassion is dependent on your own health and wellbeing.

    The key to cultivating compassion is motivation supported by method (meditation). In terms of practice, the traditional place to start is with compassion for those people and things around you, that you are naturally attuned with (friends, family, pets). The point is to build up the neural networks linked to compassion. It requires more perspiration than inspiration. Look for a method from a reliable system, consider established spiritual traditions, look specifically for compassionate meditation or practices. If you need anything more you only have to ask.

    May all beings have happiness

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