Satya Vedant finds out that ‘Living-together-loneliness’ (LTL) is suffered by 10-20 million American
This autumn Satya Vedant facilitated five meditation retreats in various states in the USA; we asked him his impressions of America, the country where his has lived and taught in previous years. We wanted to know how he experiences the young people of today, what it is they expect from life, and are they at all interested in mediation.
America is certainly not the same as I found it over forty years ago when I first sailed from Mumbai (then Bombay) via London to arrive in Chicago by Pan Am at the peak of winter. Coming from hot India, America for me then was no less than a refrigerator. Having been a graduate student first at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and later at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, working for a doctorate degree, seemed an awesome task, but enthralling nonetheless. My most exciting experience was teaching at the University of California at Berkeley. Those were the days when the United States was deeply caught up in the Vietnam War and the Berkeley campus was then the bastion of free speech movement protesting against the War. On the other hand, the Beatles, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, and the Hare Krishna movement contributed significantly in attracting great numbers of young people toward learning about India and the Indian culture.
As they say, a lot of water has gone down the Ganges since those vibrant and consciously alive days where it was apparent the young in America were more interested in values that were the hallmark of America than in maintaining the status quo as is currently evident to me. There was a pro-active awareness to shun violence – at home and abroad – and pursue a simple life based on love and universal oneness. I remember a sticker on a car – “Make love not war.”
Much later, that is ten years ago, I gave courses on Eastern Religion at the Cleveland State University. Qualitatively the young students showed the same degree of interest in India/Religion as did students in Berkeley in the late sixties, but the spirit of adventure and optimism was missing.
During this current visit, I find America is down with economic problems and fear. People do not seem to be in the rhythm of life – a lot is missing in their lives. Moreover, one of the main overriding factors I am noticing is that many in America are facing an alarming state of aloneness. People seem to be constantly living in the fear of facing oneself. People appear incredibly busy, always asking ‘what next’ in the pretext of being busy. Loneliness seems to permeate many peoples’ lives, and yet they rarely talk about it.
It is being observed that whether you’re young or old, a college student, whether recently divorced or widowed, married, a parent, or not yet, almost nationwide people now seem lonelier than ever before. It can be a matter of debate weather one needs to blame the cultural milieu, the economy, the need to work two jobs, long commutes, traffic and pollution, or urban anonymity. Some even point at too much of television, or even the Internet.
A study published in the American Sociological Review in 2006 found that Americans are far more socially isolated than just two decades ago. A quarter of respondents say they have no one to confide in. That number has doubled in two decades, from 10% to 24.6%. The reality is that, according to psychologist Dan Kiley, who has coined the term ‘living-together loneliness’, or LTL, for describing this phenomenon, almost 10 to 20 million people, mainly women, suffer from ‘living-together-loneliness’. And it is not just people living alone who are lonely; married people can be seen lonely, or even young people with jobs and living in crowded apartments are just as lonely or socially cut off, isolated.
Generally, relationships in America seem to have become dysfunctional. In reality, many people tend to avoid it. Consequently, one finds a sense of alienation among the people. The problem of alienation, though, has marked the condition of modern man all over. Scholars point out that as a consequence of alienation the world is now faced with the symptoms of “social sickness.” It includes “the feelings of loneliness, powerlessness, meaninglessness, isolation, and separation and discontent with society.” It is observed that alienation is essentially a ‘sense of not belonging’.
Osho points out the fact that people in general are afraid and unhappy with themselves. We never think or accept us as we are. We need to enter into a state of aloneness. This state does not mean we reject our family or friends. An intelligent and a meditative process is to embrace aloneness with all of them around. Aloneness is not loneliness. Aloneness is all in oneness. Aloneness, Osho says, is not about escaping from your commitments. It is embracing all of them without being affected by whatever may happen. It is about living in reality. He explains:
“First become alone. First start enjoying yourself. First love yourself. First become so authentically happy that if nobody comes it doesn’t matter; you are full, overflowing. If nobody knocks at your door it is perfectly okay — YOU are not missing. You are not waiting for somebody to come and knock at the door. You are at home. If somebody comes, good, beautiful. If nobody comes, that too is beautiful and good.
Then move into relationship. Now you move like a master, not like a beggar. Now you move like an emperor, not like a beggar.”
Osho, Come Follow To You, Vol.4, Ch.6, Q.5
During my visit to America this time, or elsewhere, when I get invited to facilitate Osho Meditation Events, I experience confirmation of this existential need – being alone together…a relating with oneself and with all. The participants I am finding are young and keen to learn what ‘meditation’ really is all about and how it can help. No one has asked me anything about what happened in Oregon. The questions have been all about how one may face life better, apply ones’ energy more fruitfully, and find more peace and happiness.
Read article in Washington Post ‘Social Isolation Growing in U.S., Study Says’…
Text by Swami Satya Vedant for Osho News