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Taken too many walks down “lonely street”? Here is a more effective approach to overcoming loneliness…

It is one thing for a person to feel lonely because he is alone, physically isolated. It is quite another matter to feel lonely in the midst of family and friends. The latter experience is far more common than we might wish to admit. On the other hand, one can be totally alone, and yet not feel lonely. What, then, turns being alone into loneliness? Let us explore this mystery.

Vincent knew about the blues.

Loneliness is essentially a painful feeling of invisibility. The philosopher George Berkeley stated that “to be is to be perceived.” The lonely person experiences the corollary of that truth — not to be perceived is not to be. Unknown and unseen, we feel unreal. Loneliness, then, is a painful feeling of physically existing and yet having no more substance and visibility than does a ghost.

There are many reasons why a person might find himself alone. Perhaps, his spouse has died. Or, it could be that he no longer relates to his contemporaries and, as such, finds himself “a stranger in a strange land.” There is even a social phobia — that psychotherapists regard as a psychological disorder — that can painfully isolate a person. Or, a person may be lonely out of fear of being in a relationship. Vincent Van Gogh was alone — as are many passionate thinkers and artists — for the road to truth has few travelers. If one feels lonely, it can, therefore, be for a hundred different reasons. It is important to determine the fundamental reason why. Only then, can there be a remedy.

Hopper captured both the sadness and the mystery of loneliness.

The existentialists — never wishing to make life easy for us — state that we should not flee the painful feeling of loneliness, but must, with honesty and courage, confront it. What is to be gained by this encounter? There are truths that the universe whispers to each of us, when we are alone. They can neither be heard in the midst of a crowd, nor when the TV is attempting to shout away our loneliness. Zen masters have a different remedy for loneliness. To he or she who complains of loneliness, they ask: “Who is this person who feels lonely?” Upon awakening from the dream of “I,” there is no longer anyone there to feel lonely. In any case, the experience of loneliness, if handled correctly, can lead to some very significant and valuable questions.

And so, in the words of that existentialist Elvis Presely, “Are you feeling lonely tonight?” If so, contact Dr. Mark Dillof. He offers philosophical counseling, by phone and in person. For information, call him at: (607) 723-2663 or e-mail him at mdillof@verizon.net. The telephone can allow for an intense conversation. Why, then, drive to a session — in the rain, snow, cold and dark — spending money on fuel? No matter what part of the globe you inhabit — from New York City to Los Angeles, from London to Tokyo, from Binghamton to Ithaca — distance is no barrier to an illuminating talk with Dr. Dillof!