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I was in a yoga class a couple weeks ago, and my teacher, Annie Carpenter, kept using the word investigate to cue us in the poses.

Investigate the backbend.

I liked the idea of being a detective when it came to my backbend, to the way my foot felt on the mat. I liked the way this verb felt in me, the way it rolled around and ended up in so many different landscapes. I planted the seed of investigation and what came up out of the earth of me was:

Investigating loneliness.

The old couple that lived next door to us for years in New Jersey, Kay and Jerry, and how she got hit by a car in front of the church across the street and never came back from the hospital, staying there for months before she finally died of some complication. How he died of loneliness. How I think it must not be that hard. I’m investigating that.

Sometimes, I sit in my apartment and get stuck there. Literally stuck. The quicksand of my desk chair. The sinking mud of my bathroom mirror.

The phone rings and the texts and emails come. All of it with its own little rhythm of relevance: Pick me up! Answer me! Call me back! Go here! You should do that! I stare at them like little soldiers, these little missives and misfits and messages and patiently wait for it all to stop. Mesmerized by my ability to want to turn it all off, to make my nearly deaf ears a little more hushed. Noiseless as shock, I sit at my desk or in my bed and wrap myself in a feeling close to nothing.

What is this feeling? I have so many things to be done, so many people to call back, so many things I have let slip between the cracks of my mind, and, yet, I can’t move.

Everyone is laughing, and I might join in so as not to look stupid, but I have no idea what they are laughing about. I might as well be floating on a piece of bark at sea with nothing but the clothes on my back and my thoughts to keep me from drowning. I have no idea what you are laughing at! I scream in my head as I laugh along, my hearing loss incapable of disguise. That feeling of laughing when you have no idea why everyone is laughing, that’s a kind of loneliness I want to tell you about also.

How can you feel lonely when you have so many friends, when you are always around people? I imagine on my computer screen after this blog post, being sent in an email from someone feeling sympathetic somewhere, on the bottom, in the comment section, platitudes like: You are never truly alone! You may feel lonely, but you are never alone! You are so loved.

I was in Santa Fe a couple weeks ago eating at Pasquals with my friends, the writers Emily Rapp and Chris Abani. We were chatting about the difference between sympathy and empathy. Emily’s baby is dying, so these types of conversations are normal over Huevos motuleños. (This dish includes banana on top of eggs, and, while at first I thought the idea horrifying, I came around once I tasted Emily’s.)

Chris and Emily were saying that,

with sympathy, people make it about themselves. Whereas empathy is truly about you, whoever you are.

Makes sense. I agreed. That’s why sympathy doesn’t feel authentic, why it’s rejected like a banana on an egg. I don’t want sympathy.

I want a: Yea! Hey, I know what you mean. I have felt that as well. I get it. I understand.

That’s it. Enough said.

You can’t fix it. There is no fixing. I am investigating all the ways I feel lonely in a crowd, what it feels like to be amongst the world and also completely not in it at all.

The thing is, I like being alone. I prefer it. I struggle to leave my apartment. I would rather read a book or write than go out, and I have been this way since childhood. But much as I am investigating my backbend, I am looking into the intricacies of my aloneness and how it keeps me in my head and what a bloody bad neighborhood that really is.

I just read something by Iyanla Vanzant where she said, “‘Who are you?’ is not meant to be a question. It is meant to give pause for reflection. Who are you without whatever you hold on to?”

It is not meant to be a question but rather to give pause.

That’s what I am doing with this particular case, in my detective work, in my investigations. I am giving pause. I am not looking to solve the mystery, per se, but to look without judgment at the areas of my life I have hidden or buried.

I often feel lonely because I can’t hear. It’s a lonely world when you can hear sounds but have no idea what they mean.

So I understand how Jerry died shortly after Kay was hit by the car in front of the church, because surely she was the only one who understood his sounds and what they meant.

What I have found in my investigation thus far is this: loneliness is the place we meet our hearts. And we hear our hearts for the first time. The beat slows down, the accelerated beat ceases, and there is no panic or sadness or isolation, only connection and a deep knowing that you have waited your whole life for this.

In that moment, The Lonely Ones send their hearts out into the world to love and be loved, and maybe they will get broken, maybe not. But for a few minutes in the life of that heart, there is nothing else but other hearts, and there is a linking up, which, if you listen closely to it, says the word Finally.

What have you found in your own investigations? I would love to hear.


Jennifer Pastiloff was recently featured on Good Morning America. She is a yoga teacher, writer, and advocate for children with special needs based in L.A. She is also the creator of Manifestation Yoga® and leads retreats and workshops all over the world. Jennifer is currently writing a book and has a popular daily blog called Manifestation Station. Find her on Facebook and Twitter and take one of her yoga classes online at Yogis Anonymous.

Jen will be leading a Manifestation Yoga® weekend retreat at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshires, Massachusetts Feb 1-3, 2013.

*Photo by Jen Pastiloff at her Manifestation Workshop.