(Title taken from a song by the Damned and content influenced by “The Space in Between” by How To Destroy Angels)
I was thinking after a recent weekend that I had a great time, met a lot of really good people, had a number of laughs, really got to chat and connect with some people I had mainly interacted with on the periphery.
There was a time (it still strikes occasionally) that I can be the person alone in a room full of people. From what I saw in walking around the room was a number of people’s faces that echoed that same mindset I’ve felt myself slip into at times.
It usually accompanies me observing people and an internal narrator pointing out what people are experiencing that I’m not, how some people are having a great time with their friends or loved ones, how connections are being made between people while here I am, alone again. The narrator tends to describe to me what sort of pleasure or happiness the people I’m observing are having.
But there’s something that I notice as I write this. In my past times of observing from such a willing distance (it is a choice to view the world like this), my eyes and mind pass over those people who feel sad and alone just like I might be feeling in the crowded room. It’s almost as if my mind is saying, “Don’t look at those people. If you notice them, truly notice them, you will realize you aren’t the only one. Then you might realize that you aren’t really alone.” I don’t know how it is for others who experience this phenomenon, but trust me—you aren’t alone.
Concerning the recent weekend I am referring to, I was very present with everyone I was interacting with, connecting with me in each moment and could tell that most everyone I was talking with was very glad, at the very moment, to be talking with me as well. I could feel it in the energetic connection, in the smiles that played upon their lips, or even the way their eyes told me they were relieved that someone saw their pain of feeling out of place and unnoticed they were experiencing.
In my mind (whether it’s true or not), it’s because somewhere inside, they realized that they weren’t alone.
They realized inside that someone cared to connect to them and to alleviate the loneliness that is inherent in the human condition.
I’m not just talking about me and my talking to others. I could see it in how they talked to their friends, how someone laughed at their jokes, how someone touched their shoulder, how someone hugged them.
They weren’t alone because they chose not to be alone.
I wasn’t alone because I chose not to be alone.
I’ve always been able to do the social butterfly thing, but at the end of the night, it usually makes me feel like I didn’t really connect with people. It tends to make me feel that all my interactions were superficial and had no resonance with the people I chatted with. And I honestly imagine that my interactions with them didn’t have any real impact whatsoever.
I believe that’s because I wasn’t with them in reality—I was in my head watching me going through the motions, wondering what they thought about me. Was my joke funny enough or did it sound forced? Did they actually want to talk to me or were they being polite and just wanting to leave as soon as possible?
All these thoughts would tumble through my mind, narrated by that little voice that drips poisonous self-doubt in my ear, that trickles in through the canal and starts to taint every conversation I have with someone.
The key that I found was to really be there and to realize that everyone there was there for a reason—to help relieve the sensation of being alone. They might have been with friends. They might have come alone. They might have been with their significant other. But they all came because, in some part, they wanted to have that suffocating feeling of being alone pulled off their shoulders for a few hours. Some might have been dragged by others, but they still chose to come out and seek some connection, no matter how fleeting or delightful.
If they wanted to be alone, they wouldn’t have come—just like you made the choice to come out.
We all come to these sort of social events—cookouts, group rituals, dinner parties, pagan meetups, going to a bar with friends, moots, clubs, monthly meetings, or parties—to connect to other people.
Another thing I noticed while writing this (this is a big part of why I write these) is that if I go to an event, such as the recent one I’m describing, with anything other than just connecting with other people in whatever way I can (like picking someone up), it’s an open invitation to the internal narrator to pick apart my performance like a sports commentator during a game.
When I go there to just hang out and have a good time with people, I get the chance to connect with others. If I go there and something sours my interaction, it can be difficult to not have your mind jumping around from the past (what caused the bitter taste in your night) or tothe future (when you start questioning what meaning does the craptastic thing that screwed up your night mean in the long run).
It’s hard to be in the present moment.
If you’ve ever felt stuck in a situation where you are feeling alone in a room full of people, I recommend a few things you can do to reconnect with being in the present.
- Look around the room and take in what you see. “That’s an awesome huge paper lantern up on the ceiling.” “She looks freakin’ hot in that outfit!” and other such things thatallow you to see the environment without the internal narrator being able to comment. It’ll allow you stop judging because you are noticing what’s happening in the now. It’s easy for your mind to wander though into “I wish I had something in my place as nice as that lantern…” or “I wish I looked that good if I wore a corset like that. I couldn’t get away with that look…” or “I wish a beautiful woman like that would even notice me, but she wouldn’t give me the time of day…” When you notice your internal commentator shrieking in your ear, shift your attention.
- Remember that it’s very possible everyone else is feeling the same thing you are. Some might be enjoying the present moment and just feeling glad to be alive, standing exactly where they are, speaking with the person they are, and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Whywouldn’t they want to be anywhere else? Because they aren’t thinking about being anywhere else since when you’re in the present, there’s nothing to compare it to. It’s only when you take that step back you notice how much fun you’re having.
- It’s possible that you can turn your inner sports caster from someone local at your favorite team’s away game (someone’s who’s rooting for the other team) to making it your home team announcer. It is possible to turn that criticizing voice into one that notices that’s going on that’s good and positive. It might not be easy, but it’s possible. Just have tobe aware that you’ve got that voice that cheers for the other team and wants to point out how you’re losing. Then you just have to start tuning into what’s going on that’s good and right. Or just find the right AM station.
- A simple Buddhist technique is to remember to breathe, especially slowing down your breath. Notice your breath coming in and going back out. Notice how your body feels as you breathe slowly in and then slowly out. It’s like hitting the emergency brakes in a runaway train. There might be a lot of mental noise as everything comes to a slow and then to a stop, but it connects you to the moment you’re in now. Once you are feeling a bit more centered, just turn your attention back to the person you’re talking to.
If you are paying enough attention, you’ll notice they tend to be just as glad as you are in talking to you. And if they aren’t, what good does it do you to think that it’s your fault they are uncomfortable?
I bet their internal critic is panning their performance too.