Back in school, on the edge of the internet, I heard a publisher was compiling a book of interviews on the topic of isolation. I felt qualified to contribute and apply by email. I received no response. The above anecdote is not a Steven Wright joke, though it is a bit funny in the way of which he is the master.
I never did find out if that book made it into physical reality, but I was neither surprised or especially worried that I didn't secure a spot therein. By this time in my life, I had already wandered through the fog of isolation for some years. I am an only child, so time alone was just natural, and in childhood, I had filled it with nature and books and creativity. A series of deaths in the family and the endocrine clusterbomb/social pressure combo hit delivered by puberty put me squarely in the role of a teenage hermit.
I found solace and magic among the bins in the squalid used book and record stores my little Army town had grown around its edges. I was discovering evidence all the time that this involuntary monastic life was not an experience reserved for me. Those books and tapes felt like messages from some realm beyond or mystery cult of benevolent survivors, and they shored me up like an esoteric exoskeleton. I can remember the paradoxical moment when I knew I was alone in my experience but not in my condition. I was 3 or 4 hours into a sleepless night, with the radio on for company. I was brought out my haze when the music stopped, and I heard three words ring out as clear as a peal of thunder:
"I know you."
As the monologue continued, the introduction proved itself to be accurate. I sat up as if snapping out of a dream, wondering what was happening. I always kept a blank tape in the stereo deck at the ready, and I scrambled to capture what I found out was a piece by Henry Rollins. I heard the voice of a stranger describing the feeling in my spirit to me, and in such excruciating detail that I could have written it myself. The shock of realization gave way to the comfort of resonance and the excitement that there were others after all. If you have never heard it, I suggest you take a moment to dig it up now. I won't mind, and I believe it would do you good. I'll wait here.
We're all born into a situation that not even our parents cannot fully illuminate, for there are parts of the human experience that defy classification despite age or experience. Civilization has built up defenses and detours for navigating the space between entry and exit in a way that keeps the show on the road. Most folks ride generational waves of momentum right into the social currents, but some get swept in the undertow of the unconscious world and its dark gravity. Wherever we come from or feel compelled to go, we each touch isolation in some way. It gets baked into the cake of human experience, particularly in our days of a delusional division.
Isolation is not solitude, for we often choose it and it can be restorative if employed with mindful intent. It is not loneliness, for loneliness is the desire for company, specific or general. Descend a few layers down from this, not goosebumps but chilled bone, and you find isolation. Isolation is a voice, never completely silenced, that asks "who am I really, and why am I here, and what is the point, and why hasn't anybody got the answers I need?"
The human being takes a wide variety of forms. We are different from each other and different from ourselves at other points along our individual timelines. I'll tell you a secret. Isolation is a shape-shifter. It is different things to different people and at different times. It's when you make plans you know won't gel. It's saying goodbye in your heart when you meet a new friend because nobody stays in this town but you. It's feeling like the last person alive amid throngs of other people. Isolation is hearing a hearty laugh down the hall and accepting that you can't pull that song out of the bird get face to face. It is the muscle memory of intimacy, forgotten over years of neglect. It makes a ghost of you, and a hole in you.
Isolation is feeling your mortality and the weight of the human predicament in a world where almost no one feels free to speak of it. It's screaming "Memento mori!" and "Carpe diem!" into a crowd of the deaf, and most of all yourself, the one who needs to hear it most of all. Isolation is stumbling onto the uncomfortable truth, accepting its inevitability and having no quarter offered when you knock on the doors of other people's paradigms. It's when you start to believe in the boxes other people may put you in as part of their defenses. It's a wall you help the world build around your heart.
Isolation is the gnosis of the void, the dull embrace of freezing space. Isolation is whispering "Is anybody here?" in a soundproof room. It is an illusion that in times of strife and weakness can feel more real than your awareness. Isolation is a room made of black rice paper that feels like an obsidian tomb. It is a place of waste, and waste away it does. Within its mercurial tesseract of illusions, there are no windows and no doors, but there are locks.
Hope springs eternal, even when obscured by dark mirage. Dimensions of novelty and connection wait for us to scratch through the barriers. The sands cascade through the hourglass for us all. The spirit of a nation threatens to collapse as surely as its neglected roads and bridges have begun to do already. Divide and conquer is the oldest, best trick the warlords have, and it is working. We are taking the hate bait. We are selling the power of our hearts and buying the false security desired by the metastasized ego.
We're renting what Hafiz called "the cheapest room in the house." After years of living under a strategy of tension, our zeitgeist has a death-urge which is encouraged by those who live on and profit from an air of constant fear. In the big picture, the sabers are rattling, and the economy is trembling. In our private lives, we wage personal wars against the ones we ought to cherish or at least respect. The oversoul of Western Civilization seems to beg for dystopia and an end. This victim script leads to a coward's end. These war games are contrary to who we are, in the bedrock of being. The trauma continues, but the patient is still hanging on. To heal these great rifts we will need to cut out some memetic cancer, but we don't need a civil war. We need civility back.
As the hippies urged, find the others. Put out the signal. Tell the world, "You are not as alone as you feel, and your sense that you are keeps your life small and your spirit missing its part to play on the world stage." The state in which we live in ignorance and do the dances of caged animals is what the parasite class prefers. Defy it. Call up the specter of teenage rebellion and marry it to the power of your enlightening heart. Reach across the aisles, go into "enemy" territory, and bring your awareness and compassion with you.
New bridges need building. New roads wait for us to pave them. In a world pushing hate, compassion is punk rock. In a world divided, unity is a sacred subversion. In a culture that breeds isolation, liberating each other is sacred work, whatever you believe. So now it's time. Tell your story, that it may relieve those who hear it. Unlock the gate, and let your fear out as you let love fill the cathedral in your heart. Speak truth to power and resist evil where you find it, but also, speak to each other as equals without gnashed teeth and gnawed tongues. Do not become what you fight.
Isolation is an acute form of spiritual amnesia. Remember how to touch and honor the ones you love and recognize the need for it in all. Learn again how to listen to the wordless wisdom of intuition and the still small voice that tells the truth. Bring your light out of its prison and see anew the treasure that darkness hides. Come together again. Take the shapes that are necessary to get us out of the saucepan as the water rolls toward a boil. Set fear down and pick up love, while you still can.