I recently liked a boy who didn’t like me in the way I wanted to be liked. He liked another girl, and it hurt. I was more raw than usual, sandpapered down by a few recent intimacy losses. The looming pattern of it made me despondent.
I thought I would spend the rest of my life alone, understood by nobody. I would remain on the outskirts, looking in, built out of a substance made for rejection. I was in a state of itchy agitation; like I kept wanting to reach out but having nothing to grab. Life kept proving me right.
Then I did acid, 250ug, somewhat for the purpose of solving this problem. It was in an AirBnb in the woods of upstate New York, and the house was woody smelling and there was a film crew. I spent the first hours crying, staring at the camera, trying to paint; but finally I rolled outside into the rain and found myself alone. I couldn’t see into the windows, and it was a distant-feeling cold.
I felt alone out there, and I let myself feel alone. It barreled through me, where all my fears became true. My isolation became a body; I stepped into it and wore it as mine, and it was tangible flesh, and its weight was my weight. I bent over in my body of isolation and sobbed. It was a screaming, ongoing pain that I couldn’t think around, couldn’t reason with. It hurt it hurt it hurt.
I saw that I had been trying to reduce the pain by placing expectations on other people and the world, that I wanted someone else to save me from this, to swoop in with the delicious story that the pain was wrong, as if it had been making an incorrect claim or breaking a law. And that’s what I thought, on some level – that there was a perversion of reality, that this pain should not be. And if the pain should not be, then intimacy with others is what should be, and the gap between myself and others became a burden that became both mine and theirs to resolve. Of course I’d never had these thoughts explicitly – but somewhere, deep down, that’s what had been happening.
But here, on the deck in the cliche rain, I couldn’t tell the pain that it was wrong, and I didn’t resist it. The body of isolation I wore was mine, and I wore it with agony and love. I surrendered to it, died to it, and forgot what I had been.
Usually my pain was held in a great reservoir above my head, and it was too much to feel at once, so I would open a very small drain, and the suffering arose in the narrow pressure of that release. But here I tore the reservoir open, and the pain was immense but pressureless, because there was no contrast between want and do not want. I found that I could bear it. I could bear it infinitely.
This pain should be. I welcomed it.
And against this I felt a deep gratitude for the speckled moments where I felt not-alone – in flashes of strangers on the street, the memories of lovers, the odd frustration of my family. The intensity of the isolation channeled an equally intense relief into these moments, and I imagined stars made starlike by the night.
It was as though I’d picked up a flat river-rock, and on one side was printed LOVE and the other PAIN, and that both were pressed into my fist, that they were a singular weight, that it was one thing.
I still wear the body of isolation, and with it is an ongoing pain. I can feel it settled into me, every day, like a cradle – but the body of isolation is also the body of love; a rotating mask, each bolted onto the backstage of the other. It is the isolation which allows me love, and love which allows me isolation. I am suffocated by gratitude.
I found out I wasn’t immortal shortly before I turned 19. I’d been religious, so I assumed death was a just a transfer to heaven. Losing my faith meant I had to face the fact that my identity would end, and it was terrifying for many years.
Then I heard Alan Watts frame it as such: When we imagine dying, we imagine something like being locked in a dark box forever and ever. But once we imagine the experience of being dead, then we’re not really imagining death at all.
Experience is the only thing to be afraid of, and being dead isn’t an experience. If we are afraid of a non-experience, then at some level we are imagining an experience.
I think about this when it comes to the Great Isolation. I don’t mean the Great Isolation in inability to find intimacy, in being ejected from the tribe, or in standing outside alone in the rain. I mean it in the sense of perpetual solitude inside your own mind; that no matter how much you love someone, it will always be your projection of their understanding; that this is a dream, that you alone are the one who generates the experiences you have of being understood. “Isn’t it lonely?” people ask, when I describe my solipsism. The fear of undertaking the Great Isolation is the fear of loneliness.
The body of isolation is the body of love, and this body needs an Other to exist – much as you cannot feel love without an Other, you cannot feel isolation without an Other. And so, if you feel lonely when you imagine the Great Isolation, then you are not truly imagining the Great Isolation, much as if you feel afraid when you imagine death, then you are not truly imagining death.
Loneliness is not terrifying. It’s not some great existential shadow or a condemnation to a psychedelic hell – it’s just the other side of love.