Individuality, aloneness and inner peace

When we talk of a spiritual life path, or inner peace, we talk of connections. Whether it's developing a sense of oneness with people and events around us, learning to relate to others in healthy ways, or finding ways to serve the community we belong to, a common note is touching something outside of ourselves.

Connectedness is especially important because our culture has evolved in a direction that has increasingly created aloneness in the modern citizen. It comes along with our pride in individuality, our valuing of freedom and democracy. It is uniquely modern and uniquely western. The poet Robert Bly used the term "sibling society" to describe this phenomenon. We have lost what traditional societies have always provided — the sense of belonging, the sense of a place in life. We have devalued obligation, the knowing of roles that grow from being part of a family, part of a structured social fabric that has a rightful claim on a part of our lives, that provides boundaries, a hierarchy of social roles, knowledge of proper behavior, a sense of the permissible, of right and wrong.

I'm not longing for a return to the Victorian era in saying this, but I'm recognizing that there are trade-offs for every advance. For all the wonders of smart phone technology, hasn't the social dimension of public life suffered a loss of face-to-face interpersonal skills? And for all our touting the thousands of friends we now have on Facebook, or our ability to talk to any and all of them constantly, do we really feel more loved?

The good news is that the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that we have one. (Is that why everyone in the marketplace these days is selling solutions?) The problem we have is aloneness. In freeing ourselves from life's constraints, we have unwittingly lost our sense of belonging. What follows is isolation, fear and antisocial behavior. We experience less intimacy, the "otherness" of the external world increases, and we despair.

If we see this is true in our lives, then there are as many antidotes as imagination can create. It isn't just a regimen of activities or ideas that work, it's an attitude, perhaps a reformulation of values as well. Sometimes we can get beyond our limits by something as simple as reading, especially if we choose expansive reading, the kind that evokes sympathies or provokes thought. Reading can connect you to others as well.

We might also do well to fly in the face of some forms of political correctness. Dare to be judgmental. Use discrimination to determine what, where and when judgments are right. One of the characteristics of Bly's sibling society is that every thought or idea articulated by anyone with earnest belief and passion is as defensible as every other and needs to be honored or validated. But there are many "opinions" that are simply ignorance. Making distinctions can be clarifying and important.

We can love our freedom, our individuality and even our aloneness, but be willing to balance those things with some framework for staying connected to others, to our place in the world and to all the parts of ourselves.

Avram Chetron lives in Ashland, sings in choral groups, teaches and learns at OLLI and tries to stay connected.

The Ashland Daily Tidings invites residents of the Rogue Valley to submit articles on all aspects of inner peace. All walks, faiths, paths, insights, lessons learned, revelations and experiences are welcome in this column. No one is excluded. When we share we give and we also receive. Send 600- to 700-word articles to Sally McKirgan, To see the past four years of Saturday Back Page Inner Peace wisdom articles visit

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