Western psychologists have rightly observed thatZen Buddhists have rightly observed that That lacuna between whom and how, between the objects of our love and its observance, is a powerful space for transformation. For those of us who have not come into the world under the most optimal circumstances and have not been formed by the most nurturing forces, relationships are incredibly fertile ground for growing the twin roots of the stable soul: love and trust.
Yet always, always, there is an undertone of loneliness in even the most harmonious love — not the gladsomeRilke placed at the center of healthy companionship, but the hollowing loneliness of unbelonging, of never feeling fully and wholly seen, which another great poet placed at the center of her poetry and her private anguish before she perished by that loneliness.
Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932–February 11, 1963) was still a teenager when she began facing the most profound existential questions, untangling them with uncommon clarity on the pages of her diary, which now survive as( ) — the dazzling and at times discomposing posthumous echo of personhood that gave us the young Plath on , , and her thoughts on .
In an entry from the winter of her first, upon returning to her dorm room after a four-day blur with her family for Thanksgiving, she writes:
Now I know what loneliness is, I think. Momentary loneliness, anyway. It comes from a vague core of the self — like blood disease, dispersed throughout the body so that one cannot locate the matrix, the spot of contagion.
This loneliness will blur and diminish, no doubt, when tomorrow I plunge again into classes, into the necessity of studying for exams. I could walk down the halls, and empty rooms would yawn mockingly at me from every side. But now, that fraudulent purpose is lifted, and I am spinning in a temporary vacuum… The routine is momentarily suspended, and I am lost. There is nobeing on earth at this moment except myself.
Peering beyond the immediate situation, beyond this particular moment in life, she casts a darkly prognostic eye toward the rosary of moments stringing her uncertain future — a future that would soon include, a lot cut short by her lonely pain — and adds:
God, but life is loneliness, despite all the opiates, despite the shrill tinsel gaiety of “parties” with no purpose, despite the false grinning. Yes, there is joy, fulfillment, and companionship — but the loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness is horrible and overpowering. And when you finally find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter — they are so rusty, ugly, meaningless, and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you for so long.
It was Plath’s tragedy that after chance had dealt her neurochemistry and nurture far from optimal,had led her to a that deepened her art and the pain from which it sprang. But her concrete tragedy of the opposite possibility: Some loves can unseal, irradiate, and heal those small dark old places in us where joy has been compacted into hard, dense loneliness. This possibility is folded into a glorious, maddening Möbius strip of trust: The very relationships in which we can begin to grow those twin roots of the soul require a level of confidence to start the terrifying process of being known — a process Adrienne Rich placed at the heart of every relationship in which two people have together earned the right to use the word “love,” a genuinely honest relationship shaped by