Do you know, as per the latest sources, besides the severe catastrophes caused by the latest pandemic among the nations, there is a chance of another blow to the mankind with one more impending epidemic. And, the epicentre of this outbreak is found to be our 'lonely minds'. Because the so called psychological infectious agent has started advancing among the masses at a maddening pace and it is none other than 'loneliness'. Loneliness occurs when a person, remaining socially isolated for a considerable period, harmonises the feeling of aloneness and discomfort. The disease manifests in humans by degrading their mental health, resulting in depression, bipolar syndrome, Alzheimer ‘s, substance abuse , cardiovascular disorders, up to the extent of suicides and premature deaths.
Surprised! Let us do a fact check. A 2010 study conducted by psychologists compared its lethality to 'smoking 15 cigarettes per day'. It was estimated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2015 that more than 322 million people have depression. Loneliness is found to play a lead role in creating hike in these global statistics. A recent study found that over 9 per cent of adults in Japan, 22 per cent in the US, and 23 per cent in the UK always or often feel lonely or isolated. For your information, the Government of United Kingdom appointed its first Minister of Loneliness in 2018 to cater to problems of such people. But, the question is what is the cause of this increasing vulnerability of people towards loneliness? Have the circumstances turned more impenetrable or is it our faulty outlook towards such situations? Let us take a look at the so-called lonely years of a few well-known personalities and try to grab motivational gems from them.
Garden Of Learning
Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, is known to have undergone a long imprisonment of more than 27 years (1962-1990), while running an antiapartheid movement in his country. During his jail term, he realised that he had a lot of spare time after performing the jail's daily strenuous labour of cutting rocks into gravel. So, he sought the permission from authorities for cultivating his own garden in a small patch of earth within the premises. Since childhood, Mandela wanted a garden of his own but the dream couldn't materialise due to various reasons such as unavailability of land or time constraints. So, he had to satisfy himself only with the books on horticulture, gardening and fertilisers. But, in jail, he hardly faced any such personal restrictions except the deterrent authorities whom Mandela convinced after certain years with his optimistic yet adamant attitude. Initially, he had to give out a lot of sweat to fulfill his passion. After finishing the allocated quarry work, he would busy himself in excavating the dry, rocky land to form a smooth, gritty soil favourable for cultivation. Soon, after a period of hard work, his garden flourished with tomatoes, chillies, and onions. The garden became a school of learning from where he imbibed various qualities of leadership. Seeding, watching plants growing, and finally harvesting taught him that a good leader should also carefully seed his actions, take responsibility of the reactions, preserve the fruits, and discard the trash.
In fact, with time, his actions and decisions very well depicted the same tenets. For instance, in 1985, the then President of S.A., P.W. Botha offered Mandela his freedom in return if he gave up all his rigorous political actions against apartheid. It was his 6th offer of freedom in past 10 years. But, showing the spirit of a true leader, Mandela boldly declared his reply to the nation, “What freedom am I being offered while the organisation of the people remains banned? ...Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts… I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free.”
Once, while gardening in the jail, his tomato cultivation got destroyed. He became extremely sad and expressed his sorrows to his wife Winnie through a letter. He wrote that it took a lot of time in cultivating the little seedling into a sturdy plant; but, due to lack of care and vigilance, it shrivelled and he could do nothing but to bury it back in the ground. Drawing parallel to his life, he realised that similarly, there are a lot of relationships he hadn't been able to nurture to their fullest potentials. And, sadly, like that shrivelled plant, he felt sorry that it was too late to do anything to save those relationships. As such, Mandela received a bunch of heart-wrecking news of death of his loved ones including his mother and the oldest son, while he was in jail.
Mandela always stayed determined towards his goals and passed his difficult times nourishing the plants that gave him a sense of satisfaction and optimism. Mandela wouldn't mind supplying much of his harvests to the jail authorities. He would relish a flavour of freedom in possessing the custody of a small patch on the earth. In a nutshell, despite being confined to the jail for 27 long years, Mandela did not let pessimism and anguish take any place in his being. Through gardening and deep contemplation over its subtle messages, he made his life an inspiration for the world. Proof? History registered the unforgettable moments when thousands of people gathered on roads and celebrated the freedom of their leader after he walked out from the prison spending more than 27 years of imprisonment.
Prison Of Knowledge
Those were the initial days of the two life terms of 25 years totalling to 50 years, imposed on Veer Savarkar, an Indian independence activist, for his ties with the Indian revolutionaries in 1910. The planning began to overcome the fears of futility and loneliness. The feeling of paying the debt of his motherland was growing in intensity with every passing moment. In such times of confinement, he chose to compose epics for the people of his nation. Unfortunately, poor Savarkar wasn't permitted even the end of a pencil or a bit of paper. But what can stop a soul with a tough spine! So, he planned to inscribe around 10 verses daily on the sheets of his mind to form a really long epic by the end of his confinement period. And the schedule was– he first finished off the jail's daily labour. Then, he confined himself to the dark, silent cell for hours. There he first deeply revised the previous verses, and then added on the new ones, following which he meditated and contemplated. Of course, it was not an easy j o u r n e y. A m i d s t s e v e r e a d v e r s i t i e s a n d punishments, he suffered gloomy nights of grief, anxiety, reckless thoughts, and intolerable mind. But, then, a hope of victory through the path of sorrows would pacify his unstable state every time. In this way, he composed poems titled Kamala, Saptarshi, Mahasagara, etc.
During his Andaman imprisonment term, when he had access to other prisoners, he decided to fulfil a part of his service to the nation by educating other political prisoners. So, he started the jail classes. He would secretly teach them about politics, history and economy, as exchange of words was prohibited and if found doing so, the guilty had to face severe punishments. They weren't permitted to write; so, in order to make notes for his pupils, Savarkar had secretly hidden a sharp bolt in his cell. Using the white-washed walls as the paper, he had inscribed entire books in the form of notes on the prison walls. Whenever they were shifted to other cells, different set of prisoners would get the opportunity to learn and revise them. Within a year, almost every wall got inscribed with words. After every year, when the prison walls were white-washed, Savarkar would get fresh spaces for the notes.
Once an officer questioned Savarkar that why he was unnecessary wasting energy in educating others. In reply, Savarkar presented him with the statistics that within the prison, 80% of prisoners were educated and out of those, 90% had learnt to read and write after entering the jail. In order to prove it wrong, the officer decided to pay a secret visit in jail on Sunday morning. To his surprise, as he proceeded cell by cell, he could see each one of them either absorbed in learning or reciting national songs. He then expressed about the contrasting picture that he witnessed. He said that he is the oldest officer employed in the prison. And, that, he remembers the scenario of the jail 10 years ago. When he passed by the cells on Sunday morning, he would witness prisoners involved in gambling, quarrelling, playing dice, or just dozing off.
By the end of his jail term, Savarkar could proudly announce that at least 40% of the prisoners were more than capable of exercising their voting rights and participating in electorates for legislative council. This was the case when voting was a practice limited to only elite and educated classes.
Strings of Hope
Viktor Frankl, a renowned Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist is also the founder of Logotherapy that states the principles of searching a meaning to life. He is also the writer of a best-seller Man's Search for Meaning. But the path meant for the psychiatrist to taste success wasn't a bed of roses as he was born in a Jewish family. In 1940s, when Nazis were on a mission to create a Jew-free land, Viktor and his family were also deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Soon, he got separated from his family by being transported to another malesonly camp. And the series of torture began. He was soon forced to give up all his valuables including clothes. At that time, he readily gave up all his possessions except his two life-long pieces of hardwork i.e. logotherapy and his hard-earned climbing experience guide in the form of manuscripts. But when he realised the threat of being electrified, he left them with a heavy heart. They weren't just pieces of papers but his entire life; they were his legacy that he had thrown away that day. He had now nothing left to live for.
But the same evening, he caught hold of a piece of paper inscribed with the prayer his father sang when he was a child, “Hear, O Israel, …the Lord, our God, the Lord is one God; and you shall love your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” He kept this piece of paper with him until he was set free. Every passing moment would bring nothing less than the feeling of hell. Despite their broken spines from the strenuous labour, howling stomachs from hunger, and leaning built, they forced themselves to look physically fit or else prepared themselves to be gassed to death. A number of times Viktor, unknowingly, found himself standing in the line of people getting deported to death; but somehow he got saved. By then, he had understood the formula for surviving in the camp atmosphere. More than the physical built, it was the person's inner strength that provided hope to transform the horrible experiences into an opportunity for one's growth. He soon determined the goals of his remaining life after he was liberated. Besides hoping to re-unite with his family, he decided that he will enrich the world with the legacy of Logotherapy principles.
When he was transported to another camp, he soon got contracted with deadly Typhus fever, which meant suffering from delirium and soon death. Being a doctor, the only treatment he could apply at that time was to avoid sleeping to keep delirium away. He soon got hold of some paper scraps, at the back of which he started writing his destroyed manuscripts on Logotherapy again. This kept him and his hopes alive. When he was finally liberated after 3 years of torture, he had regenerated a major part of his Logotherapy. But again, a big blow hit him deep, when he discovered that none of his family members were alive. He was on the verge of committing suicide when he realised that even after uncountable face-offs with death, he is alive; which implies that there is a special purpose that destiny holds for him. It was then that he gave the world of neuroscience the treasure of Logotherapy.
All the above incidents and many more recorded in the pages of history exemplify how loneliness can be turned into a period of growth and preparation. Today, in the times of lockdown, if we also try to re-orient the definition of our loneliness into an opportunity for learning, self-development, and inner growth, then our names too will be bracketed with the above personalities. Well, the sure-shot way to attain this is 'practical spirituality', which offers an individual the direct realisation of the Self– which is the powerhouse of positivity, strength, and enthusiasm.