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Who Are You? Why Are You Here? What Gives Your Life Meaning?

All my life I have instinctively turned to animals and nature for meaning and comfort – more than to people. I now think this is because I feel like animals have a comfort with solitude, with being with themselves, that most people lack. It is a lesson I dearly want to learn!

According to one of my all-time favorite mentors, Don Miguel Ruiz, there are three simple questions that can start a revolution inside of us.

While “revolution” might not sound like a particularly good or safe thing – and probably not a convenient one either – Ruiz says that revolution is how we decide what kind of leader we will be to ourselves.

Ruiz’s three questions sound just a bit different than mine, but I suspect the underlying spirit is the same. He asks, “Who are you? What is real? What is love?”

For so many years in my meditation tradition, I have been taught to ask myself, “Who am I? Why am I here? What gives my life meaning?”

So – not so very different, I think.

Recently a sweet heart-friend sent me a fabulous article about dealing with loneliness. This is timely because, for the first time in my life, I have been attempting to actually deal with my feelings of loneliness. 

In other words, I haven’t tried to drown them in wine, distract them in other relationships, bury them under a long to-do list, delay them for the sake of rent-earning work, forget all about them in a new creative project, sniffle and sneeze them away in a rogue illness or some other creative method of misdirection.

Nope. I’ve simply been sitting with them. The lonely feelings will come, and I will come to join them, and then we will sit there together.

And then we will both watch and witness all the other thoughts and feelings that also show up to join us. Some thoughts will arrive to suggest “lonely” is all I will ever be or ever have, and loneliness and I will respectfully receive those thoughts, witness them, sit there with them.

Other thoughts will show up to let me know there is something horribly wrong with me, offering as proof the fact that in my 48 years and counting, I have felt lonely more often than I have felt not-lonely. Loneliness and I will respectfully welcome these thoughts also and sit companionably with them for a time.

Then feelings will come – uncomfortable feelings – like rage and sadness and hopelessness and smallness and meaninglessness – and loneliness and I will keep them company for however long they feel like staying.

As I read through the article about dealing with loneliness, I learned that it is common to try to avoid ever feeling lonely. It is apparently quite normal to use all of the forms of misdirection that have worked so well for me to downplay loneliness in the interests of productivity and people and all sorts of other very practical sounding things.

The article talks about how this strategy can work for awhile, but eventually the loneliness comes back. It comes back because it has important questions, questions about our life and its purpose and meaning and value and what gives life its purpose and meaning and value.

It was this part of the article I found particularly intriguing and insightful. The writer suggests we crave the company of others – over and above our own company – because we want someone there to witness our life, us living our life, how our story unfolds. Without the presence of that witness, we may wonder if our life holds any value or meaning or even if it is happening at all!

To me, this is profound. I have had these thoughts now and again over the years – that, if it is just me here, without a partner, without a significant other, does me being here even matter? What if no one but me ever knows I am here? What if no one but me ever cares if I was here at all? Without a witness to me and my life, how can I know I made a difference, helped, had an impact, mattered?

These are the questions my personal loneliness wants to discuss with me. My loneliness is quite persistent, because its questions are quite persistent, and it really doesn’t want to be alone while it tries to answer them.

I finally get it. I don’t want to be alone while I wrestle with these questions either. And I don’t want to walk around my whole life with this little creepy lonely ghost tailing me, lurking inexpertly as it follows me to the grocery store and coffee with a friend and the thrift shop and the local park.

If it is going to tiptoe around after me the rest of my life, we might as well be introduced. We might as well get to know one another, maybe even carpool when it makes sense.

So I’ve been sitting with my loneliness. In the wake of the major separation that occurred this past November, I’ve really been slowing things down, separating out what is me missing him, grieving the lost dreams and changed future, and what is me simply fearing that without the comfortable presence of his witness, I have ceased to matter, to exist.

Something occurred to me this morning as loneliness and I settled in for another morning confab. I am here. I am a witness. I know I am here. I know my life is happening. I know it – my life – matters to me. I can be my own witness. I can be the lonely person, the loneliness itself, and the silent witness who logs the incident in our life-journal. “Day 17,520. Felt lonely.”

I can do this for myself. I can do it today and I can do it every day until there are no more days.  Even if I never move past “felt lonely” to “didn’t feel lonely” or “felt alone and okay,” I can at the very least meet my own persistent need for a witness, for some pair of eyes to notice….me….here. I am here. I was here.

This makes me feel relieved. I am relieved because now I don’t have to behave in unloving ways towards my former partner or anyone else, using them because I need or think I need a witness, instead of simply welcoming them and their presence because of their unique wonderful selves.

I don’t have to pursue accomplishment or acclaim for the same purposes, because I can notice. I can write it down in my life log. I can even compete against myself for “best of” if that is what the day requires to motivate me to reach, to aspire, rather than to just sustain.

I can busy myself with witnessing rather than continually re-inventing or adding to my personal story, told more for the purposes of entertaining others than for any personal edification of self. I can drop the need to impress, to embellish or to play to a particular audience when I answer simple questions from others like what I do for work, where I live or who I am.

With my witness set and in place, I can also welcome loneliness when it comes without any kind of knee-jerk reaction of dread or self-judging or outright refusal. We can sit together, companionable and as friendly as can be reasonably expected, witnessing one another without ulterior motives.

This feels better. Lonely happens. Or at least it does in my life. I can look back into my past and see many moments of feeling lonely, and from this history I can extrapolate that there are likely to be many moments of feeling lonely in my future also. So now seems a good time to begin actually exploring our three questions together – Who am I? Why am I here? What gives my life meaning?

Today’s Takeaway: Do you have your own set of questions that you ponder on an ongoing basis as inspiration strikes? How is your relationship with loneliness? Do you aspire to eradicate lonely feelings, or transform them, or welcome them? What do you think helps most to achieve these goals?

Who Are You? Why Are You Here? What Gives Your Life Meaning?

Shannon Cutts

Freelance writer. Author. Cockatiel, redfoot tortoise & box turtle mama.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2019). Who Are You? Why Are You Here? What Gives Your Life Meaning?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Jan 2019
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