transpersonal living thinking and living beyond the self

Liberation Through Loneliness

By Jessica Thomas

Who am I? What is the essence of life? Where do I come from? What is life’s greatest architect? What does humankind ultimately experience?

Throughout history societies and individuals have confronted these existential questions, attempting to answer them through many different belief systems and schools of thought. Indeed, facing such questions has imbued our culture with meaning and helped individuals find purpose. We have constructed reality around these values and beliefs.

Until one grasps existential themes such as death, loneliness, choice, responsibility and freedom, one cannot move forward in authenticity. The existential philosopher, Sartre, suggested that the individual always chooses with full awareness, that nothing determines our choices for us. Within this freedom of choice lies the subjective nature of truth (Odesanmi, 2008). Seen in this light, loneliness can be a necessary condition for growth and a process which reveals our individuality.

According to Existentialism, we are free within. We create value by affirming worth. Because value is inner and the inner is each person’s own, we are not bound by the objective world (Sire, 2009). Sartre wrote, “At first he is nothing. Only afterwards will he be something, and he himself will have made him what he will be.”

Existentialism comes from the perspective that humans are completely free and through this freedom we create meaning, make choices and take responsibility for our own actions. Sartre also suggested that the consciousness of freedom can be painful and that we most often try to avoid it through self deception (Odesanmi, 2008). In such cases, the ego remains in control of one’s consciousness in order to protect the self, thus causing deception and complacency.

To avoid freedom and subjective truth is to choose to live in the confines of social convention and attachments. The confrontation with self, on the other hand, is a way of being in the world and becoming aware of impermanence, also known as existential loneliness. According to ancient Indian culture, this confrontation with self can manifest freedom and liberation from defensive automatisms, creating self-determined thoughts, feelings and actions (Kuppuswamy, 1993).

However confronting the self is not a process free of anguish, anxiety or disappointment. Rather, it is a compilation of all human sorrow paired with self determination and fear. When we meet such anxiety constructively, we can accept it as a life stimulant, an integral part of growth and creative expression (Taylor, 1999).  The self is something that evolves and grows, achieved through the building up of pain and labor (Kuppuswamy, 1993). Human sorrow is an emotion that can reflect a person’s internal process. In most cases it surfaces through disharmony and lack of meaning in ones existence. Existential loneliness is, therefore, the antecedent in the search for harmony. Sorrow provokes a sense of self-determination that fuels a drive toward the desire to overcome.

Sorrow and self-determination can transpire through a plethora of social nuances. For instance, the Sudic Ideal, an Afrocentric idea, emphasizes harmony. To become human one must seek harmony in the midst of others, while understanding that one does not go outside the self for external powers. Rather, the powers adhere within the self as an extension of those who have gone before (Asante, 1984). In the context of the Sudic Ideal, the quest for harmony is an internal journey accompanied by the external world. Such a mode of understanding does not undermine the human experience, but considers it in relation with the human experience. Herein lies the personal and transpersonal nature of self, both as “I” and “Thou.”

The adversity of oppression, immigration and dislocation from indigenous roots can lead to feelings of isolation and fractured identity (Comas-Diaz, 2012). This disconnection breeds what many call “soul wounds,” the repercussion of cultural trauma and alienation that have taken place over generations: slavery, genocide, colonization, internalized oppression and war. Cultural dissonance creates more complexity by aggravating soul wounds, further challenging the healing process.

Ethnic minorities can become distressed with their identity and question their reality. Some are able to unite through their cultural oppression to collectively help one another deepen the existential sense of meaning and purpose in life (Comas-Diaz, 2012). Cultural distress creates inner turmoil, also understood as existential loneliness, putting into motion a journey toward meaning and purpose in the individual’s life, as well as in the culture as a whole. Colored spirituality aims at promoting social justice, liberation and solidarity through the understanding of a collective healing process summed up in the slogan, “Liberate yourself by liberating others” (Comas-Diaz, 2012).

Liberation is a process that can appear different in different cultures. Existential loneliness, on the other hand, is an implicit way of being and perceiving that stretches beyond the context of culture; it is a human condition. This deep-seated sense of loneliness can be provoked through both internal and external forces such as war, oppression, grief, humility and sometimes for unknown reasons. And yet confronting loneliness is necessary for both growth in individuals and the progression of human life. It precedes liberation and guides one toward an authentic existence. Existential loneliness can be understood as a right of passage toward harmony and liberation.

The pursuit of personal meaning through the state of existential loneliness leads to the formation of an increasingly well-integrated, creative personality, one which is more and more effective in the world (Firman & Vargiu, 1996). In the words of Chardin:  “It is impossible to ascend to a fundamentally new environment without experiencing the inner terrors of a metamorphosis. The child is terrified when it opens its eyes for the first time. Similarly, for our mind to adjust to lines and horizons enlarged beyond measure, it must renounce the comfort and narrowness. It must create a new equilibrium for everything that had formerly been so neatly arranged in its small inner world (Chardin, 1959, p 226).

Chardin’s description of the infant’s experience entering the world is parallel to the psycho-spiritual development process. No matter what age or race, feelings of terror entrench the human heart when we are forced to open our eyes to a new way of being and perceiving the world. It is simply the human condition.



Asante, M. K. (1984). The African American Mode of Transcendence. The Journal of     Transpersonal Psychology, 167-177.

Chardin, P. T. (1959). The phenomenon of man. London: Collins Sons & Co.

Comas-Diaz, L. (2012). Colored Spirituality: The centrality of spirit among ethnic minorities. In L. J. Miller, The oxford handbook of psychology and spirituality (pp. 197-206). New York: Oxford University Press.

Firman, J., & Vargiu, J. G. (1996). Personal and transpersonal growth. In B. Seymour, Transpersonal Psychology (pp. 117-142). Albany: State University of New York Press.

Kuppuswamy, B. (1993). Source book of Ancient Indian Psychology. Delhi: Konark

Odesanmi, A. C. (2010). Jean Paul Sartre and the concept of determinism. Global Journal of Humanities, 7(1 & 2), 85-89.

Sire, J. W. (2009). The universe next door: A basic worldview catalog. InterVarsity Press.

Taylor, E. (1999). Shadow culture: Psychology and spirituality in America. Counterpoint LLC.





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