What is the greatest personal challenge people are facing?
In my view LONELINESS is the greatest problem facing humanity right now.
Definition as per Loneliness | psychology – Loneliness, distressing experience that occurs when a person’s social relationships are perceived by that person to be less in quantity, and especially in quality, than desired. The experience of loneliness is highly subjective; an individual can be alone without feeling lonely and can feel lonely even when with other people. Psychologists generally consider loneliness to be a stable trait, meaning that individuals have different set-points for feeling loneliness, and they fluctuate around these set-points depending on the circumstances in their lives. Individuals’ levels of loneliness typically remain more or less constant during adulthood until 75 to 80 years of age, when they increase somewhat. Prolonged loneliness is associated with depression, poor social support, neuroticism, and introversion. Studies have shown that loneliness puts people at risk for physical disease and that it may contribute to a shortened life span.
About 45 years back when i was growing up, my grandparents and the extended family of uncles, aunts and cousins along with siblings made up for a great family unit. It bought a lot of security along with support to my parents in raising us up. There were no old age homes as grandparents held a place of pride and respect in the family.
This was the case with all the families in my neighbourhood.
In the evening we all played cricket in the nearby municipal park or played hide and seek in and around the colony where we lived. In the summers we all went for swimming at the local municipal pool. It was a jovial and happening place full of life.
Some families in the neighbourhood, were upper middle class, most middle class, some lower middle class. There were also a few wealthy families and a few who were going through a rough time but there was the family insurance (extended family).
That was the Delhi i grew up in. A close knit mostly middle class traditional society in which every one knew everyone. I was lucky.
Then I left for the West and lived there for 20 years.
I noticed how in the West the individual mattered more than the family or society. There was no concept of the head of the family – everyone was the head. There were surely some plus points in the Western society(cleanliness, punctuality, less drama) but i noticed how there were a lot of people who were lonely, despite being very wealthy. In fact i noticed how the wealthy (my colleagues) were mostly lonely people as their children had grown up and left the family home, there was no culture of grandparents staying and it was a society in which even in apartments neighbours seldom know one another. Also one needed to call (even their parents) and take an appointment prior to visiting and you could not be late.
A lot of the people i knew and even whom i did not know ( as i was always doing astrology on the side and many people confided in me) told me how they were taking medicines for anxiety or depression or even pain killers just so that they can get a good night’s sleep and when i asked if they have someone to take care of them they said yes, the government!
As i was also volunteering as a driver of sick people by taking them to their medical appointments, i came to know the same was the case with people who were living below the official poverty line and hence on social assistance. They were all financially taken care off by the state (food, health and shelter) but were immensely lonely. Infact for a lot of people going to their doctor was the only means of a social outing.
The human element had been lost amongst the medicines and the loneliness.
I felt very sad and it was a hopeless situation and i remember i once told one of my senior colleagues who was an excellent engineer with 30 years of experience, wealthy, divorced and whose only son was a practicing medical doctor but in a different city – that how “behind his smart looking jeans there was a lot of pain and suffering hidden”. He used to just smile and say“No kidding”.
Loneliness fuelled prescription medication overdose deaths has reached such uncontrolled levels in several parts of the world that governments have been forced to legalize marijuana so that people can be weaned off strong opioids or narcotics. It has become an out of control epidemic.
Fast forward and after 2 decades and I was back in India but on my spiritual journey (this being the last quarter phase of my life as per Hinduism called Sanyas.
But by now India had also changed. Now its major cities were aping the lifestyle of the West, i visited the area where i had grown up and it was unrecognizable. The streets that used to be filled on a winter afternoon by the elders sewing sweaters outside their homes and chatting and children playing together were gone. There was silence and no one was there. All the doors of the houses were closed and i could not even make out if there was someone living or not.
I found it eerie.
Then I bumped into one of my long lost childhood friends and after exchanging pleasantries i asked him how come on a winter Sunday afternoon the neighborhood wore a deserted look. He told me that everything had changed.
The price of property has skyrocketed in the past 20 years and all of them had now become very rich. Grandparents did not live with the family any more, as now there are senior residences. The children (he had grown up children by now) had also left for different cities or some other place in the same city to be close to work and now no one had time for one another. Even marriages were no longer arranged and most kids choose their own life partner and that there were many divorces amongst the new generation as “marriage had become a joke’’.
Plus with the advent on internet and gaming the kids were mostly at home no longer came out to play as they were busy in front of their television screens or cell phones. Playing was now an organized activity for children and they all had a coach! Wow we had left even America behind!
I also realized that my friend actually knew more about the West than me as he had visited may Western counties as a tourist and he said even if he had not, on the internet all information was available.
He told me “Ýou know the Westerners are coming to India and learning our culture and social ways to bring stability to their lives but we the people of this country are blindly aping the West ruining ours”.
He further said that “foreigners do not come here to see our modern buildings, they have had enough of that, they come here for our ancient culture, about which we ourselves have no idea”.
He called me inside his house and i noticed that he was living alone in that massive house,surrounded by an army of servants for company.
He called me by my childhood name and tears started rolling down his eyes – he told he that he was talking his heart out after ages as ‘’life had become complex’’ and like the olden days one can no longer express themselves openly and that he was very lonely and also taking anti depression meds.
I asked him what was his fear of talking openly? He told me that as he was a wealthy person he was scared that people were after his money and were looking for reasons to drag him into some legal issue and extract money ! He said legal notices have become the norm now – both on professional and even personal level. I just could not believe what he was saying and was confused about his mental state – though he look fine physically.
I asked him about our other friends from the locality and he said ‘’the ones who were educated (like you) left for overseas long back and the ones who were not good in their studies were doing their own business and many of them were property brokers and had made a lot of money and had lost their mind”.
It sounded to me that prosperity came at a heavy price (the same as in the West).
At the core he seemed very lonely as my other friend in the West.
I then realized that the loneliness epidemic of the West had reached the Indian shores as well.
But thanks to my great Devi Ma and Gurudev, I am still insulated from this loneliness epidemic due to my total surrender at the feet my Devi Maa and Gurudev.