Does being lonely count the same as being in solitude?
Personally, (and I will speak based on my own experiential wisdom) I think being lonely is somehow unwanted; however, solitude is a necessary thing. To be lonely means to be emotionally distant, unreachable, and unavailable. To be in solitude, however, signals that an individual is not necessarily detached from his/her congenial surrounding, but chooses not to be disturbed. A person who lives a hermetic life, meditating and wandering deep in the mountains does not live a lonely life; rather he/she is content in the solitude that he/she chose to be in.
Having said this, I would also like to draw attention to yet another circumstantial instance where being lonely can be taken easily in its offset value. For example, take the case of mandatory quarantined self-isolation that we might be forced to be in due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Two months ago, in the second half of August, I traveled to my home (Nepal) from Delhi, India. As needed, for the first 14 days of my arrival, I stayed in home isolation. At times, I felt lonely and depressed (the anxiety heightened by the social stigma of being a traveler that came from a COVID hotspot- mind that I live in a third-world society). However, the loneliness was bearable not just because I had internet connectivity to occasionally chit-chat with my friends and family, but more importantly, because I KNEW I COULD GO BACK TO THE NORMALCY AFTER THOSE 14 DAYS OF QUARANTINE. I emphasized the last line because the tentative knowledge of the future and hence the associated hope (or the lack of it) makes all the difference when it comes to coping with loneliness.
To give another relatable example, I would like to speak about my 10 days of voluntary silence and detachment from the world at the Vipassana camp. There, I could not speak, interact or even make eye contact with any other human being for the ten long days, however, since I had signed up for the same, there was no negative value attached to the loneliness. I surely was in solitude, all by myself, but I was not lonely.
In this view, coping with loneliness becomes easier if we have the knowledge of how long the loneliness would last. To cite the stated instance of being alone in a spaceship presented in the session, what would make the loneliness bearable is determined by my hopes for the future. If I know that I would continue to be lonely for another few months, I might not be in that much distress; however, if I am uncertain how long the loneliness would continue, I would surely feel damned and hopeless. Hence, trying to be objective and finding a way to assess the probable length of the condition that we are in would be a key point in coping with loneliness.