How can you make friends with loneliness?
~ and why would you?!
My friend who suggested these articles described loneliness as “an open wound. It hurts, and feels like it won’t ever heal.” Mother Theresa says “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.“ Not isolated cases – Thich Nhat Hanh describes how “Loneliness is one of the afflictions of modern life… it is universal in our society.“
But, she says, “scrambling for security has never brought us anything but momentary joy.” It just provides us with changing suffering – the brief release we get from uncomfortable feelings, when we change the situation to a more comfortable one ~ before the discomfort still slides back in. (nb.’changing suffering’ is Geshe Kelsang’s phrase, not Pema’s)
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Rest with the uncomfortable feelings
After all, as Kadampa Buddhism reminds us, we’re born alone, die alone, and spend most of our life that way. So it makes sense to befriend loneliness. And this is what Vajrayana is brilliant at, transforming negative energies into something much better.
If we’re brave enough to sit alone with our own mind, we can achieve real peace. This doesn’t have to take years in solitary retreat, either. Just being aware which thoughts make you feel lonely, watching the feelings as they arise – not being swamped by them – but recognising them for what they are, and working with them, can bring immediate relief.
This process really does take the sting out of any lonely feelings we might have, and is a necessary, heartbreaking, often joyful part of the spiritual path.
nb. The “not being swamped by negative minds” is an important point. If we feel more miserable than when we started, that’s defeating the point of meditation, which is to pacify our mind.
We have to be alert for negative minds, and take swift action to defeat them. This can be anything from a simple breathing meditation, which calms the mind; or any other object of meditation we find helpful.
Sometimes though, it’s best just to get up and make a cup of tea. (Alcohol isn’t best BTW, it’s a depressant. Sure it dulls the sharp edges at the time, but it makes us feel worse afterwards. And it makes our situation harder to cope with.)
Go out for a walk instead.
Really, be kind to yourself.
Return to your meditation with a lighter mind, it’ll go better.
¸ . • ☽ * ¨ If you’re one of those folk who got here because you googled “lonely”, take heart, you are not alone. Please comment below if you want, and we can share some thoughts.
Ref: Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart (Shambhala Buddhist lineage)
I do like what Tich Nhat Hanh says as well. “To live alone is to live in mindfulness, free from worries about the past and future. We enjoy life as we live it right now. His is a more Zen approach. His book, ‘A Better Way to Live Alone’ looks at this.