Make Friends with Loneliness (via Pema Chödrön)

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.

Doesn’t sound like something you’d want to hang around with. As Pema Chödrön says, “Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in.”
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)

¸   . •   ☽   *   ¨ 

Rest with the uncomfortable feelings

Pema suggests just resting with the uncomfortable feelings instead of trying to avoid them; beginning a “non-threatening relationship with loneliness”. We do this by sitting with the painful feelings, and changing our habitual responses to them. This transforms the pain into a much more manageable ‘cool loneliness’, which doesn’t hurt nearly so much.


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.
You’re important.
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)

tiny smilie fowie
See also:
to ‘lonely’ from Israel (and everywhere else) letter to my lonely visitors
Alone isn’t so Lonely
 – pt 1 of this lonely vs. alone series ~ why alone-time is cool.

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.

 

16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rafael
    Feb 14, 2012 @ 00:00:35

    What amazing poetry, thank you for this gift in the middle of turmoil of grief, protest, and trying to spread love in the world. marcia

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    • Baku Kadampa
      Feb 15, 2012 @ 19:09:30

      It is Buddha’s kindness that we have this and can give it to others.

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      • Bonnie
        Jun 18, 2012 @ 12:46:21

        Just work on you and at some point you’ll come out on the other side. You’ve got your babies to raise and I’m pretty sure that you’ll take care of that very nicely.
        Just work on you. Have a better day.

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        • Jas Baku
          Jun 30, 2012 @ 19:46:12

          Thank you for your kind words Bonnie.
          I actually wrote this for a friend who was asking me about Buddha’s advice for loneliness. There wasn’t anything specific in Geshe La’s books, so we focussed on Pema’s work instead, which gave some good advice.

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  2. Trackback: to ‘lonely’ from Israel (and everywhere else) « Cosmic Loti
  3. RaucousRabbit
    Sep 01, 2012 @ 18:35:46

    Pema Chodron is very inspiring! We were only saying in the cafe today how you are born alone and die alone, and spend most of the time in between alone, so yes, befriending lonliness makes sense, is it really quite so bad? I will look out for the book mentioned here: A better way to live alone. Thanks, good advice.

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    • Jas Baku
      Sep 03, 2012 @ 10:03:43

      Yes, I do find her teachings most applicable. In our society loneliness is somehow seen as a fault, as if we’re not doing something right if we’re lonely. But it’s a universal affliction, isn’t it.
      I can’t remember where that quote comes from – defo a valid Buddhist source – maybe one of the Old Kadampas? Loneliness is and always has been an inevitable part of life. So why not make it a stepping stone for our spiritual path?

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      • Liseth
        Nov 18, 2012 @ 23:28:36

        Thank you for dealing with the issue of lonineless and I agree with you , that our thought patterns lead us to be feeling either lonely or happy. I believe everyone deals with this problem.The root cause of lonineless is self condemnation.Instead of dealing with condemnation , I don’t think we can get over lonineless.We try to get over lonineless by treating the symptom , not the root cause.I tried to get over it by many ways but I got over condemnation only by one way (Romans 8:1,2 Corinthians 5:21) and believing it.

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        • Jas Baku
          Nov 19, 2012 @ 06:28:28

          Thanks Liseth, we so have to watch where our thoughts take us, don’t we. And you’re right, it is a universal problem. We are all alone from birth ’til death. The thing is wether we feel lonely or are happy to be alone.
          I hadn’t thought of associating it with self-condemnation before, but it seems a valid point. If there was more self acceptance, which would naturally result in an increased acceptance of others there would be less loneliness.

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  4. RaucousRabbit
    Sep 09, 2012 @ 17:08:47

    You’ve raised some good points here Jas. It is definately a Universal affliction, but yes, if you yourself are lonely, it is just assumed that you’re weird or failing somehow.

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    • Jas Baku
      Dec 03, 2012 @ 12:35:24

      That’s so true, and isn’t it so stupid? I reckon those who scorn the lonely are those who feel that gaping hole themselves, but aren’t brave enough to admit it. More fool them really, it’ll never be remedied that way. By shining a light on our lonely minds, we open them up for them to be healed.
      Anyway, thanks for the feedback, and I’m glad you liked the post.

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  5. Trackback: We have no past/we won’t reach back….. | Tallulah Bankhead
  6. stockdalewolfe
    Nov 23, 2013 @ 19:24:19

    Thanks so much for this post, Jas! Have read that book by Pema Chodron but forgot the most important thing she and you say that applies to loneliness but also to other suffering– to just sit with the discomfort. Instead of drama, just quiet. Glad to get this reminder.

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  7. Mark
    Sep 04, 2014 @ 14:53:39

    Humans are genetically predisposed to seek companionship in small groups – it is an evolutionary survival strategy. When we are separated from companionship we are also evolutionarily programmed to feel pain or distress because historically (think of our ancestors who for millions of years lived on the grasslands) a solitary human was in danger, so the pain or distress we feel from loneliness is a warning signal from millions of years of evolutionary selection. Yes?
    Some of the comments and opinions seem to come from ppl who have felt lonely but never really experienced actual isolation and solitude. I lived for six years with no family (I’m the only remaining survivor in my fam) no relatives, no friends (thousands of miles from home in a strange community) and no partner or companion, on an island isolated by and thru several severe winters. The distress and pain of that isolation was a deep wound from which there is no escape except to accept it as a fundamental fact of one’s life. The result was a deep journey into the grieving space. I do not recommend it to anyone! It has left me with scars as well as GREAT empathy and sympathy for anyone denied connection. Especially those poor souls (both human and animal) tortured by solitary confinement.

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    • Shanti Baku
      Dec 31, 2014 @ 07:56:51

      Yes, isolation and loneliness without a spiritual path can be devastating.
      We need more than what we can just get from a material existence, son’t we.

      With a spiritual view, isolation and loneliness can be enjoyable and / or valuable.
      I rejoice in your understanding and empathy.

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  8. Noah
    May 28, 2016 @ 05:24:06

    I grew up emotional neglected and i never seem to be able to connect with people. I feel so unloved. Im 27 and never have found a partner or a special friend I can bond with deeply. I have never been hugged by someone that i felt loved me. To me, close relationships feel like an unreachable goal. I hope to find peace in my perpetual state of lonliness. Enjoyed your article.

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