What to do when we feel alone

6 mins read

lonelinessLoneliness doesn’t just crop up in romances – it crops up in every relationship or thwarted relationship where there is self-grasping and attachment.

Carrying on from this article.

How did you get interested in Buddhism and/or meditation (at least enough to be reading this blog?) I like asking people this question, for they often have very interesting stories to tell. And I find that people often find their way to Buddhism in the wake of a loss or tragedy, recognizing that it answers some profound questions about suffering.

Existential loss/grief

In Buddha’s time, there was a young woman called Kisigotami who lost her baby and was devastated by grief. Buddha helped by showing her the universality of this suffering. GampopaYou can read the story in Joyful Path of Good Fortune, or a shortened version here.

There is also the inspiring story (told in Universal Compassion) of the Tibetan man Gampopa, who tragically lost his wife but found his way into Dharma, becoming a highly realized lay Master.

We lose every single one of our loved ones to death sooner or later – if we don’t die first. Is there a remedy for this unbearable grief? Perhaps, yes, if we realize we can do something about mental pain by changing our way of thinking and by realizing that we are not ever actually alone.

We have a saying in Buddhism, “Suffering has good qualities.” It is not inherently bad. We can gain the deepest spiritual realizations and strength at the very times when things are the most broken down, eg, when we are bereaved or after a big break-up. Buddha was kind enough to show how even this agonizing heartache doesn’t have to be bad for us; and it’s worth acquiring some of this understanding before tragedy strikes again!

sufferingWe live and die alone – this is a characteristic of samsara because we’re all isolated by our delusions. But enlightenment is union, one iconic image being Buddha Heruka in embrace with Buddha Vajrayogini, the embodiment of the union of great bliss and emptiness. In samsara, we experience ourselves in a state of isolation. In a Pure Land, we experience ourselves in a state of communion. Why? Because samsara is created by delusion whereas the Pure Land is reality.

Shine the sun of wisdom and love

If you like, here is a short but sweet meditation based on some of the previous loneliness articles that you can do before moving onto the rest of this article …

We can start with a feeling of inner confidence and space by getting into our heart and identifying with our infinite-sky-like Buddha nature

Then we can revisit our determination to decrease our ignorance and attachment because these simply don’t work as a strategy for overcoming loneliness. We can bring examples in our own experience to mind, and remember that these are just unhelpful habitual thoughts – we don’t have to identify with these thoughts (we are not them), we don’t have to think them, we can in fact just let them go. These delusions take form as thick dark clouds, and we breathe them far out through our nostrils, letting them disappear forever.

clear light of blissWe can spend a few moments considering how we need to climb down the mountain of self and up the mountain of other.

Then we can feel the wisdom, non-attachment, and love of all holy beings around us in the form of clear light, the most beautiful light we can imagine, and breathe this in deeply through our nostrils. We can ride the light rays of wisdom and love into our heart, where they mix with the inner light of our Buddha nature.

We can focus on the radiance in our heart, like a sun shining inside. We can feel, “This is more like it! This is who I really am. I have everything and everyone I need.”

We can let its rays spread to the people around us, in our lives, taking away their loneliness and filling them with bliss. We can let this love spread as far as we like, even to pervade anyone who ever experiences loneliness, placing them in a deep feeling of communion and bliss.

Then we can make a plan to bring this love in our heart into our day, letting it be in the background of all our thoughts, and making an effort to give comfort to all the lonely people in our lives.

All the lonely people, where do they all come from

To overcome loneliness we all need to move away from our sense of being a real, solid, isolated self. When our mind is full of love, as in the meditation we just did (if you did it), we can see for ourselves that we are neither isolated nor more important than anyone else. This sense of self is only held by the thoughts of our ignorance of self-grasping and self-cherishing. Our version of our self is not ultimately true – if we look for it in our body or mind it disappears, like chasing a mirage.

all the lonely peopleBut because it feels limited, we set ourself up in neediness – we need someone to make us better, complete us, validate us, etc, and so we feel lonely because others cannot or will not fill that void. Whatever people say to comfort us, we still feel pathetic. We look for qualities in others that we feel we are missing, such as confidence, when it’d be far better to develop these qualities in ourselves. We cover up our weaknesses and try to hide behind others’ strengths.

We find it difficult to receive love because we are holding ourselves to be inherently unlovable, even though that version of ourself doesn’t actually exist.

Existence is relationship

When we are on “this mountain”, it feels absolutely this mountain, appears as such even to our eye awareness. But when we climb up “that mountain,” it also now appears to be this mountain from its own side and we believe that appearance. In which case, what happened?! Who switched around those real mountains?!

Self and other too are just objects of our thoughts or perceptions, incapable of existing on their own. They have no existence from their own side but totally depend one upon the other – what is this mountain without that mountain, or self without other?

other side exchanging self with othersOr in the similar case of left and right – what would be a world of lefts? Or one side of the coin without the other?

(By the way, when we use the word “dependent” we don’t mean it in a needy way – more like interdependent, dependent arising, dependent relationship.)

In universal love we never feel separated from anyone – we realize that we exist only in relationship, as relationship, with all living beings – part of a totality. In emptiness, too, there is no gap between ourselves and others because we are empty of existing from our own sides. Everyone is mere appearance of our mind, as we are of theirs – so how can we ever be separate from anyone? We cannot be.

With a perfect realization of love and wisdom, completely in tune with the way things are, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are therefore entirely blissful and whole. They need no one but love everyone. We can be like this too.

More in the next and final article on overcoming loneliness – hopefully it’ll take less than the four years it took me to get around to this one!

Over to you … please comment in the box below and I’ll try to answer.

Related articles

Why do I have no friends?

Love without pain 

Other loneliness articles 

Thinking big

This is the fifth in a series of articles on overcoming discouragement.

It can be hard to dig ourselves out of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves with discouragement and despondency, and to identify with our pure potential or Buddha nature; and this can be where enlightened beings come in very handy!

So you can try this if you like – maybe just do it and worry about how or if it works later.

Get help

Buddha kindWe ask for help from enlightened beings, and then believe we’re receiving it. (Helping us is the main part of their job description.) Seeking help has worked for generation after generation of greatly realized Yogis and masters, as well as beginners, and so it is highly likely to work for us. The scriptures describe the most seemingly desperate lost causes (I’m betting far worse than you), who went on to attain high spiritual realizations by relying upon blessings – Lam Chung (the “stupidest man alive” at the time) and Angulimala (the “angriest man alive”, who made a necklace out of a thousand severed thumbs from his murder victims). Asking for help also helped  Kisigotami (who was overwhelmed by grief when she lost her newborn child) and Gampopa (who lost his beloved wife), both of whom went on to become powerful, happy practitioners. And this is just the tip of the iceberg — countless people past and present have gained peace and mental freedom this way.

Meditating backwards

I like to meditate backwards – starting with where I intend to end up, ie, enlightened, and then sort of working my way back to the beginning. I start my day by tapping into an infinite source of power, confidence, freedom, bliss, and love. The following is an example of the kind of thing I do.

Start off well

I start with a few minutes just sitting, feeling happy, and if necessary doing some relaxing and breathing meditation, ending up with a feeling of peace at my heart. In Great Treasury of Merit (see pages 46-47 for more detail), my teacher explains:

“At the very beginning we should make sure that our mind is calm, peaceful, and free from conceptual distractions.”

He explains that we begin a meditation by examining our mind to see if it is peaceful or not, and if it is not we can breathe out our impure minds (and energy winds) in the form of dark smoke and breathe in blessings in the form of pure light until:

“our mind is completely pacified of all conceptual distractions and has become pure, happy, and single-pointed.”

This is the mind to meditate with, not an agitated, uptight mind.

Interestingly enough, at the beginning of that section Geshe Kelsang says:

Sometimes the mere act of examining the mind, if it is done conscientiously, will pacify our distractions.

Even just turning into the mind (without doing breathing meditation) helps us experience its essentially peaceful nature because we are not following the distractions. Turning to the sky instead of the clouds, as it were.

I like tuning into a peaceful mind in other ways, for example as explained in this article I wrote for a friend.

Buddha nature

This peace, however slight or relative, is part of my Buddha nature–an indication of the limitless peace I am capable of, my enlightened potential. As such, I can already recognize it as part of Buddha’s own enlightened mind, the same nature, and in this way tap straight into blessings. I can identify with it by thinking, “This is me, and I’m only mistaken appearances away from being a Buddha.” Nothing exists from its own side, everything is like a dream, so I dissolve all unpleasant thoughts and their objects, including the sense of a limited self, including the past and the future, away into emptiness. Why not? I don’t have to hold onto this stuff, it is not even there.

Meditate with everyone around ~ living beings and Buddhas

Bodhisattvas and trainee Bodhisattvas never meditate alone. Even when they’re in a remote cave in the middle of nowhere developing the perfect single-pointed concentration of tranquil abiding, they imagine being surrounded by all living beings. Your family, friends, pet parrot, etc, can be sitting closest to you, but there is nobody left out. We can forget about ourselves for a while by feeling close to others out of love (start where you’re at) – this already dissipates the laziness and stuck feeling caused by over-preoccupation with ourselves.

Tara reflecting on usThen I think that Buddha is in front of me. He is not over there somewhere, but arising from my own pure mind mixed with Buddha’s blessings, and surrounded by any number of enlightened beings. (Actually, Buddhas are everywhere, so we can visualize them wherever we want to. We can visualize whichever holy being we feel closest to already, including in other traditions.) I feel close to them out of faith wishing to be like them — with a mind like a universal sun radiating love through all beings and a piercing wisdom that penetrates all objects of knowledge, for example. I feel their blessings flowing into me and mixing with my mind – if you like, you can imagine the blessings in the form of blissful lights. (If you happened to attend the Kadampa Brazilian Festival in 2010, you might remember that beautiful visualization Geshe Kelsang taught on receiving the four empowerments from Je Tsongkhapa – it works for me.) Whatever works.

Meditate in a pure space

I like to think that because we’re all in the presence of enlightened beings, we’re naturally in their Pure Land – a vast, expansive, empty, exquisitely beautiful space full of everything we could ever wish for and totally free from even the name “suffering”. This is in keeping with the two verses in Kadampa Buddhist preparatory prayers, “May the whole ground become completely pure…” and “May all of space be filled with offerings …”

I haven’t even started my meditation yet! Yet already my mind is lighter, more optimistic, and more blessed. And it doesn’t have to take all that long, maybe a few minutes, depending on how much time I have or how much I’m enjoying myself already.

Now, in this “safe” space, where I already have a glimpse of exits and hope, I check where I’m currently stuck, in a tight corner seeing no way out, with deluded tendencies that are taking me nowhere. (See the meditation on aspiration here.) I am specific about areas in my life where I want to become unstuck, asking myself things like, “What is the point of carrying on like this? Where is it actually going to get me? Do I really want to still be like this in 5 years’, 10 years’ time? Do I want to die like this?! Go into my next life with this hanging over me?! Do I not actually want a final glorious freedom from this attachment, this aversion, this pain?”

And I think, “I am not limited or fixed – other possibilities exist.” So we can identify our own faults, being as specific and practical as possible, eg, feeling useless, angry, helplessly attached, prideful, or stuck, but not identify with them. They are not objective facts, just thoughts or labels. We don’t need to go with them — we don’t believe everything we think, as the saying goes.

kid heroTantric thinking

Imagine, just imagine, that you are where you’d like to be right now – fearless, unstuck, enjoying everything and everyone, not full of the need of attachment but complete in yourself, kind, loving, blissful, free. If you know about Tantric practice, dissolve everything into bliss and emptiness and generate yourself anew as your personal Deity in your Pure Land, with everyone around you as pure. Suspend any disbelief, do some method acting – if Daniel Day Lewis can be Lincoln or  your neighbor’s kid believe she is Wonder Woman, you can be a Buddha or Bodhisattva! And enjoy it. Unlike ever becoming Wonder Woman, generating ourselves as a Buddha actually has its basis in truth, for we are never separated from our potential to be a Bodhisattva and a Buddha. It is so-called “correct imagination”. It is reality.

Tantric thinking can be done by anyone. We possess great imaginations, and indeed our whole world lacks existence from its own side and arises from imagination; so we can harness this creativity now for the good, change our dream, while we still have the opportunity to control the direction of our life.

(If you are up for it and have received Tantric empowerments, read the ten benefits of relying upon Buddha Vajrayogini in Guide to Dakini Land to see what you are REALLY capable of and how quickly you can change.)

One major cause of the laziness of discouragement is “There’s nobody who has made it, I can’t see any examples, so how am I supposed to make it?!” We project our own lack of progress onto others. When we lift our sights in the way described, we naturally become more confident that there are people with these results all around us – everything is a reflection of our minds. People are no more inherently limited or suffering than we are. Look for faults and we’ll find them. Look for loveability and potential and we’ll find that. This applies to us and everyone around us.

If I’m doing prayers and I’m on my own, I confess that I might do them once I’ve done all this – then they’re really very powerful and simply an expression of what is going on. Of course, they are normally used as preliminaries to meditation, and I can do that too.

To get out of the long-playing loop of negative, myopic thinking, I think we need this kind of alternate perspective.

More later. Meanwhile, your feedback on how you overcome discouragement is most welcome and helpful.