from the column, What Would Sid Do? on beliefnet.com
How would Sid cope with loneliness?
Friday May 21, 2010
By Lodro Rinzler
Many people look to Siddhartha Gautama as an example of someone who attained nirvana, a buddha. Each week in this column we look at what it might be like if Siddhartha was on his spiritual journey today. How would he combine Buddhism and dating? How would he handle stress in the workplace? What would Sid do? is devoted to taking an honest look at what we as meditators face in the modern world.
Each week I'll take on a new question and give some advice based on what I think Sid, a fictional Siddartha, would do. Like us, Sid is not yet a buddha, he's just someone struggling to maintain an open heart on a spiritual path while facing numerous distractions along the way. Because let's face it, you and I are Sid.
How would Sid cope with loneliness? -
Loneliness is something that affects us all. Whether it's a longing to be with another person on a cold and rainy night or trying to fill our life with millions of activities and social outings to prevent ever experiencing it we all struggle with loneliness at one point or another.
In some sense, loneliness is just us not being comfortable with the way things are. We get home after a long day of work, collapse on the couch, and experience the spaciousness of our evening. After running around all day that amount of space can feel intimidating. We long to surround ourselves with things to do just so we don't have to explore it.
I believe if Sid felt this anxiety around the spacious parts of his life he would try to lean in to them. What I mean by that is he would actually apply a sense of inquisitiveness as to why he feels lonely. What external factor is he looking for that he thinks will make him ultimately happy?
There are lots of ways to explore your loneliness. For example, you can contemplate where it resides in your body. Is it that tightness in your throat? Is it a weighing down of your heart? Is that what loneliness looks like? Notice if you can pinpoint where it exists. If you see that it does not have a physical location then you may realize that loneliness is not as real and solid as you thought it was. It's actually just another fluid emotional experience that will ebb and flow throughout your life, just like the waves in the ocean.
I believe in his exploration of loneliness Sid would not view it as a "bad" emotion or as something he needs to rid himself of. In fact, in Shambhala Buddhism there are six ways of describing a sense of "cool loneliness" which may arise if you examine and stay with your experience while reserving judgment.
1) Less desire - this form of cool loneliness is when we just relax with the emotion without searching for something that will cheer us up. It's being with our experience as it feels Right Now.
2) Contentment - without giving in to hope or fear we can settle into our groundless state. We don't have to sit around dwelling on the idea that someone may call us and invite us out to dinner. We don't have to get stuck in the fear that we'll die alone. There is a middle way when we don't give in to those two extremes which feels a lot like contentment.
3) Avoiding unnecessary activity - whenever we experience a sense of "too much" space we get uncomfortable. Next time you are on a long elevator ride pay attention to the other passengers. Even though your travel time is approximately a minute long one after another people pull out their phones to fiddle around. We are not trained to rest in space. To call forth an old Shambhala Sun Camp slogan, "Don't just do something, sit there." Enjoy the space of loneliness, don't give in to superfluous activity.
4) Complete discipline - complete discipline in this sense is being willing to come back to our present experience, over and over again, without being judgmental. As we come back to our loneliness we realize that this is basically how things are. There's no problem really. We are fundamentally alone; no external factor can give us ever-lasting happiness. As Pema Chodron once wrote, "We are cheating ourselves when we run away from the ambiguity of loneliness."
5) Not wandering into the world of desire - in other words, let's not walk our habitual road of dealing with feeling discomfort. Whatever our go-to space filler is, don't do it. Whether it's watching TV, eating junk food, or online shopping just chill out. Don't go there. With loneliness there is nothing to be solved so stop looking looking for solutions that will make you feel better.
6) Not seeking security in discurssive thoughts - similar to number five, we need to realize that loneliness is not something that needs to be fixed. We don't have to make a list in our head of 50 ways to get over loneliness. As opposed to going about activities that will make us feel better this form of working with loneliness relates to our internal chatter. There's no need to wander off into discurssiveness. When you find yourself drifting off gently acknowledge that and bring your mind back to your underlying experience.
When you experience loneliness you don't have to give in to the million and one ways to fix it. There's nothing to fix. You can use your experience as a practice opportunity, transforming it into cool loneliness. You can honestly and without aggression look at your own mind. While you may not feel the instant gratification of going out to a movie and distracting you from your emotional state, you are learning something much more valuable: how to be comfortable