Years ago when I started on the path to self-discovery, very early on a time came when I felt like I was standing still and world around me was running fast. I felt very alone. This feeling of loneliness was very different from anything I had ever felt before. I asked my teachers at that time about this and they said that the journey to oneself is inwards, hence it is a lonely journey. I don’t think I really understood what that meant at the time, and often I felt alone and lonely in my practice. Reasons were numerous like, “I can’t go to practice classes, can’t go to teachings, retreats, I don’t have dharma practice partners.” You name it.
Fast forward a few years and life took a turn and that loneliness started to deepen. During that period I saw my so-called negative patterns and habits, attachments and desires, fears and worries, delusions and anger. Loneliness amplified and so the confusion. I couldn’t understand the feeling of being alone and I started to see that as spiritual depression. Yet, it had an empowering feeling. As I saw that I was becoming more true to myself and my being. This was very baffling to me!
Fast forward some more years, and more recently a time came, when I had no choice but to make peace with it. This didn’t come in a vacuum, by itself. It came because of being rejected. I now felt, as if I was told to just work on myself and practice and that I didn’t need any further teachings, classes, nothing. Was it a retreat? Oh yes, indeed I was on the retreat of a life time. Something that I always wanted to do. In Tibetan Buddhism it’s said that when life becomes tough it is a perfect time to do practice even more. At that time I had nothing to hide, nowhere to go. One such fateful night in midst of rejection and loneliness, it all dawned to me, while pulling sheets to cover myself. I was drenched in sweat, feeling bare and naked. I had no comfort, felt lost, a big hole in my heart. I felt that all my support and anchors have fallen away.
In that moment I hugged myself with a deep cry. I kept on chanting that I too have a buddha nature, I have brightness no matter how dark this night is. As in reality light births in darkness and then dissolves itself in darkness too. We can see that truth looking up in the sky at night and seeing all those stars twinkle, with the moon in the dark night. We can see how light is birthing from darkness, how the darkness is so strong and massive yet so peaceful and calming. But the night darkness intertwined with daylight and I found myself lying in a chair or on the floor for hours like a corpse, once for 3 days in a row. My legs were like jelly, I couldn’t feel them and would get up and walk around the house like a robot to cook and clean. I also stopped driving for days as I was not in my senses.
One morning I got up and felt very free and light. I promised myself intently that I was going to offer myself unconditional love at this moment and offer myself to others the same way. That was a turning point in my life.
“An analogy for bodhichitta is the rawness of a broken heart. Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all.”
At that moment I had a direct experience of what I was told years ago that journey to self is a lonely journey, that the feeling of loneliness is the feeling of buddha nature.
“You cannot develop yourself properly unless you give up your need for companionship. Once you give up your search for companionship, you can make friends with your loneliness. At that point, you become a genuine practitioner.”
Loneliness is a very important and integral part of Buddhist practice, yet lots of Western teachers don’t get into the heart of it, shy away or it is discarded. This loneliness was not something I had to dig it up; it came to me by itself. I had no choice!
What really happens when we start to uncover our true self? We lose ourselves. We become lost and in a way we are rejected. We, in this modern society, try very hard to avoid being alone with ourselves, and when we have free time we fill it with texting or social media, just so we are not feeling alone. We are so scared to face our neurosis. Practice is a training so we are more and more comfortable in our own company. It starts when we sit down on our butts to do practice the first time. We begin to see how helpless we are and that’s when we truly start to see things as they are and see ourselves in a helpful way for the first time! We can finally face the habitual patterns that we have collected all these years and uncover who we are or not. We can stop looking for approval from others, stop looking for others to save us.
Let’s drop our preconceived idea of who we think we want to be, what others will think about us. Instead look straight, face loneliness head on with with love and compassion. Spiritual loneliness doesn’t mean to be detached from others, not to love them, but to realize this deep and passionate journey to inner self and how we are truly connected to others, that even though we are alone yet we are connected, always were.
I work in a hospital setting and one day I went to see a patient, a 99 years old lady. I was told she is going home with a 24 hour caregiver. I went to see her; she wasn’t aware where she was or how old she was. She was keep saying, “I want my mommy.” The snack tray was in front of her so I asked if she want to eat something and she agreed. There was chocolate pudding and orange sherbet. She kept saying how much she likes them and keep saying Mommy. Tears rolled from my eyes as I was feeding her. Her eyes were shut and couldn’t see me, but there was no doubt in my mind that we saw each other deeply at that moment and shared our loneliness.
In our modern society we place importance on personal space, independence, yet we undermine and misunderstand the stillness and spaciousness of deep solitude. If we cannot be comfortable with our own skin and simply be in our company then who will? We create this separation of self and others and that’s why we feel so afraid to be alone and try to fill us with things, people. As soon as that separation vanishes loneliness becomes joy, we see that we are not alone but deeply connected to everything. Loneliness is part of the journey, a reality, a truth we experience in different ways and intensity. A time comes when aloneness is always present and we discover a very raw, open, spacious part at our core. You are you but not you anymore, and it really doesn’t matter!
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