Being alone can be wonderful, but not if we feel lonely. Especially during the holidays, we can feel isolated and unloved, ignored and unimportant. It can feel as if the flow of social intercourse has passed us by —or worse, as if we were drowning in a river of purposeless time.
Being alone may be a situational fact, but feeling lonely is always an afflicted emotion. Loneliness is an interpretation, a conceptual proliferation based on a given experience. It is the elaboration of the meaning we impose on our present circumstance.
Habituated to the idea of ourselves as central and the creatures of our universe as bound to that centrality, it is difficult to accept that the worlds (the persons and objects) of our solar system can pull away from our gravity —to see their orbits expand, distort, and ultimately migrate to other solar systems.
We interpret this natural migration of loved ones to other relationships or locations as abandonment. We may feel resentment at their real or apparent ingratitude. Or we may turn that resentment against ourselves, feeling shame at our inability to ‘hold’ our relations in orbit, or blaming ourselves for pushing them away.
The Buddha taught: “All that live must surely die, and all that meet must part.” One way or another —through choosing different paths or the finality of death— all whom we know and treasure will leave our lives, or we shall leave theirs. Resentment, shame, and blame are not reasonable or adequate responses to reality. Aloneness is a blessing. Loneliness is a self-inflicted curse.
Human beings —and especially those with spiritual inclinations— pass through four life stages: learning, production, withdrawal, and transcendence. All of these stages have their joys and sorrows, their challenges and rewards. They have their place and time.
Aloneness, solitude, is an essential component of the third stage of life. Without solitude, we cannot begin the process of deep introspection that will allow us to recognize reality as it is, and prepare to make a peaceful transition out of this world of suffering. If we remain immersed in the busy-ness and drama of relationships, we will be prevented from contemplating our own mortality, and we will fail to prepare for the next stage of our experience.
Not everyone is suited for the same degree of solitude. If we require company, then we must reach out to others. If family is not near, available, or so inclined, then we can seek out friends and persons in our own life-stage, with similar values and spiritual interests. If we have no such friends, and company is important to us, then we must find them. They exist. We may have to search high and low, but find them we will. Lamenting our loneliness will not help.
However, when and if we find such company, we should be careful not to re-create patterns of a previous life-stage with our spiritual friends. We are walking forward together as we withdraw from the drama of duality, not reverting to a stage that is no longer possible or desirable.
Even as young lovers seek to be alone together, away from all others, cherishing their intimacy, it is now time for us to seek the company of our inner light, our Buddha Nature, whose permanent presence we have long ignored, but has never abandoned us —our kind parent, our faithful lover, our filial child, our true friend.
It is time to cherish that intimacy, without the noise and distraction of the crowds.
om amideva hrih