I remembered this time in fifth grade, when the group of girls that I hung out with stopped speaking to me. When they would pass me in the hall, they would turn their backs and giggle. At lunch, they would turn away from me... basically implying that I was no longer welcome at the lunch table that I had sat at most of the year. It was my first experience of real loneliness, and I admit at the time it felt like the end of the world.
That experience stayed in my emotional backpack for years. Even now, just the word, "loneliness" can trigger the emotion—part melancholy and part loss—of those days and others after. My loneliness in fifth grade taught me compassion for those who are unpopular and inspired me to seek friendships based on intimacy rather than the need to belong... but it was only after a stay at a Vipassana Center this past spring that I began to see that the emotion of loneliness is not just personal. Like anger and fear, loneliness is one of those universal, primal emotions, a groove in humanity's subconscious. Most of us (even those of us who like being alone) can't help but fall into it at one time or another.
While at the Vipassana Center I continued my yoga (in secret) and meditation in my room. And it was there that I came to terms with the deep roots of loneliness. I did such intense self-inquiry. From my seat within the woods (they provided a walking path within the woods), I could see and hear women giving up, begging the teacher to be allowed to go home. I sat in my room or outside a lot, and contemplated the sort of person I was, and came up with a list of qualities that I wanted to see in myself.
I also began to realize that nothing outside myself would take away the pain of loneliness. I had never thought of it as an emotion, but it certainly welled up like one... As I contemplated the difference between being alone and loneliness, I would say to myself, 'Why are you lonely? Look what you have. You have the tree outside your window—a big, beautiful tree.' I would have silent conversations with that tree, because after I had been in that room for a while I began to recognize the unity of human beings and nature. I also began to appreciate everyone and everything in my life 1000 times more than I had before.
While meditating on this here in Minnesota, I realized that this journey laid before me could not be taken unless I was willing to face my loneliness. Maybe that's one reason why loneliness, or even the fear of loneliness, can be such a stumbling block on the road to inner growth. But I was still scared to face it..... The irony, of course, is that I knew that if I accepted my loneliness, I would discover something powerful and freeing on the other side of it. I knew this... but it was still so hard. Even though teachings and practice can reveal that the feeling of separation is an illusion, my ego had a hard time believing it. Even when I "knew" that this sense of separateness was the true cause of most of my pain, something in me clung to it and allowed its tendrils to unfurl in every corner of my life.
But then I recalled that I had come right up against loneliness as an existential condition while at the Vipassana Center. And like others who have been to the depths of loneliness and been willing to fully engage it, my solitary state became a vehicle for transformation. Why couldn't it be once again in this situation? I pondered....
"Alone... and the soul emerges," ~ Walt Whitman.
And then it struck me... a memory so real... so close to home... like it happened yesterday...
The extreme loneliness I experienced when I heard I was probably going to lose my mom (I did lose her), while I was stuck in a cabin at the end of fifty-five miles of paved/dirt road, catapulted me into my first genuine experience of present-moment awareness; I still remember the surprising joy of the hours spent watching the path the raindrops made as they streaked down the window of my vehicle as I drove to the nearest airport (6 hours away)... trying to get to her. Or the rainbows that I swear she created... I felt peace and connection to her... the wind on my face... it was so cool, like it was made to dry my tears... I felt joy for every butterfly that I noticed on the flowers along the road once the rain cleared... they made me aware of each detail in front of me... keeping me safe... I felt peace watching the sun set on the lakes and within the trees... Even with the fear of losing her... of being all alone in this world ... I still managed to feel appreciation for my present surroundings... appreciation for my connection to her... the road to her really was beautiful....
Most importantly, I hope that what I've learned through my studies will also help my family recover from the loss of my Mom and from the previous loss of my Grandma... I love you all, Bobbi, Josh, Grandpa, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins. I love you so much.
"May I be happy. May I feel loved. May all my suffering be healed. My I be at peace.
"May you be happy. May you feel loved. May all your suffering be healed. May you be at peace."
"May all beings be happy. May all beings feel loved. May the suffering of all beings be healed. May all beings be at peace."
Love Your Loneliness
Begin by feeling your own loneliness. Without resistance, tune in to it. Then, connect with your breath, and with each one, send these thoughts to yourself:
Breathing in, think, "May I be happy."
Breathing out, ask, "May I feel loved."
Breathing in, send forth, "May all my suffering be healed."
Breathing out, ask, "May I be at peace."
Next, imagine other people in the world who might be feeling lonely at this moment, people you love and those you don't know (lonely children, homeless people, people breaking up with their partners, people in prison, people in war-torn countries, and anyone else who might come to mind). With the breath, send out the same loving thoughts to them: "May you be happy. May you feel loved. May all your suffering be healed. May you be at peace."
Finally, take a moment to send these thoughts to everyone in the world. "May all beings be happy. May all beings feel loved. May the suffering of all beings be healed. May all beings be at peace."
If you do this powerful practice, you will discover how it can soften and change your own heart. When you consciously send blessings to others, especially in this systematic fashion, they forge your connections not just to the people you know but to all the beings you include in your well-wishing. And then, sneaking in with the breath, comes the realization of your unbreakable connectedness. You can't be lonely when your hearts are joined, even for a moment, to the hearts of all.