Are you lonesome, meditators?
Loneliness, a shadow that haunts us every now and then or maybe more often than we know it? It is good if you are aware of it, when and if you feel lonely. Most people are just unhappy and not know why.
It can be pervasive, like rain cloud that hangs over you everywhere you go. An emotional state that eats you up inside, slowly and painfully it chews up every piece of happiness in your heart.
Everyone faces this demon every now and then. It is weakened only in the third stage of sainthood. That might sound a little faraway. So, meanwhile I want to discuss how a meditator can deal with loneliness.
So lets face the demon
Loneliness is a type of illwill mind (Dosa Citta), which is weakened only in the third stage of sainthood. Illwill is a hindrance to calmness of mind. As you know, calmness of mind results in clarity of mind which is a prerequisite for the arising of insight-wisdom. Therefore it is essential for a meditator to manage all kinds of obstructions (including loneliness) to ensure an onward progress in meditation. As an unwholesome state of mind, naturally loneliness is also unprofitable and unskilful.
Dosa (illwill) is just like the root of a tree. A tree has a trunk with many branches. Loneliness is merely one of illwill’s many branches. Though coming from the same root, all branches are distinct, each with its unique character, appearance, and functionality and even have its own specific cause. So, the key to understanding loneliness for the sake of abandoning it, is to mindfully observe the mind or this particular hindrance if it is something that is bugging you.
Dealing with loneliness is essential not only for the sake of calmness of mind but also to make room for happiness to arise more often.
How to battle it – if you are brave enough not wanting to find distraction?
When you feel lonely, it can be a good time although very challenging, to sit and face it – watch the mind, watch feeling. Establish mindfulness on these bases. How to do it?
Lets go back to its basic form – we know it is an illwill and therefore arises with painful feeling. Sometimes the pain is so intense it makes it unbearable. Recognising that this is an illwill mind is important to a meditator. Once a meditator is able to recognise, be mindful, be detached. The moment a meditator is able to bring out mindfulness with detachment – this mental state will cut off loneliness immediately. It relieves the mind of that pain, momentarily. How come? When there is mindfulness (that arises with detachment), loneliness becomes merely an (immediate past) object of the present (mindful) mind. You can do this until loneliness is weakened or better yet, until it disappears. The meditator can also be mindful of the unpleasant feeling, if feelings appear clearer.
When you watch feelings, observe its intensity, the change in intensity. When feelings become clear, eventually the thoughts that bring about those feelings also can be perceived. Watch the thoughts that give rise to those feelings.
Label helps. It is not just for beginners. It is helpful for any meditators who haven’t developed the recognition or perception of the object of meditation in this case, loneliness or unpleasant feeling. Labels are also helpful when dealing with difficult objects where mindfulness is weak. So I would label “loneliness” (while noting it as merely a mind, just an object). “Detach, detach”. These simple labels directly pin point the reality that is being experienced and help to build up the recognition (perception) of the object.
When establishing mindfulness on the mind or those thoughts, don’t buy into the contents. It is what thoughts do – it tells a story when thoughts are formed. Don’t get sucked into that whirlpool as those stories have no end. It can spin out of control. What is real is that (right now) there is a thought – it is just a thought, nothing more. So, be mindful of it, be detached and use labels appropriately if needed.
If there is mindfulness, these thoughts stop and so does the painful feeling that comes with it.
When loneliness is (temporarily) weakened or has disappeared, I will go back to Rise and Fall (air element) or other object that is predominant, to continue establishing mindfulness (on any of the four bases).
The aftermath of a storm is usually a very strong sense of calm. The contrast between a very painful state and a wholesome calm state is stark that one can hardly miss it. Relief. Absence of loneliness, absence of illwill. That is freedom from suffering (just a nugget). So if one could take care of the illwill-demons, there is much room for happiness to arise and peak. The wholesome mind and unwholesome mind cannot co-exist in one moment. If loneliness (illwill) is present, there is no room for happiness at that moment. Imagine multiplying this by hours and days!
Well, that is facing the demon uncompromisingly and squashing it with mindfulness.
I am aware but I still feel lonely…it is not working ¿?
Being aware or mindful (as these words are often used interchangeably) denotes a co-presence of key wholesome mental factors, such as amongst others, detachment, balance of mind and mindfulness of course! As a wholesome mind, it must therefore arise with only either pleasant or neutral feeling.
So, if you say or think that you are aware of the loneliness then you cannot be feeling that pain of loneliness at the same time. If you feel painful, and the pain of loneliness is still dragging on and on, then you are merely conscious of the loneliness that is persisting. This is (just a bit) technical but this knowledge will help you distinguish whether or not, you have successfully prompted mindfulness to action by checking the accompanying feeling.
If loneliness is very strong and is persisting, then a meditator needs to understand how loneliness works, where it is coming from, so that a meditator can tackle the problem from its root cause. Understanding how it works essentially means know what it is and understanding the conditions that give rise to loneliness and the conditions that de-nourish it. This will help to temporarily weaken this enemy, making the practice a pleasant, smooth journey and more importantly, possible!
So, do you know what is the underlying cause of loneliness?
It is not something that afflicts the elderly only. Admittedly being old or frail often means losing one’s mobility, declining faculties and a dwindling social circle translating to isolation due to old age.
In our Asian culture of nucleus family it might not be so evident but yet, one can feel terribly lonely even when surrounded by loved ones. Why or how come? Young people are so busy they rarely have time for their older folks. Even if they do, often they are just physically together but all eyes glued on TV, smartphones – they are engaged in their own world. Again this also happens in other dysfunctional relationships, where the one who feels lonely often perceive or feel that he or she cannot give love or caring or receive the same or that when one reaches out to the other but the other is emotionally or intellectually unavailable. And even at friends gathering where everyone else is engrossed in themselves or the karaoke (maybe?) and nobody cared to ask how you are or engage with you, loneliness arises.
Sometimes loneliness is brought about because there is a change in his or her surrounding, such as moving to a new school, going overseas, divorced or separated from loved ones or any form of withdrawal from contact, social circles or even feel socially rejected. So loneliness commonly affects anyone, young and old alike – because of isolation, disconnectedness, lack of companionship or communication, old age causing immobility, sudden loss or separation from someone close and so on.
These are conditions are that most naked eye can perceive. The cause of loneliness is something unpleasant. What is unpleasant? Not getting what one wishes for. Separation from loved ones is unpleasant. Reaching out to an unavailable companion is unpleasant. Not getting the care and concern, love, kindness or friendship is unpleasant. This is the cause of loneliness. It is the shadow of attachment.
So what about attachment?
Yes attachment brings happiness – the worldly kind. Specifically here, it is the yearning for love, caring, friendship, companionship or exchange of any kinds (intellectual, loving, fun, casual etc). Underlying all that pain is the unrequited love or friendship or not getting the tender loving care that one yearns for. If all love is requited, friends are engaging, people are caring and are concerned about your welfare, this demon rarely rears its head.
The problem is even if you could give and receive such love (worldly love that is) or the warm tender loving care, it never seem enough. The thirst and yearning for it is never quenched. Sooner or later, this shadow emerges. How come? The mind works in strange ways. It soon finds fault and is often blind and ungrateful for what it has received and is already onto the next demand on the wish list of what the other should provide or be. It soon distinguishes how it should be given, when it should be given and even from whom one wants to receive it – blind towards what one already has. Such is attachment. Such is the nature of Dukkha – dissatisfactoriness. The mind is dissatisfactory, object is dissatisfactory, contact is dissatisfactory.
So this brings us back to the rut of loneliness again. What can one do about it if unable to face it head on? There are many ways to deal with it albeit indirectly but not necessarily ineffective to prevent it from wrecking the calm. I will share my understanding on these discoveries in the next article.