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face it: you are alone

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In her latest blog post, our friend Tess reports on changes in her life: she’s got a full-time job and is able to pay her bills. For that she has to get up before 5 in the morning to catch several bus connections, only to return 12 hours later, exhausted. “And trust me,’ she writes, “I’m eternally grateful … really I am. It’s just been a shock to my system and I’m finding a real test to staying present. My ego is having a heyday in convincing me that … I deserve better, that I should be … living over a bakery in Paris.”

O how I know that voice! There’s always something lacking, be it food, love, health, money, things, or enough rain for the garden. What is this dissatisfaction, I wonder, this longing for what is not, all the while dismissing or overlooking that which is? There’s a line in a long Buddhist sutra:

The Way is perfect like vast space, where there’s no lack and no excess.
Our choice to choose and to reject prevents our seeing this simple truth.

In her book on Mindful Eating, Zen teacher Chozen Bays offers clues as to the cause of my pervasive dissatisfaction. “Heart hunger,” she suggests, “is satisfied by intimacy. 

Each of us is fundamentally alone in the world. No one can know us to the bottom of our being. No one can know all our thoughts. No one can know completely the deepest longings of our hearts. No one, not even the person we are closest to, can experience life as we do. The realization that we are fundamentally alone can be a source of sadness, or grief.”

So, once more, instead of looking for magic explanations I’m called to take refuge in simple awareness. Not to make loneliness to go away, but to welcome it unreservedly. This alone feeling is neither a personality flaw nor a curse inherited from my family of origin (as I’ve always thought). It comes with being an authentic human being.

source: Bays, J. C. (2009). Mindful eating: a guide to rediscovering a healthy and joyful relationship with food. Boston: Shambhala, p. 58. image: when I googled for an “alone” image, I found mostly people in tears: sad and miserable. Photo above taken during week-long walk along the Mosel River: alone and happy.  


5 responses »

  1. Seems to me that thinking that one is “fundamentally alone” in life is just another way of thinking, one that justifies one’s felt “existential angst.” It is not an absolute given about life. I, for one, am not alone: I belong in the world, am part of it, benefit from it and am beneficial to it. And I too get lonely once in a while, when “small mind” takes over and tells me how separate and deprived I am……

  2. Thank you, as always Peter, for the perfect reminders just when I need them. I write this on the ferry to Anacortes Island to visit a friend for the long weekend.Sitting here by the window watching the water and islands float past I feel fully in my aloneness and I’m able to embrace the hereness of now. What inspiring words you have shared.With gratitude, in solitude.

  3. This was comforting in that Buddhist turn-it-upside down to-see-it-right-side-up way. Was feeling “lonely” today. Thank you!

  4. Christian teachings, I’m told, also speak of heart hunger. In contrast to Buddhist teachings, believers are assured that their hunger will be stilled by a higher power (god, jesus). For instance:

    Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Matthew 5:6
    And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. John 6:35

  5. No one can know us to the bottom of our being. No one can know all our thoughts…

    But why would we even want someone to know this? I have many thoughts every day, not all should/need to/will /are fit to/ be shared.


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