Heartbreak | Loneliness

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, and although the intensity of the thoughts and feelings have ebbed and flowed, I feel like it’s important to return to, even if it’s mostly to focus my own mind and practice in the writing. Beyond that, however, I hope these words help others. The words are dedicated to them, with that intention.


I’ve recently been going through an on-again, off-again, dramatic semi-relationship with someone who has excited me to the possibility of a future together and made me feel more alive than any other romantic partner I’ve had. The only reason that really matters as backstory is that something in the progression of this connection and its long, slow, painful demise has made me really sit with my feelings regarding partnership and compatibility. I’m left feeling like, to steal a poetic line from said person, in experiencing life right now, I’m watching the death of my concept and experience of love as I watch the death of a relationship. I plan on writing more on that in a second post, but in this one, I want to focus on the related feeling of loneliness.

I’ve been lonely in relationships for pretty much all of my adult life. I wonder if this is normal. For me, I think it’s primarily because I’m a person with some particular and unique interests. It’s hard to share space and life with a person and feel like you’re not connected on many levels. Perhaps, it’s because of my ideals of partnership which I’ve written about on here before. I really seek a deep engagement with a partner, not just sharing of space and time. With that, I tend to throw in a lot of energy and support that doesn’t get matched, which leads to more feelings of disconnection and even resentment.

Loneliness when losing someone who meant so much to you, loneliness even during the slow fade of such a loss, is much more brutal. It’s like the sun went down and isn’t coming up again. In a way, it reminds me of my recent post on the tarot where I talked about three cards being about choosing love, not being disillusioned and not giving up hope. That was a positive, can-do interpretation. It could be just as much that in choosing this love, I was moving into an experience of disillusionment and despair. Now, I think about future relationships, and I see little to no likelihood that I’ll find someone else with the compatibility and partnership I seek. In a sense, such a spiritual friend is rare. I’ve thought about my experiences and the statistical demographics of who’s out there in the world, and in all likelihood, the frequent pulls of the Hermit card in the last few months are wise counsel for getting deeply in tune with myself, my own wisdom, and my own solitary path.

With feelings like this, most balk, and tell you you overreact, even though they don’t have a single real counterargument to a logical and experiential breakdown. I think we’re given way too many expectations of ending up with a partner with an Aristophanes’ story of another person somehow complimenting us out there, just waiting to be found. There’s simply no guarantee. Just as there’s no guarantee I will live past today. When faced with that, people tend to react really strongly to protect this groundwork, existential desire. A co-worker recently heard me out and said, “I agree with everything you just said, but it makes me sad because you don’t get a happy ending in this perspective.” This shows that, ultimately, the standard paradigm is a wishful thinking fallacy.

Sitting with loneliness is particularly hard because I feel out of place in a very physical sense. I live just a mile down the road from the person, and this neighborhood is new to me. I don’t feel fully at home here. Everything reminds me of her. Everything reminds me of how I’m facing a future of being alone, not having a family, not becoming a father. These are all things I held much more tightly than I thought. I have been trying to patiently sit and look at those feelings and fears arise with as much peace as I can muster, but the Buddha was right: the things we cling to are really what cause samsara. It’s incredibly difficult to not react to such feelings without squirming and running to the next.

However, I think that sitting with all of this offers one of the greatest opportunities for spiritual growth, even though I’m barely up to the task most days or fail on others. I wanted to write about my experience after reading a chapter in Pema Chödrön’s classing “When Things Fall Apart”. In sitting with ourselves in our most vulnerable, our most tender, we cultivate the warrior’s heart that opens us to more compassion for all beings. In many ways, this time has made me more patient and open to others, instead of less so. This kind of healing and growth leads to warmth to life, even in darkness.

Not wandering in the world of desire is another way of describing cool loneliness. Wandering in the world of desire involves looking for alternatives, seeking something to comfort us–food, drink, people. The word desire encompasses that addiction quality, the way we grab for something because we want to find a way to make things okay. … Not wandering in the world of desire is about relating directly with how things are. Loneliness is not a problem. Loneliness is nothing to be solved. The same is true for any other experience we might have.

Cool loneliness allows us to look honestly and without aggression at our own minds. We can gradually drop our ideals of who we think we ought to be, or who we think we want to be, or who we think other people think we want to be or ought to be. We give it up and just look directly with compassion and humor at who we are. Then loneliness is not threat and heartache, no punishment.

Cool loneliness doesn’t provide any resolution or give us ground under our feet. It challenges us to step into a world of no reference point without polarizing or solidifying. This is called the middle way, or the sacred path of the warrior.

When you wake up in the morning and out of nowhere comes the heartache of alienation and loneliness, could you use that as a golden opportunity? Rather than persecuting yourself or feeling that something terribly wrong is happening, right there in the moment of sadness and longing, could you relax and touch the limitless space of the human heart? The next time you get a chance, experiment with this.

Pema Chödrön, “When Things Fall Apart”, p. 65-66

May these words help others sit with their most difficult experiences of feeling lonely and spur them towards compassion and wisdom.

Gassho!

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