Loneliness: How to Shift it by Saying Yes
I’m part of an amazing spiritual community and I work with great people and yet, like many of us, I’m prone to this modern dis-ease, loneliness.
The thing is, I recently moved to a new town where I was starting from scratch. Staying busy kept the loneliness bug at bay, for sure. When I wasn’t engaged in some project or other, however, my peace of mind deteriorated and in the end I had to admit that keeping loneliness at a distance just doesn’t work.
Luckily, over the years I’ve learned some tools by living at a meditation retreat center in BC. This helped me explore what was going on. Here, I share some insights that I hope will help others dealing with loneliness.
1) Meditation shows us what’s really happening
To be honest, I don’t know what I’d without my meditation practice. Meditation trains me and reminds me to look for the ever-present Clear Sky Mind- the aware mind that dwells behind the passing clouds of thoughts and feelings.
When I meditate and get into this space, I see that loneliness is fleeting, just like every thought or feeling. I see that my views are part of the problem and therefore, I can be part of the solution.
In their latest book, my teachers Doug and Catherine talk about how protecting against the hurt is the hurt. They propose that if you want to be more present, you need to open the box.
That is, you need to open the box of your ego boundaries, be open to experience, and let in “other” (anything beyond you and the limits of your box).
2) Life opens up to meet you
With some space to see clearly, I saw that I was really stuck in my box and fighting against being new here. It was connected with not wanting to be the new kid on the block again, like I had many times in my childhood. And I realised I was still running from the schoolyard voices calling me Michelle no-mates.
So as not listen to the voices in my head, I’d barge through my day. By being busy, I thought I could avoid experiencing what it’s like to feel new – basically, kinda awkward and vulnerable, which is a very natural and human experience.
I had closed up so that I didn’t have to risk being rejected. In other words, I just armored up and didn’t leave space for interactions that might interfere with me and getting my job done.
But this protection was shutting the world out. No wonder I was lonely, huh!
Although my job, spiritual practice, and activities were enriching, I felt disconnected from the community where I lived. When I finished my work and daily meditation practice, I was alone, getting lonelier and lonelier.
After a long winter, I decided that whenever I was walking down the street I would practice the words of my teachers, I’d open the box.
In other words, I’d welcome in and open up to the present.
A spacious state of potential
Right away, I experienced the first flowers of spring bursting forth. I greeted cats and dogs that crossed my path. With this new openness, it was much easier to begin to say hi to more people – and more and more smiling faces. Rather than relating to my sense of loneliness as an emptiness, I began to see it as an opportunity.
I learned that when you do this, things begin to happen. One gorgeous spring day, for example, I was on my way to a book launch and was doing my walking and experimenting with just being open. I stepped into a flow state, a spacious state of potential.
Within minutes, I bumped into an acquaintance. We chatted for a little while and she said she wanted to join me at the book launch. We got front row seats and then I won a door prize – a tea set from China. I invited my newfound friend over for the first of many cups of tea together.
3) Stay open to life: When you’re saying yes, loneliness isn’t there
Now if I feel lonely, I know that I’m not opening myself up to participating in life.
I no longer walk to work shutting out everything so that my busyness won’t be interrupted or spoiled. Instead, I bring spaciousness and curiosity with me as I walk.
This doesn’t always lead to making new friends, of course, yet I do notice and experience a lot more and it feels way better.
So, here are my three easy steps to get beyond loneliness:
Acknowledge that you’re closed off
Practice opening up
See what happens
See what happens if you widen your laser-focus to include and welcome little tastes of the unknown. Perhaps you too will experience improved, quality experiences. Rather than trying to avoid the pain – by managing things or shutting life down – turn loneliness into an ally. Be open to the present and see what unfolds.
Try saying yes!
Recently, a friend came up to me and said, “something’s different with you”. A little surprised, I let this sink in and then asked her what she thought it was. After some contemplation she said, you’re saying “yes.” She’d nailed it. I was saying yes. Yes to the moment and yes to life.
Michelle Heinz lived at Clear Sky Retreat Center for several years. Through karma yoga, or active mindfulness meditation, she learned the skills to address and work through many things, such as loneliness. She did silent meditation retreats and acted as Executive Director.
If you’d like to experience an intensive period of study and practice at Clear Sky, consider our three-month residential intensive.
Edited by Andrew Rogers