When I moved to the lush mountain town of Nelson BC, loneliness started to plague me.
I’m part of an amazing spiritual community and I work with great people here and yet, like many of us, I’m prone to this modern dis-ease, loneliness. Being busy keeps the loneliness bug at bay. Without a project though, my peace of mind deteriorates and longing stings to the surface.
Keeping loneliness at a distance or drowning it in activity, then, just doesn’t work. The loneliness resurfaces and rapidly moves from being a small cloud in my mind to a storm of emotion threatening a downpour. To be honest, I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have a meditation practice reminding me, and training me, to look for the ever present Clear Sky Mind beneath the passing clouds and weather formations. The thing is, when I do this I get to see that loneliness is fleeting. I see that I’m part of the problem and therefore, I can be part of the solution.
In their new book Wasteland to Pureland, my teachers Doug Duncan and Catherine Pawasarat, the founders of Clear Sky Retreat Centre, 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 your box).
My portable prison
These phrases resonated for me as I saw that I was really stuck in my box and fighting against being new here. I didn’t want to be the new kid on the block. Unbeknownst to me, I was running from the schoolyard voices calling me “Michelle no-mates”. In order to not listen to them, I’d barge on through my day thinking that by being busy, I could avoid experiencing what it’s like to feel new – basically, kinda awkward and vulnerable, and a very natural and human experience.
I closed up so that I didn’t have to run the risk of being rejected by anyone. I could just armor up and do what I was here to do, not leaving space for interactions that might interfere with me and getting my job done. My 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 had finished my job and done my daily practice, I was alone, and getting lonelier and lonelier. After a long winter, I decided that whenever I was walking down the street that 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.
How life opens up to meet you
The results were instantaneous. First I saw the first flowers of spring burst forth and I met cats and dogs of all descriptions, then I began to say hi to more and more smiling faces. Rather than relating to this sense of loneliness as a negative emptiness, I began to see it as an opportunity, loaded with potential and spaciousness.
One gorgeous spring day as I was on my way to a book launch, I was walking and experimenting with just being open. I stepped into a flow state, a spacious state of potential. Within ten minutes I’d bumped into a friendly acquaintance who wanted to join me. Off we wandered to our front row seats where I won a rather odd door prize from the local coop – a tea set from China including $12 CAD in a lucky gift envelope. A note suggested I use it to buy 2 bottles of vinegar (I said it was strange). To share the weirdness of my prize, I invited my newfound friend over for the first of many cups of tea.
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.
In that moment when I’m saying yes, loneliness isn’t anywhere in the picture
Now if I feel lonely, I know that I’m not opening myself up to participating in life. So, here are three easy steps to get beyond loneliness:
- Acknowledge where you’re closed off
- Practice opening into it
- See what happens
I no longer walk to work shutting out everything so that my mission won’t be interrupted or spoiled. Instead, I bring spaciousness and curiosity with me as I walk. I don’t always make a new friend, of course, yet I do notice and experience a lot more and it feels way better.
See what happens if during your day you widen your laser focus to include and welcome 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.
Edited by Andrew Rogers
Michelle Heinz lived at Clear Sky for several years and learned the skills to address and work through many things, such as loneliness. If you’d like to experience an intensive period of study and practice at Clear Sky, consider our three-month residential intensive.