Maya Rook on discovering that being alone does not equate to loneliness.
I am content with being alone.
It hasn’t always been this way, but in this moment—as I sit in the sunlight and feel the soft click of keys beneath my fingertips—I love being alone. Right here, right now.
In a society and culture that stigmatizes solitude, it is truly an art and a practice to be alone. It seems that every time I time I go on the internet an article with a title such as “Why You’re Still Single” or advertisements for on-line dating pester me with the message: you are alone and therefore lonely. That is bad. You need someone to make your life good. We are encouraged to believe that the key to a fulfilled life involves finding that special someone—that when this perfect person appears all our problems will dissolve in a magical lightshow of unicorns and rainbows. Then we will finally be happy.
Well, quite frankly, I say in response—fuck that.
I’ve spent a good portion of my life feeling lonely. I’ve wanted so badly to be appreciated, desired, and loved that I wallowed for a total of eight years in two different torturous long-term relationships. My desire for love and my fear of being alone ran so deep within me that I spent nearly a third of my life in relationships filled with lies, manipulation, and multitudes of abuse, whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. Every time an opportunity arose to walk away and free myself from such suffering masquerading as love, a weak voice crept up within me, crying softly, but then you’ll be alone. And no one will love you. Just stay, just deal with it. It’s better than being alone.
It was the voice of fear that the love of myself was not enough. It was the voice of hope that their love was true and would somehow save me.
But ultimately, through a long and arduous struggle, I was able to reject that hope and fear and walk away. What I’ve found as I’ve reflected on these two particularly painful relationships, is that I was actually more lonely while in the relationships than while out of them. Although that voice continued to gnaw at me in the aftermath and healing process it stopped having the same power over me. I stopped succumbing to it as easily. I realized that although I was alone, I no longer felt the same desperate loneliness. I could sit with myself and experience those painful feelings of wanting to be loved arise without latching on to or acting on them.
In the past two years since my last relationship ended I’ve spent a lot of time alone. I often shop alone, cook alone, dine out alone, go to the movies alone, and sleep alone. It can be a difficult practice—at times I’ve been pulled by a desire to cling and grasp to another person to confirm my worthiness or feed that hungry ghost within me. I’ve still slipped into shitty romantic situations and concocted story lines about how I’ll never be good enough to be loved. I’ve been overwhelmed with the pain of loneliness, wept, and wanted something external to save me and make it all better.
And I’ve sat with that pain, delved into it, and found the confidence to come back to being alone and to find contentment with my circumstances.
Shamatha meditation was, and continues to be, key for me in working with the desire for love and the fear of loneliness. On the cushion I may be flooded with all the same passion, aggression, and ignorance that sent me spiraling into unhealthy relationships, but the cushion is a gift of space—the space to come back to the body and the breath—and to let go, if only for a moment. It’s a precious opportunity to be myself with myself, in all my beauty and awfulness. I can stop fighting and just be. Alone.
In Ruling Your World, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche recalls advice from his father, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche: “How you act when you’re alone affects the rest of your life.” Just because we may be alone at any given moment does not mean we stop waking ourselves up. It does not mean we stop walking the authentic path. We can still maintain our dignity and grace; we can uplift ourselves and our space; we can use our time with care and consideration; we can rest in the moment and act with precision. Ultimately, we are always alone in our experiences even as we understand our connectedness and interdependence with the rest of the universe. So what we do when physically alone does matter immensely. But it takes work. In order to fully embrace that opportunity of aloneness we have to accept whatever our circumstances happen to be, even if that means sitting with a sense of loneliness. We can touch that pain and be kind to ourselves regardless of the discursive thoughts within us or the messages from society telling us we need someone else or something external to be truly happy.
There is no fantastical event that will occur when some perfect person waltzes into our lives. The magic is already occurring in this moment. We just have to open our eyes to it—to embrace being alone, and to be content with it.