From The Under 35 Project: “The Practice of Being Alone”

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.

Maya Rook lives in New Jersey. Read more from Maya at her blogs, here and here.

To see the rest of our Under 35 Project posts, click here. To read more and submit your own work, visit the project’s website.

4 Comments

  1. illusionist
    Posted March 1, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    When I was young, I used to idolize Alan Watts. After I became "Carlos Castaneda," I had entree and went to him. He scared the living daylights out of me. He was not what he pretended to be – he asked me to bed. I said, "Hey Alan, what is this? "But Carlos," he said, "don't you see the beauty? That I'm able to understand perfection, yet cannot attain my beliefs? I am imperfect but embrace the weakness it means to be human." That's horseshit. I told him: "I know people who say the opposite; they do what they say. And they live to prove we are sublime."

    There is a woman, big spiritualist. Millions of dollars go though her hands – she's been doing it twenty years. I went to see her at someone's house and she was stroking the crotch of a man, right in front of where I stood. Was she doing it to impress me? To shock? I cannot be shocked. Later, I cornered her in the kitchen. I said, "What do you say to yourself when you're alone in the middle of the night?" Don Juan used to put that question to me. "What do you say when you're alone and you look in the mirror?" "Ah, Carlos," she said, "that's the secret. Never to be alone." Is that really the secret? Never to be alone? How horrendous. That's a shitty secret.

    This Yaqui sorcerer asked me to suspend judgment for three days – to believe for three days that to be human was not to be weak, but to be sublime. Either one is true, yes… but how much more powerful to be sublime! The ape is insane, but also exquisite. Don Juan was a frigging ape – but he was an impeccable warrior. He left the world, intact. He became energy; he burned from within.

    He used to say, "I was born a dog… but I don't have to die like one. Do you want to live like your father?" He asked me that. "Do you want to die like your grandfather?" Then came the big question: "What are you going to do to avoid dying that way?" I didn't answer – I didn't have to. The answer was: "Nothing." A terrifying moment. How that haunted me.

    - Castaneda

  2. Aparna Pallavi
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    This is very like my story, except that I am some years older than you. The same compulsion to be 'loved', 'cherished', 'desired' — all that stuff. It led me into endless yearning, failed attempts at relationships, and finally, two immensely traumatic marriages. Funnily enough, while my first marriage was totally loveless and abusive — I was with an alcoholic man with a family of mental patients — my second marriage, which offered the love, romance, companionship and what not that I craved for, appeared to give me a lot of happiness for a time, also turned just as sour and problematic as the first.
    I have been alone for a year now, and though loneliness does get its teeth into me once in a while, I can see it is far less exacting to be alone than to be struggling with a relationship that is constantly draining out every ounce of your energy, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. I have realised one thing — that love is never 'enough' — at least not love as we understand it. And love by itself is no good without one magical quality — wisdom.
    I had long hated myself for never being able to say no to temptations in the form of relationships even if I could see they were duds, but recently, a really big temptation entered my life in the form of a dear and trusted friend from years back, just when I was feeling totally skinned alive and stripped of everything after I had asked my husband to move out of my house. Of course, I could see it would not work out, but something in me was totally drawn to it. It took me a few months of agonizing, but finally I was able to inform the friend (he lives in another town) that I didn't think it was a good idea.
    Initially I felt a lot of pain after this incident — it was like having permanently put the plug on the possibility of love in my life — but later I felt a lot of relief, and yes, self-respect.
    I live alone now — with my daughter, that is — and I am quite contented to be alone in the romantic way. I realise fully that any romantic relationship, no matter how much joy it brings, will come with its own karmic price-tag.

  3. Oudemos
    Posted March 8, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Very good, but who is posting this on behalf of the long-dead anthropologist/apprentice shaman? Why not either cite a book (etc.) or in some other way be yourself? Or is the discarnate spirit of Carlos speaking from the realm of the dead? Or has he become a yidam form in the sambhogakaya giving this teaching to a meditator? ;)

  4. Yogi
    Posted March 10, 2013 at 1:37 am | Permalink

    Hey nitpick it is much easier to blame others like Aparna Pallavi.

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