The oldest human writing about how to live in the present moment is an instruction for how to live alone.
In it, the Buddha doesn’t talk of separation from friends and family – in fact, he considers community to be very valuable. Rather, he defines living alone as living in freedom, which is the only condition for happiness.
"If you live without being imprisoned by the past, not being pulled away by the future, not being carried away by the forms and images of the present moment, living each moment of your life deeply, that is the true way of living alone." – The Buddha
It is very human to seek boundaries outside of ourselves or definitions of right and wrong that seem to provide safety. But to live alone is to live in the middle: to accept whatever conditions arise, settle into our own comfort as well as discomfort, without seeking to immediately fix, judge or alter our state of being.
What do you do when you feel a restless or painful disconnection between you and a loved one, or yourself and all else?
Do you watch television, eat mindlessly, have a glass of wine or busy yourself with commitments? These reactions are common, but they do not alleviate the suffering of loneliness. This “hot loneliness,” as Pema Chodrom refers to it in Six Kinds of Loneliness, can be transformed into “cool loneliness,” or freedom.
“Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It's restless and pregnant and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a nonthreatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.” –Pema Chodrom,
The practice of being present with loneliness is challenging and requires determined strength. I find it helpful to remember that all things are impermanent, including loneliness. Each time we choose to acknowledge our discomfort and not let it bother us, we step toward greater freedom.
This beautiful video inspires me to practice cool loneliness, or freedom. I keep it in my bookmarks and watch it in moments when I’m tempted to run from the opportunity to be alone.