Loneliness is in the mind

Loneliness cannot occur in the present moment. When our attention simply rests with the activity at hand, we cannot be lonely. Loneliness only occurs when we allow our mind to wander – into the past, into the future, or into the world of how we wish things to be. Loneliness can only occur in the mind.

If we are married, we probably do not see our spouse during the day. We say goodbye in the morning when we leave for work, we then do our daily work alone, eat lunch alone, and only reunite at the end of the day. Even then, we probably do not spend all our time together. Perhaps one of us watches TV while the other talks on the phone or prepares a meal. Yet despite all this time apart from our spouse, there is no sense of loneliness. Although we do our daily work separately, we know that the other is only a few miles away, that we will see them at the end of the day, that with a simple phone call we can hear their voice. This knowledge makes us content.

Now consider when our spouse needs to travel for a period, perhaps for a month or more. This could cause terrible loneliness. Suddenly, we eat our lunch and feel lonely. We do our daily work and feel lonely. We come home and watch TV and feel lonely. Even in those times when we would not have been with our spouse anyway, we still feel lonely, because there is this idea in our heads that our spouse is a long way away. Although our daily activities are largely unchanged, they are now imbued with sadness.

Thus, we can see that this notion of loneliness is just an idea in our head. We take an ordinary activity such as driving to work, and we attach this idea of “I’m lonely” to it. We may be lonely because our spouse is away, or it may be because we are single, divorced, widowed, or friendless. We may also be attaching ideas other than loneliness. Perhaps we spend our days thinking that we are broke, sick, unpopular, or old. These ideas seldom have any relevance to the present moment and the task at hand. They are just ideas that go around in our heads and serve only to make us miserable.

Therefore, to fight loneliness, or any other condition, we must learn to reside in the present moment. We must keep our attention with whatever we are doing, and not devote energy to these foolish ideas of being lonely, broke, sick, or anything else. This is not to say that we must ignore such problems. If we are lonely, we can make an effort to meet people. If we are broke, we can look for a new job. However, we must ensure that we only deal with such problems at the appropriate time and place. We must not let them consume our minds at every moment of the day – while eating breakfast, while watching a movie, or when looking after our kids. If we feed ideas with attention in this way, they will expand in our heads and take on more significance, and this will only make our problems worse.

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Love and understanding

What is the relationship between love and understanding? Both are streams from the same source, but whereas love flows through the heart, understanding flows through the mind. Understanding helps us see the truth, and love causes us to act on it.

Understanding assists love by helping us recognize ourselves in others, and helping us see that for all our superficial differences, we are of the same essence. Without understanding, it is all too easy to be judgemental. We see someone acting selfishly, and a barrage of anger and criticism arises within us. Understanding helps us see past their behaviour and to recognize that this seemingly selfish person seeks love and happiness, just the same as we do. Rather than judging that person as “bad”, we view their selfishness as ignorance, and we feel compassion for them. Understanding makes us more accepting, less judgemental, and thereby removes some of the impediments to love.

Love, on the other hand, is the quality that makes us try to understand another person in the first place. It is what makes us willing to reach out and touch them, to put ourselves in their shoes. Love is what stops us from rejecting or ignoring those whom we may otherwise recoil from. Whereas understanding is helpful for love, love is absolutely essential for true understanding. It is the faith in humanity that causes us, when we see someone acting nastily and we do not know why, to have compassion for them anyway. Only with this compassion can we even begin to think about why they act the way they do. Only with this compassion can we come to understand them and to love them completely.

Therefore, when we come to love and understand a person or thing, the first impulse is from the heart. The love comes before the understanding. However, from this point on, they each boost each other. Without understanding, there is a danger that the love will go away. Understanding is what maintains the love and helps it expand to encompass all. Yet without love, the understanding is empty. Love is not merely understanding a person, but feeling compassion for them, wanting to help them, and holding them in our hearts.

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