Archive for October, 2007

Don’t be afraid of loneliness

It seems instinctive that loneliness arises because we do not spend enough time with others. However, the real cause of loneliness is often that we don’t spend time with ourselves. This isn’t so much a question of how much time we spend alone, but a question of how we view this time. If we are always looking for a distraction, something to do, something to remove us from that simple state of just being, then we are bound to keep getting lonely.

So much anxiety could be avoided if we were to simply realize that being with ourselves isn’t all that bad. Instead of constantly fighting loneliness and boredom, trying to think of something to keep them at bay, try to just relax and accept these feelings. It can be a pleasant surprise to discover that then they pass very quickly, and a feeling of peace descends.

Loneliness, like boredom, does not just arise as a result of who we spend time with and what we do. It arises as a result of that sense of lack, the idea that our current situation is somehow not satisfactory, that something is missing. As long as those thoughts are present, loneliness will persist, even when we do have the company of others. When we discover that nothing is missing, that there is nothing that we have to do, then we can relax and feel complete. Do not fear loneliness and do not try to avoid it. Just accept it, be comfortable with it, and watch it pass.

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Accept emotions, including depression

Emotions arise in all of us from time to time, and it is inevitable that some of these will be negative. Although it is difficult to stop an occasional feeling of sadness, anger, jealousy, or depression, we can do a lot to stop these feelings from magnifying. A key characteristic of emotion is that a fleeting twinge of sadness can rapidly expand to fill our entire being with sorrow. When we learn to block this process, negative emotions simply become mere annoyances, and do not take over our minds.

One way to do this is to be more accepting. When depression arises, we must not panic, dwell on it, and run around frantically looking for a cure. Instead we simply accept the feeling, observe it. Maybe we can even be curious about it and ask ourselves how it feels physically, and notice the negative thoughts that flow from it. The important thing is that we are not making a big deal out of the feeling. Ironically, this makes it pass away more quickly.

The same procedure applies to other emotions. For example, if we feel angry, we can simply accept this anger, observe it, perhaps notice the resulting tension in our stomach and the stream of negative thoughts that we are directing towards the person or situation. This is much better than treating the anger as some big emergency and acting aggressively in response to it. That would only make things worse!

We must learn not to take our emotions too seriously. They are a useful feedback mechanism to help guide our lives to peace and happiness, but when we take them too seriously, they become the very things that impede a life of peace and happiness. Reacting strongly to emotions is analogous to accidentally cutting your finger, and then chopping off your entire hand in an effort to remove the pain. Things rapidly spiral out of control. Hence, we must accept emotions, and learn to simply relax.

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