Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Elsewhere, on a Buddhist bulletin board, I was reading a post by someone writing about his/her sense of loneliness in spiritual practice. Between the lines, you could hear it: "It wasn't supposed to be this way. Things were supposed to get better ... less lonely."

And my heart went out to this person. I wanted to give him/her a hug, not because it would do much good, but because for my money, 'we' are all in the same soup together and -- what the hell -- a hug is a wonderful thing.

Alone together.

Placing loneliness in a spiritual context is a bit uppity from where I sit. Even people who have precisely zero interest in or affiliation with a spiritual leaning are perfectly endowed with the capacity to be lonely. And so, in one sense, I think it's a reasonable observation: "Let's drop the 'spiritual' crap.'

But of course it's not all crap. Spiritual leanings offer an 'out' in life -- an improvement or set of improvements that, well, you know, will make things like death and loneliness more palatable, less fierce, more subdued. Even as I write, I can hear the voices of spiritual expositors enjoining one method or another for overcoming and being at peace with the razor wire of life. Are they happier and more at peace? I haven't got a clue. For all I know, they are telling the truth. Equally, they may be more full of shit than a Christmas turkey. Maybe they are really smiling or maybe they are just trying to make a living. Maybe ....

One thing has to be conceded about loneliness and that is that it is personal. No one else can solve your loneliness or mine. Sure, there can be temporary fixes, but the operative word is "temporary." Another thing that has to be conceded, I think, is that loneliness can be heart-wrenching -- down-home, forget-the-nostrums, never-mind-God heart-wrenching.

Now what?

My take is this: Whatever else it may be, loneliness (or aloneness if you prefer) is a fact. When it comes to the facts that cannot be escaped, the only way out is in. So ... what about it?

Loneliness presupposes that there is someone or something else. Check it out. Could anyone be lonely without some other option? But if there is no other option in fact, what happens to loneliness?

This question is not some smooth, Jesuitical attempt to outflank or outwit loneliness. It is personal and requires personal investigation. I have found Zen practice useful in such an investigation, but I am sure others have found other formats that address the problem equally well.

Does Zen work? After 40 years, I haven't got a clue. Sometimes I am lonely and sometimes I am not. But in the world of the heart-wrenching, some investigation strikes me as sensible.

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