Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Cool Loneliness

--by Pema Chodron (Nov 17, 2008)

As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright: an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity. To the degree that we’ve been avoiding uncertainty, we’re naturally going to have withdrawal symptoms -- withdrawal from always thinking that there’s a problem and that someone, somewhere, needs to fix it.

It’s tough going, because it goes against the grain of an ancient neurotic pattern that we all share. When we feel lonely, when we feel hopeless, what we want to do is move to the right or the left. We don’t want to sit and feel what we feel. We don’t want to go through the detox.  The experience of certain feelings can seem particularly pregnant with desire for resolution: loneliness, boredom, anxiety. Unless we can relax with these feelings, it’s very hard to stay in the middle when we experience them. We want victory or defeat, praise or blame. [...]

Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It’s restless, pregnant, and hot with the desire to escape and find something or someone to keep it 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.

There are six ways of describing this kind of cool loneliness. They are: less desire, contentment, avoiding unnecessary activity, complete discipline, not wandering in the world of desire, and not seeking security from one’s discursive thoughts. [...]

Cool loneliness allows us to look honestly and without aggression at our own minds. We can gradually drop our ideals of who we think we ought to be, or who we think we want to be, or who we think other people think we want to be or ought to be. We give it up and just look directly with compassion and humor at who we are. Then loneliness is no threat and heartache, no punishment.

When you wake up in the morning and out of nowhere comes the heartache of alienation and loneliness, could you use that as a golden opportunity? Rather than persecuting yourself or feeling that something terribly wrong is happening, right there in the moment of sadness and longing, could you relax and touch the limitless space of the human heart? The next time you get a chance, experiment with this.

--Pema Chodron, from "When Things Fall Apart"

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Previous Reflections:

On Nov 18, 2008 Robin wrote:
This is just the kind of meditation we reach when we are ready to truly change how we are with ourselves and the world. Cool lonliness might sound nuts to some, but to me, it is a rich feeling, a feeling that feels without drowning. Beautiful! Hugs to All, Robin

On Nov 18, 2008 nsirim wrote:
i love it

On Nov 18, 2008 gordon wrote:
just what I needed this morning. God seems to work that way. Thank you God

On Nov 18, 2008 ryan wrote:
just this morning, i woke up in a foreign country with a terrible loneliness and alienation. i was afraid something was terribly wrong with me. i shouldnt feel this way, i thought. its not okay.

beautiful reminders like this remind me, time and again, that everything in our life can be a step closer to enlightenment, or a step closer to our very human heart, if we look at it with compassion and love.

On Nov 18, 2008 Elizabeth Maria Jones wrote:
I am an immigrant in New Zealand and so desperately lonely. Very few friends no roots and this morning when reading this I somehow stopped and today I want to ecperience this loneliness amidst people.

On Nov 18, 2008 Wendy wrote:
That was so beautiful. I got tears in my eyes when I read it. Oh if only we could practice what we are given to learn. Gee its hard.

On Nov 18, 2008 Handan wrote:
the lonliness which leads us to peace..then that part of our journey becomes ever so significant. It's beautiful.

On Nov 18, 2008 Ganoba Date wrote:
In stead of the usual "FIGHT OR FLIGHT" reaction, we have been practicing "STAY AND PLAY".
When we do this we can see the beauty of the present moment and what it has to offer.
Life is so wonderful.

On Nov 18, 2008 Matu Felciano wrote:
I knew I was happier, now I understand why and how. Truly pure insight to being you on your own, thank you.

On Nov 20, 2008 David wrote:
My son shared this article with me and I copied my reply to him as my comment here:
Hi Phillip,

I did enjoy reading the newsletter. As to why is entitled "cool loneliness"...I would interpret it as excepted, welcomed and resolved state. So far for me the "we are one" concept is still on an intellectual level. Although us being separate physical forms, I believe that the loneliness is due to the insufficient spiritual oneness, connectedness with that "one". I have felt this yearning since very early age, like 2, when I was separated from my mother for a year and lived with my Grandma and aunt Venera. The sense of loneliness has made me cry or feel like crying in the early years, later try to please or displease and most recently...become "a fault finder" on social scale. I am glad that I am coming to this realization as to "realize it out of existence" in Roy's words.

The two week journey to Ecuador was helpful in this process of connectedness/disconnectedness with all forms animate and inanimate. It is I that have to extend my hand for a hand shake with the rest and not the other way around. Andrea, Christine and you have being helpful for me to come to this realization, I am grateful. Journeying with the yearning.



On Nov 21, 2008 Patsy wrote:
I have been struggling for some time now with the feeling of lonliness in the midst of people who I know care for me deeply. I find that I am often overtaken by the burning desires that come with such a sense of urgency. These thoughts are not only saying that I am not who I want to be, but that those around me are not what I want them to be, as well.
There can be no peace or forward movement when we are caught in the flames of wishing and wanting. The idea of coolness, cool breezes, a cool hand on a fevered brow is very healing to me now. How comforting is the image of cool aloness. I find my greatest peace these days alone with God, alone with my thoughts and no-thoughts, even not-really-alone with my animals. If anything can teach you to live in the moment, it's a dog!
I will continue to tamp down my flames of desire with the image of the big picture peace life oneness that chases out the self alone.

On Nov 29, 2012 Ward wrote:
 The feeling of being alone in the world is so scary.  I sometimes feel alone in time as well.  Insulated as we are in reality, between past and future, can be an acutely solo experience when we yearn for warmth and companionship.  I often believe the years of conditioning amount to too much and I tend to mourn the possibility of change.  These thoughts form a pattern, a slow barrage of accusation, an atmosphere of shame.  What we forget is that these are moments to embrace opportunity, not despair.  Relax indeed, and open your heart to it's basic sanity, it's inherent dignity, it's formless grace.

On Jun 8, 2016 Nick wrote:

it works
thank you
i was heart broken
but now I'm heart maintenance
i understand

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