Zen and The Art of Being Alone

This post came to me the other day riding on an exercise bike. Boring as heck. My mind, as it often does, began to chew on the past. To take a darker road. I became melancholy and angry too. Then I thought of Katniss and the kids, their happy faces wide-eyed with a deep appreciation of life.

Had I lost that? If so, why?

You’ll never completely loose the ability to be happy and filled with the love of life. If you feel that you have lost these things, no matter who the black haired, mustache twirling villain is or may have been, you only have one person to blame for keeping alive the flames of regret, anger and bitterness: yourself.

I smiled at the thought and peddled faster. I cleared my head and tried to solve a physics problem with some mental gymnastics. Poof, the 30 min ride ended and I couldn’t remember how I got so sweaty (ewwww).

Until quite recently I sat high upon my throne of suffering. A place as empty as a desert and as crushing, cold and dark as the depths of an ocean.

Like any barber chair, you can keep ratcheting yourself higher and higher until you see nothing below but an opaque fog. In the mirror your reflection is a person with gaunt eyes filled with defeat. Often you’re so bent upon a cry to the heavens, with a fist to the air, you miss the opportunity to just be.

A state of simply being.

To me that state is found by answering the question: “How do you be alone? Truly alone.” A state of being “alone” doesn’t necessarily mean being by yourself. It is a state of mind no matter who is with us. How many times have you had a hand waved in front of your face – “HELLO! Anybody there?” Unfortunately, more often than not you weren’t alone in your head, quite the opposite.

It’s not OK when our experiences drive us to be isolated and lonely. In fact, when in the throes of self-immolation you isolate those around you and then become truly lonely. This is when bitter grief and anger can grow unchecked. “No one understands me! I don’t need them.” This state is a place that drives us like the crack of a whip, while you pull the oars on only one side of the boat, spinning it in a circle.

I’ve had several “ah-ha” moments recently, and one of them came to me when I thought, “Who is the one person you’ll be with the most, throughout all your days?” Many might come to mind, such as your parents, siblings, spouse, or children.

Nope, lets be a little narcissistic here… yourself.

How much time do you spend between your ears? It can be your WHOLE LIFE! But, that’s the rub. Do you constantly have to be between your ears?

Here are a few examples of my own that suggest the answer is no, absolutely not.

A watched a blizzard for several hours when I was 9, sitting in front of a big bay window. I focused on the swirling white drifts and the blowing snow. Huge gusts of wind bent and shook some Boxelder trees in my front yard, as if they were shivering in the cold. There was the contended purr of my cat Scamp, the warmth of him on my lap. The day careened by and all I remember is snow and purring.

When I first moved to Ames I recall another wonderful blizzard. I sat with a window open, the cold air bracing. I was mesmerized by the snow globe effect of the streetlights. I may have sat there for 20 minutes, or hours, I don’t remember.

Endless hours of physics homework. Lost in the equations and the delicious complexity. Happy when I found the solutions.

In those moments I was alone – truly alone. I was nowhere to be found. I was not there. But I was. A silent observer.

If my mind is tumultuous, I can fall into the seductive lure that I can think my way to some solution, that wallowing somehow helps – that this path will usher in some kind of calm and happiness eventually.

BS – if you attempt to salve your troubled mind in this way all you are doing is recognizing yourself as stuck on that throne of suffering, helplessly looking at yourself in the mirror. This solution to finding peace is like filling a glass with the faucet full blast. All that happens is the water curls up and out and you achieve nothing but frustration.

When the mind is dark and you are on that throne of suffering, think of the difference between intelligence and wisdom. You’re smart enough to know a path leads you nowhere. So seductive, so easy to give in – the apple, the snake, the justifications and desire, the feeling of an external force pushing you down the wrong road. Yet you choose that path. You and you alone.

Be wise enough not to take it.

Give yourself the gift and pleasure of recognizing the solution to the art of being alone is to leave yourself alone.

3 thoughts on “Zen and The Art of Being Alone

  1. This entry really spoke to me. In my dark days, I still feel trapped in an old situation, and it’s hard to break free. It’s the reminder of what I have that brings me back, but that’s not always easy.

    May your dark days be few and far between!

  2. Great entry Mark. Another thought to think about is; How often do people spend time thinking about thinking? In my opinion, not enough. When you spend the time to think about your own thoughts, and I mean really think about them and what they mean, where they came from, how they make you feel, how you felt when you conceived them and totally analyze them, you generally, but not always, come away with a little insight into you and how you are. I feel that if you don’t know who you are it is then to easy to take that easy path and go down the road of least resistance because sometimes the right road is a hard road to start, but ends up being the easier road on your soul in the end.

    • I agree that there is such a thing as positive introspection. Definitely. The main point here is to avoid introspection turning into that seductive dark road of “I can think my way out of it” and torturing yourself along the way. Stop if that happens. The shit in the past is the shit in that path. Don’t step in it. Water over the bridge. Yes over the bridge, not the normal under it. You cannot change anything, though it’s good to know your feelings – that leads to understanding pitfalls. The only things you can change is how you move forward. Our feelings are our feelings, that is undeniable. But just because we’ve had it hard doesn’t mean that we stick that knife even further ourselves. Super hard lesson to learn, even harder to live that way consistently. I won’t, but I’ll try.

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