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Staying 'Cool' in Your Loneliness

I’ve been there. I’m with you.

I was most aware of it when I would come home after a long day at work. I would look at my answering machine (I’m THAT old) and see that steady, deathly light — NO MESSAGES. I would even spend several hours away from my phone and hope to see someone, anyone, to call or text me when I returned.

I was lonely living in Mississippi.

You hate hearing all the drama inside your head play out. You even get good at re-creating it, perhaps fixing all the things you said wrong so they sound right. You become frustrated because sitting home alone doesn’t change the past. Wishing for a better past never feels good.

Wishing for a better past never feels good.

You might try to distract yourself to push your loneliness aside. Or you can sit down with it and let it teach you something.

Pema Chodron calls it “cool loneliness.” It’s sitting down with yourself honestly. It’s seeing yourself for who you are outside of social media and social circles. “We can gradually drop our ideas 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,” Chodron writes.

Cool loneliness investigates how our expectations can frustrate us. We question whether or not our expectations are realistic. We wonder if the demands we place on others compromise them. We also take a good look at how realistic other people’s expectations are. Are we living someone else’s idea of a role? Have we outgrown this role? Does this role place limits upon us?

Cool loneliness takes courage

Thomas Merton maintains that it takes courage to be alone. When we are engaged in community, we tend to adopt similar mindsets and norms to “fit” in the community without questioning who might benefit, and who might be oppressed. In his view, the collective mind can keep us from seeing truth. We recognize that our need for approval from others is just temporal and illusory.

“We give it up and just look directly with compassion and humor at who we are,” Chodron writes. “The loneliness is no threat and heartache, no punishment.”

What makes loneliness “cool” is the disengagement of emotion. Because emotions can color our perception, we learn to step back and look with a little more objectivity. Our emotions can also take our thoughts for a joyride, often to places we might not want to go. Instead, we practice looking with awareness, drawing our attention back to our inquiry when our emotions want to take us for a ride.

Cool loneliness is a practice

If we fear being alone, it might be harmful for us to thrust ourselves into a situation where we’d spend several hours in our loneliness. It takes a bit of practice.

We can start exactly where we are, even if it’s just a five-minute walk alone.We find that edge where it gets uncomfortable, and open our investigation. Ultimately, it will show where we’re attached and identified.

“But when through practice you enter a temporary state in which you have no resistance to how things are, there is no friction and no burning of the mind,” Phillip Moffitt writes. “You are able to experience at least a foretaste of what comes with the full cessation of attachment.”

This cessation of attachment doesn’t come all at once. It takes small steps outside of our comfort zone. However, it is up to us to take the first step.

Stay “cool,” my friends.

This post was previously published on Medium.

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