I am a 26 year old girl, who lives alone. My parents died when I was young, and my aunt and uncle placed in boarding school. I am grateful to my aunt and uncle, but I don’t have strong emotional ties with them or my cousins. Actually, I have felt very lonely since as far back as I remember and I feel sad that I don’t have a real home or siblings. Although I have a few friends, none are very close, and I totally avoid relationships because I fear that the person will disappear and I will get hurt. Lama, can you give me some suggestions how to overcome my fears?
Well, human beings always want to feel loved and to be part of a family or community. That is natural. In reality, though, everyone suffers loneliness and experiences anxiety and fear. Think about it – is there anyone who can totally guarantee that their spouse will remain faithful or that they will have a long life? Can anyone be sure that their friendships will remain stable? No, and this lack of security is a source of anxiety and fear for most people.
In reality, however, change is part of life and so all our endeavours (relationships, businesses, or whatever) are actually no more secure than sand castles built on a beach. They remain for a short time and then collapse or are washed away.
So, does that mean that we do not enter relationships or establish businesses? No, not at all. The trick is not to avoid these things, but to understand that no matter what situations we create they will not last forever. If we understand this point, we can be like a kid who joyfully makes a sand castle but is mentally prepared for it to be washed away. With this mindset, he builds another one.
In the context of your situation, you should not fear new relationships, but instead understand that no matter how loyal your partner may be, your relationship will have ups and downs and will one day disappear – not necessarily through a break-up, but at least due to death.
Although we crave for permanence, if everything were unchanging and lasted for ever, it would actually be really boring. I mean, imagine every day being exactly the same. I’m sure that you would go crazy, and so rather than fear change, you should celebrate it.
Think of it this way. Why are diamonds valued more than a crystals? It is because they are rare. If diamonds fell from the sky like rain, they would lose their value, and people wouldn’t even bother to pick them up. It is the same with events and people in your life. If you felt that your partner was never going to change and would be with you forever, you would probably take him for granted; certainly you would not appreciate him as much as if you knew that he would leave in a few hours or days. In this respect, don’t fear change, but instead see it as a way to add value to a relationship or, for that matter, to all your efforts.
Practically, this means that you do your best in each situation, but always bear in mind that it is impermanent and will not last. Some people will say that this attitude will make us complacent: “Oh, I will get sick and die one day, and so why bother eating healthy meals and exercising, or why be faithful to my partner because the relationship will end anyway”. But that is not the right understanding. Instead we should do our very best to maintain our health and to preserve a relationship, but, at the same time, we should always remember that, despite our best efforts, nothing will last for ever and it will finally end.
Furthermore, to find peace, I suggest that you stop thinking that you have a problem that needs to be solved and fully accept your situation. In reality, if everyone’s parents died when they gave birth, you wouldn’t feel sad about your circumstances, but would accept them as normal, right? However, because you see other people with their parents, you feel sad. So, the trick is not to wish for things to change, but to stop comparing your situation with others. Instead, just get up every morning and do your best in each situation without expectations.
In this respect, start with small things – putting your bedding tidy, washing the dishes beautifully, being polite to people you meet, doing your work to the best of your ability. Of course, you will make mistakes and mess things up. That is ok. At such times, just start over again.
In this respect, I suggest that you stick this advice from HH Dalai Lama on your bedroom wall:
“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life – I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
So, to recap, I suggest that you do not to compare your situation with others, and, at the same time, see change and impermanence as a way to bring value, not anxiety and fear, to your life.
I wish you well.
Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organizing drug outreach programmes.