YOUTH IN FOCUS: I​  am ​ a 23 year old orphan and don’t have any brothers and sisters.  I feel very lonely and depressed most of the time.  I don’t have family and home. My life has become unpleasant. ​Please lama can you give me some tips to overcome m​y grief?

Orphan, Tashigang

Well, as human beings we all want to feel loved and be part of a family or community. It is natural. In this respect I can give you tips on finding friends or how to join groups to keep yourself engaged, but in reality these are only going to offer temporary solutions. They are not going to help in the long term.

Basically, we are all lonely and live in fear. Even people with large families have to experience impermanence and change. None of us can guarantee that our spouse will remain faithful or that he or she will have a long life. Change is part of life and seeking security is like building sand castles in the desert. It remains for a short time and then collapses.

So does that mean that we do not build castles or establish relationships? No, not at all. The trick is not to stop creating and building, but to understand that no matter what we construct it will not last forever. We build and let it go and then build again.     

In your particular situation, you should know that everyone is in a similar position. You lost your family when you were young. Others may seem happy with their family, but their situation is not permanent. They live with the fear of loss and finally they will have to face the reality of loss itself.

So what can you do? First of all I think you need to accept your situation and not compare to others. Your lack of family love has been tough, but it has taught you lessons that others have not learned. In the same way that a blind person may develop extra sensitivity in his fingertips, your loss will have helped you develop special skills. For one thing, I’m sure that you are much more understanding of others’ emotional pain. You can definitely identify with others’ sadness.  This is strong point for you.

Basically, to find some peace you need to stop thinking that you have a problem that needs to be solved. You should no longer compare yourself to others, but accept your situation. When you feel lonely, feel lonely. When you feel sad, feel sad. When you don’t struggle against these feelings but accept them as part of your journey of life, they will no longer threaten you. In fact, if you no longer try to escape them, the feelings will transform into other qualities, such as compassion and empathy.

Basically, to find some inner peace, we have to stop struggling against our situation. We should not feel sorry for ourselves, but accept our condition. Your particular situation is unique and offers you opportunities to grow and develop. In the future, who knows, you may get married and have a loving family. Still, even this situation will not last forever and will change.

Relying on outside circumstances for our inner peace is like leaning on a wobbly chair for stability. When it moves, we move. We are always at the mercy of the changing world. Instead, try to be rooted in who you are. If people come into your life, great, but don’t over rely on them. If you remain alone, then allow that experience to be your teacher. Accept your life as it unfolds without forcing change and without expectations. In reality, some of life’s seemly harshest and toughest experiences actually offer us the most valuable and enriching lessons. As an example, I can cite many of the recovering addicts I know. As a result of domestic issues, they have been rejected by their family and receive no parental or sibling support and care at all. Yet, rather than this situation making them depressed or harsh, it has helped them to understand the suffering of others and as a result they have developed into very warm-hearted and caring people. 

For more information, I suggest you read chapter 9 (Six Kinds of Loneliness) in ‘When Things Fall Apart’ by Pema Chodron

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 organising drug outreach programmes.

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