When you feel completely alone, you can be sure that there are millions (billions) of people in the world that feel exactly as you do right now. Isn’t that a relief? You are not alone in your loneliness. Ironic but true. As singular as each and every one of us is, we are also universal. We feel. We feel everything that everyone else feels exactly the way that they feel it.
This can seem counterintuitive. Because those outside of ourselves seem to have it all figured out. Those people don’t get scared or feel lost in their lives. It comes across as if they have secret information that we just do not have. Right? And yet, how many people do you think believe that about you?!! How many times has a marriage that appeared perfect fall apart at the seams only to be revealed that it had been on the rocks for ages? We didn’t see it. They didn’t show it. But believe it: everyone feels pain, suffering and loneliness. That is an essential truth. It is the truth that Buddha built a religion on.
And yet, the knowledge of this doesn’t have to depress us further. Rather it gives us access to our humanity. It allows us to tap into our hearts and have compassion for ourselves and others. In our darkest hours, we can open our hearts and know that there are others in the world that understand exactly how we feel at this moment. And if we know how much suffering others are enduring, we can use that opportunity to send them love and compassion. As we do so, our pain eases. Love and compassion are salves for suffering. We can administer these remedies to ourselves even when (especially when) we feel most alienated and most forgotten.
We are part of a cosmos, of an ecosystem, of a community, and a family. It is not possible to truly be apart from who we are. We are not separate: At our core, we all connected.
When I returned to NYC from a retreat several months ago, I had that jarring experience where life and all its mundanity came at me at full force and I wanted so badly to hold on to the bliss that I had achieved at the retreat. The more I tried to hold onto the bliss, the more angry I felt that it was eluding me. Of course, my anger did a job on my bliss! I found myself resenting the fact that back in the NYC I didn’t have nature with which to commune anymore. I missed the trees. Desperately.
One day, I was walking along the street, really feeling out of sorts and annoyed at myself for feeling so out of sorts. And then I noticed the trees. There were trees everywhere: the same trees I walk by everyday! At first, I saw them and was so sad that they were encased in concrete. They seemed like they might be lonely there. So I decided, in gratitude, to touch every one I saw. I laid my hands on each tree that I walked by in the east village and I blessed it in my heart. I felt something shift in me immediately. My anger lifted. The trees and I were connected. In my appreciation and compassion for them, I freed myself from my own feeling of isolation, resentment and loss. And I really saw them, in all their details: saplings to majestic oaks. I had been so focused on the fact that I wasn’t “IN NATURE” that I didn’t see the nature before me.
And that is true of all of us. If we allow our moments of suffering to open our eyes, we will see much more deeply than we did before. Our pain can be transformative and our loneliness can bridge the divide we have imaged between ourselves and all others.