The Impermanence of Loneliness

Many initially approach the Buddhist concept of impermanence with fear because it means moments of joy are fleeting and do not stick around.

The irony is anyone who feels fearful or sad about that, as I often have, tends to be those who have few moments of joy in their lives anyway, and we’re all too aware of that concept to the point of cynicism.

To me cynicism is not a negative, to me it is a necessary and expected part of the unfolding process, which is in many ways a process of grief that begins when we are pushed out of the birth canal, crying because we had to leave the warm cocoon.

But holding onto cynicism and believing it is an eternal feeling can lead one to feel it is logical to completely self destruct to try and escape it. This is where impermanence becomes a blessing. If it is true moments of joy are fleeting, it also means moments of painful, negative moments are fleeting too. This is also something we know but may tend to ignore, perhaps because we have been bullied and told our emotions are not warranted, especially our anger or been most attacked during those moments when we feel happy and confident. Then we tend to want to isolate and there is no shame in that, I have done that much of my life, and many sensitive individuals do, especially in my new home town of Portland, Oregon.

The problem with such isolation I have found in my life is that I began to believe in the lie that things don’t change, people don’t change and my negative feelings will never improve. Because I am avoiding the outside world because I am afraid of encountering people or places that will reinforce my negative self beliefs I can remain absorbed in my self fulfilling prophecy that all is lost, no one appreciates or cares about me and I will never be happy.

Much of my upbringing I felt this way, isolating either in my room or out in the world. In high school, especially after some peers I thought were my friends broke into my house and stole some things of mine, I would eat lunch in the cafeteria by myself — occasionally with the kids who played Magic the Gathering because they were fellow nerds but usually had no interest in playing — and then go to the library and read by myself, occasionally talking to my friend Paul who would seek me out because I think he too felt alone.

Through my involvement in the school newspaper, something that combined my love of writing and asking questions, I was forced to interact with others and found a weekly outlet to be around those with whom I had things in common, such as a dark sense of humor, cynicism at the brokenness of the world, a desire to change it, interest in intellectual conversations, an insatiable curiosity and similar tastes in culture.

This carried me on to pursue a journalism degree that led to working at The Denver Post as a reporter. I had to learn how to deal with co-workers and managers with different personalities and interviewing people in the community, some who wanted to talk to me, some who did not, some who did at first but declined later based on anger about how I covered something or were ordered to say no more.

It was stressful, I often felt beat down, anxious and depressed. But I don’t regret it because I got to learn who is and is not trustworthy or might be interested in hurting me or negatively impact in my life. However I also was able to make many friends and allies that helped me to not only network, but people I could help and who have helped me. I am by no means perfect at it, I have and still misjudge, trusting the wrong person or pushing away those who do care about me. It is a daily practice and can mean risking being hurt.

It is worth it to me because if I am willing to look outside myself more than just look within, I can realize the darkness that can come with loneliness is temporary. I can also see the joy and relief from being around others whose company I enjoy also does not last, when I inevitably encounter those who are hostile or hateful.

But when I recognize that contrast, I realize such individuals are often those who still see their misery as permanent, and I can try to respond with compassion because not only was I once them, but still fall into that mindset too. Such inconsistency is the beautiful essence of being an ever-adapting human being.

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