Aloneness


Switzerland: No news from Jiab in Cambodia. People call me up looking for her and I tell them: Sorry, Jiab is not here right now, she’s coming back in a few days. I’m like a recorded message. This is how it is with us; Jiab is the star of the show, I’m the supporting act. Tried calling her one night last week – 6.45am in Phnom Penh, Hotel Intercontinental, room 710: ‘Just one moment please…’ and the receptionist connects me to her room; I can hear the phone ringing. Then a very sleepy voice says, quite loudly, ‘Thank you!’ and puts the phone down! Disconnected and I’m 6000 miles away again. Try again; key in this very long number and wait. Explain to the receptionist, she connects me, and same thing happens: ’Thank you!’ and puts the phone down. This time the receptionist put me on hold and, I imagine, explains that this isn’t a wake-up call, it’s an overseas call. Eventually I get through and Jiab is so totally and profoundly asleep, the conversation had to be abandoned. I guess I called too early.

Truth is, I’m in a state of aloneness here. The Worldly Winds are blowing hard and strong. In the post office sits a lady behind the glass window with her painted smile of resignation because obviously the answer is ‘no’ even though the question hasn’t been asked yet. And even when I manage to engage her in a dialogue, there’s that clear signal that if we’re going to talk, let it be known she is somebody who doesn’t listen to people – asks me a question and eyes glaze over as I give her the answer; not listening because she’s busy with the next question. Maybe she was just having a bad day.

After I get back to the apartment it feels like I’ve been wounded in battle; discomfort likely to break out into fully fledged distress any minute. I manage to do a sidestep before it locks into place. I wrote a post about this: Skillful Avoidance; if you can sidestep the clinging tendency, the ’velcro’ of self cannot attach and in its place there’s a feeling of relief, wow! how good is that! This feeling moves it all forward in a wholesome direction. These small successes are necessary here in a non-Buddhist country where people are careless about what they say at the best of times.

I’ve lived in Thailand for more than 20 years and I’m used to being in a Buddhist society where, on a very ordinary level, people are generally courteous; they smile, they’re pleasant and try to be helpful. You can see monks everywhere and there’s the atmosphere of mindfulness. When I’m in Europe, I have to take extra care in relating to others and it does get to be difficult. But that’s the way it is, and I have the opportunity to watch my reactions here whereas in Thailand I don’t have to do that. But anyway, when Jiab is with me I can get things more in perspective – and she’s not here….

I’m part of it but not ‘in’ it and can see what’s going on; insulated against the fierceness of it. I get into the apartment at the end of the day, door is closed and it’s all gone. My files, books and notes about the Buddha’s teaching are here. All my friends in the world seen through the window of computer screen are practicing Buddhists and I have a small correspondence with Buddhist monks. If the doorbell rings, I take a deep breath because it’s not impossible the flames of unrest will come leaping into my quiet space and what I’ve noticed is that it’s an all-inclusive situation; my reactions, my aversion to it, all become part of the ‘me’ thing.

The fact that I dislike it exacerbates the problem – then I heard Ajahn A. saying something wise about it’s the energy we use in being averse that creates the obstacle, not the ‘obstacle’ itself. The energy accumulates and the tendency is for it to come into ‘being’. All the usual suspects are there; the same old familiar stories unfolding. I can see the accumulated energy; simply that and nothing more. I don’t need to love it, don’t need to hate it, don’t need to hold on to it: ‘Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya’. Nothing whatsoever should be clung to. There’s a separation from all ‘likes’ and dislikes’; a pleasant feeling of aloneness and wishing people well.

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The Eight Worldly Winds, Ratanagiri Newsletter [Link to: Hilltop]

Photo: Louk Vreeswijk

9 thoughts on “Aloneness

  1. This is…beautiful and real. Nothing is “solved” nice and neat as you write this piece. Everyone can relate to “aloneness” – this sense of longing for…togetherness…and the aversion to being alone. It’s human. True to your training, true to your path, you are being with “what is” – even the aversion, even the longing. I’m sitting here watching Happy Feet with my daughter. The main character is feeling quite different, alone, like he is the only one who doesn’t have a heart song. Now he just found that crazy group of penguins and they LOVE what he is about — his dancing. So interesting how “sangha” changes things. I’ll be curious to read an update if it resonates with you. Blessings, Lisa

    • Hi Lisa, so good to read: ‘Everyone can relate to “aloneness”…’ it suddenly makes it into a “togetherness”! Curiously I didn’t seem to notice the post was kinda calling out for someone to visit. This is the lifestyle of the traveller, I suppose, for more than 30 years now, always going ‘somewhere else’, living in somebody else’s country, struggling a bit with languages and being an outsider. Things just are as they are. Then moving on again – maybe I have ‘Happy Feet’? Wow, I could so identify with the one who couldn’t sing. Nice to read about your children, we have a niece (named M), she’s coming up to her 10th birthday. It really does something magical to me when I think about M… hear something she says or does. I write posts about her sometimes. Children, elders and everybody related in between, this is the sense of sangha, an extended family – but unfortunately I don’t have the opportunity to live like that, not in this lifetime. Maybe it’s why I’m so busy with blogging these days. Thanks for these nice words.

  2. Really enjoyed this– if enjoy is the right word because it was produced in suffering. I can relate though I am living in the place where I was born and have only traveled a little bit abroad. Never to India, to my profound regret. I guess I feel alone when Hubbie is away because I am different. I have a mental illness. I just came from the Post Office, too, got a nice clerk and managed a conversation that ended in smiles. This is a biggie for me and gives great pleasure. My goal is to make people smile or, even better, laugh. But far too often and for most of my life, my interactions with the Post Office clerks and store clerks terrified and paralyzed me. You have an excuse, being in a foreign country. Me, none. Anyhow must ponder this thing about the commotion over avoiding things being the problem. Very true and I am a big “avoider” so very relevant. Thank you.

    • Thanks, this is an older post about how it was having just arrived from Thailand. It was a novelty at first, there was the familiarity of Western culture, but my expectations of Switzerland exceeded the reality of it. And Thailand is such a kind place, every other country seems inhospitable and selfish by comparison – I mean in the public zone: post offices, supermarkets etc. So I discovered aloneness, or re-discovered it because I’d been away from the West for so many years, and just didn’t understand it in the early days – it’s why I left the place, really. The experience of revisiting the West was helpful. It can be cold and unhelpful, whether you have a mental illness or not. I’m an “avoider” too, although I’d call it protecting the sense of well-being – it’s necessary!

      • Oh, a fellow avoider, always happy to meet one! But I will be thinking about my aversions and the energy I give them (lots) and hopefully can make some headway. Thanks again for the enlightening post. And, yes, I do believe the West is cold and the East kinder although I base my judgment on people I have met and interacted with. Also I find that to be true of island people and people near the tropics but there are so many variables at play and this is a generalization.

      • Yes, avoidance is sometimes the wise thing to do – consciously avoiding an issue that’s only going to lead to ‘more of the same’. It’s different in the East, here in Thailand there’s an attitude of let’s not make a big ‘thing’ out of it, more feminine, less macho aggressive forcing. The inductive rather than the deductive, I have noticed and I’ve been here more than 20 years, mostly with the local people. It’s a Thai characteristic, others have said the same thing.

      • That is very interesting. It does seem, at least in some ways, the West is more masculine, macho, aggressive, with less of what are commonly thought of as feminine characteristics.

  3. A very thought provoking post. One sentence stood out in particular for me: ‘it’s the energy we use in being averse that creates the obstacle, not the ‘obstacle’ itself. This has been happening in my relationship. My husband has a tendency to have very sudden and angry outbursts which affect me deeply. I have been working on letting his anger wash over me, or blow through me, rather than absorb it and let it fester. I can see how it’s my aversion that’s the challenge that I need to deal with. My husband and I spend 24 hours a day together and at the same time we live in an isolated location in France. It’s interesting how one can live in a situation of complete peace and tranquility; woods, birds, flowers, wind and water, and yet still have times of such inner turmoil. And so I shall be more watchful and look more at ‘aversion’. Thank you!

    • I’m glad it was helpful. It’s the resistance to ‘that which one hates’ that creates the energy and the solution is in the direction towards an acceptance of it, allowing it to be there for as long as it takes you to ease back and let it become less of a problem. I think it’s possible to see the small incremental change that results and take encouragement from that – except that I don’t know if it’s the best thing to do in this case. Here we’re talking about a confrontation with another person, and everything associated with that…

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