Love Alone: Relationships, Depression and the Practice of Meditation

I was standing alone in the mountains at night. I had moved to a retreat center to escape a broken heart. A dramatic way to deal with a break up, admittedly. The stars exploded across the Colorado sky. It was so clear that it was hard to tell where the black backdrop of night really was. Everywhere I looked there lie a pinpoint of light. And yet the truth of night was there. It was perplexing and lovely and heartbreaking. The sadness welled inside me, as though coming from the very depths of the earth. I looked at the stars that form the constellation Taurus, my birth sign, some of which appear as an arrow pointing down to the earth.

“Lonely, Taurus ” I sang to myself, “tethered to the earth you’re heir to. Chained to this sameness. Destined to remain. In your pain. In your pain.”  Wow.  I was writing bad poetry to the stars. And then I thought about her, the tightening in my gut, the heart sinking again, circling back into loneliness. I was alone, and though still amazed by the endless beauty around me, frustrated that I couldn’t find a frame for this vastness of feeling. So I went into my cabin and took refuge in sake. Lots of sake.

Not surprisingly, I felt no better in the morning.

The following winter, I stood in the same place with a new love. The same unbelievable beauty, only not alone. I had someone I loved to share it with. We were fighting the entire time.

“Look at the stars,” I pleaded.

“Just shut up.”

So, we gave up and went in to my cabin to sleep, shut off from the vast sky. Ah, truly there is no distance in the universe greater than the space between two people in bed no longer speaking to each other.  I was in a wonderful new relationship with a wonderful woman in a wonderful environment, and I was still unhappy and alone. So, I got up and meditated.

Still, I felt no better in the morning.

Here I was, meditating daily and the pain I had lived with, run from and drunk under the table for so many years, seemed even bigger here in the mountains. With less atmosphere, it certainly was clearer.  I was supposed to be getting better. How awkward.

Working with the heart in meditation is challenging. We work so hard to find stability and then we fall in love, or out of love, or somehow genuinely touch love, and our practice goes to pieces. When we touch this soft spot in our psychology, we move past the defensive barrier created as a reaction to pain. All at once, we are without an answer. We become defenseless. We are without a clue. We are alone.

And this is actually a beautiful place to be. Without answers, the world opens and we begin to see. Without a plan, we clear a path. Without defense, we can touch the heart of experience. Without knowing, we begin to understand.

Yet, the truth of our aloneness in the universe feels, well, awkward.

The rawness of naked experience is overwhelming. Its hard to stay on the spot. So, we jump off and eat. Or, we pick a fight. Or, wander the shadows looking for love. Or, maybe if we’re really disciplined, we erect a defensive monument to our pain in the name of meditation. That would be a win-win for ego. We can develop further meditative equipoise and protect ourselves from the heart at the same time. We can follow rules, be silent, wake up early each morning working tirelessly for the benefit of others and all the while ignore our own feelings, keeping our heart locked away where it can’t create chaos.

Regardless of our style, whether we drink too much, love too much, eat too much or need so so much, the tendency when we are heartbroken is to scramble to build another set of walls, a conceptual frame that will give us a sense of control.


And there’s the rub, for if love shows us anything, its how little control we actually have.

We were born alone, and we’ll die alone. In between, we’ll fill as much space as we can to avoid the truth that we are really very small, vulnerable and ultimately of less importance to the universe than it is comfortable to imagine. So, we rail against that, and create whatever story we can, with ourselves at the center. Anything to avoid the loneliness we feel when the walls come down. We text friends and friends of friends and unfriend friends on Facebook  and make new friends, all the time trying to control our experience, to create a world we can control. A world free of chance.

A world free of love.

Ironically, while looking for love we sometimes block the very thing and end up with only need. Particularly, if we’re looking for love outside of our own heart. We might think we have love if we’re always filling space with it, trying to maintain it, or constantly looking for it. But, looking is sometimes antithetical to having.

And, you definitely don’t feel better in the morning.

We will never have love until we learn to love the person we really need to love, ourselves.  Until we accept that we are fundamentally good and worthy of love, and learn to provide that for ourselves, we will continue to wander like an old ghost, calling for love but finding only loss. The truth is there is nothing wrong with loneliness, except that we think there’s no love there.  So, the work is to bring the love there.

Instead of feeling abandoned and punished, the truth is, we are in a very powerful position.  Great strength comes from the gentle acceptance of how we feel moment to moment, alone. Touching our heart without apology, or plan. Simply learning to be with the raw feeling, and HAVING NO ANSWERS is the practice. The practice is being. Not doing.

Just being with the breath, or the heart, or the uncomfortable moment, as it is. That’s where we find a universe big enough to fit our loneliness and still have room to breathe. And that’s were we’ll find the heart that loves without object and simply rests in love itself.

So, now I let love muss up the meditation. I let loneliness and fear be there in my practice. I know surely that life is suffering, and that all of us humans compound that suffering by trying to find truths outside of ourselves, and by disbelieving the one key to our liberation: that there is only this moment, and there is nothing we need to make it better.

Knowing that we are alone and by resting in that, we connect to the truth of the universe, and so become part everything. Then we can learn the true joy of caring for others, authentically. When we feel we have enough, by knowing we ARE enough, then we don’t need from anyone. We have a gift no one can take from us. And, since we don’t need from others, we can give freely, without the thought of being used, or hurt, or worrying what we get from the deal.

Being instead of doingBeing love. Just resting in love for no reason at all, is a pretty liberating experience.

And, yes, its awkward.  And you may still feel lonely in the morning.

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By Joseph Mauricio

Joe Mauricio will be teaching Radical Compassion: The Practice of Tonglen, at the NY Shambhala Center on August 17-18. If you’d like to register, or read more about the program, or perhaps just feel a little less lonely, see what happens when you click here.