I’ve struggled with loneliness a lot. I live in Los Angeles by myself, far from my family in New Jersey. I don’t have a family of my own, and I’ve spent many years in the entertainment business, which is by nature transient. You and the people you’re close to go on tour for months at a time.
Even meditation can sometimes feel like a barrier to closeness. Sometimes over the years, I’ve felt like a freak for devoting so much time to a practice people often didn’t understand or looked on with skepticism.
But many people struggle with loneliness. Whether you’re in a relationship, whether you have family, whether your path is mainstream, whether you work with the same people every day, there are no guarantees of consistently fulfilling connections. Loneliness is a fundamental part of the human experience. Often, the superficial ways we try to avoid it only makes it worse.
Sitting at the Zen center the other day I was reminded that my teacher sometimes uses the word “home” to refer to the peace that is ever present. This peace is beyond dualistic thinking. It’s beyond loud and quiet, chaos and calm, stability and instability. Yet paradoxically, it’s contained in all these. It’s a peace that teaches you by illuminating your habit of getting caught in dualistic thinking, while freeing you from that habit.
Through meditation, you can develop your capacity to contact ever-abiding peace. To the degree that you are able to know it directly, you can derive profound relief from the absolute acceptance inherent in the experience. So you could say that at any moment, any time and anywhere, each of us can go home. It’s a matter of developing your skills to discover home in this moment and letting go of your preconceptions of what home is or what it should be. No small matter!
If you look closely, you can see how the inability to be skillful or let go in that way is at the root of suffering around loneliness. So it’s imperative to do the work. Personally, I’ve had the habit of imagining this or that guy would fill my romantic vision of really belonging, really mattering, finally being truly valued. To find that with another human being is a wondrous gift.
But what about all the time that may pass without finding that person? What about the times that person is not able to show up for you the way you wish he would? Getting to the point where you can meet your own need for home doesn’t preclude finding it in the ways you wish. It just makes you more available to embrace life as it is. Then you can more fully appreciate when and how people show up for you and you have an inner resource to get your needs met when that isn't the case.
We tend to have strong ideas about home. Years ago, my cousin, with whom I was very close, passed away suddenly. A few days later I went to a day-long mindfulness sit. I saw an older woman I was friendly with and she gave me a hug. As I hugged her, it felt exactly like hugging my mom. Alarmingly so.
It struck me that my mom would one day leave this earth. But if I could remain open to it, I would still be able to find the true heart of my connection with her, in unexpected places and ways. For me, this was a very mixed revelation. On the one hand it made the world more magical, and on the other hand it made loving seem more impersonal. I felt a loyalty to my mom as the unique bearer of that comfort. Yet here was proof that the very specific experience of hugging her could be found through other means.
At that moment, like it or not, I could see that however compelling your beliefs might be to the contrary, you are never truly far from home.