September 09, 2007

Lonley in Nirvana

As the sun set yesterday, I paced back and forth in the small confines of my apartment. I cleaned a little, trailed the shoestring for my cat, looked at the Netflix envelope unopened on my desk, and finally flopped down onto my bed and stared at the ceiling fan whirling overhead until my eyes hurt. An uncomfortable malaise gripped me. I was antsy, skittish, annoyed, and bored. I realized then, I had gone an entire day without speaking to anyone.

Oh, I said hello to the clerk at the grocery store, nodded to a few passersby on the street, and sent a couple of emails in the morning, but I hadn’t had any significant interaction with anyone for the entire day. And what of the entire prior week? The week I had spent running hither and yon like my cat with that shoestring?

I spoke to my professors and classmates, discussing architectural theory, projects, and homework. I spoke to the ladies in the Art Department office as I came in to fetch the gallery key. I spoke to the librarians about working a few hours in the architecture library, and to a very funny postman who helped me fill out the paperwork for my passport.

I don’t know how it is in other places, but here in Nebraska “How are you?” is the common greeting. The requisite response is “Fine, yourself?” This exchange could take all of two seconds as you pass someone on the street or in the hall. It is really no more than an exchange of hello’s. I have been asked that several times in the past week. I don’t think it was ever intended as an honest question. I was never compelled to provide an honest answer. If I had been, I probably would have replied differently.

As I lay fully clothed in my bed last night and watched the ceiling fan spin, I had to admit to myself: I’m lonely. What’s worse, spending Saturday night in bed alone, or going out alone? Yet, what’s so bad about either? Nothing really. I now lean in to this feeling, as I’ve been taught to do. How does it feel? Where? What is the texture, taste, sound of this thing? What constitutes this tightness in my gut? When I have the sense of it, when I feel I have leaned in enough, I start to think again.

Is this just a reaction to leaving Shambhala and returning home? No, I don’t think so. I remember this feeling. It has been growing for over a year now. This is how I felt last winter. Being in Shambhala only put it on hold for a while. This is the feeling of a twenty-seven year old woman who’s never had a significant long-term relationship in her life.

That’s not something easy to admit, or pleasant to dwell on. It’s not territory I usually let my mind wander in to. I was always resolved not to let the search for a partner, for marriage and children, define my life. I was never one of those girls who bounced straight from one boyfriend to another. I always sort of looked down on those girls. And so long as I was still a girl myself, that way okay. I haven’t thought of myself as a girl for several years now.

I still hold the same feelings, the same convictions. I have a hard time picturing myself married. I doubt I will ever feel the urge to have children of my own. I am still unconvinced of the so called “power” or romantic love. But I am not looking for any of that.

I want closeness, intimacy, support, and yes, love. I don’t want someone who will build me up, put me on a pedestal, or look at me through rose colored glasses. I want someone who will know me, truly know me. I’ve wanted that for a long time.

But then I would tell myself to stop whining about it. Stop feeling sorry for myself. And what would I do with a man, if I had one? Probably drive him crazy with my own damned need for independence, control, and space. Resent him for the demands he might place on me, for any ideas he might have about “needing” me, for cramping my style. Or would I?

Things changed this summer. A friend helped me realize how hard I can be on myself sometimes, how I cover it up with a blasé attitude, a shrug, and a smile. I tell myself I’m being compassionate by not inflicting my negative emotions on others. I remind myself “nirvana is now,” and go about my day telling myself that if I can just believe enough, pretend enough, eventually it will become natural. Someday, I might actually start to see it. In the meantime…

I also learned this summer that I might not mind those so called “demands.” I’m not a girl anymore. I might just have finally grown out of that tom-boyish streak of stubbornness, that “I’m not going to do it because someone else wants me to.” Regardless of what I wanted, of course.

It’s so ridiculous. Sometimes I want to laugh. This college campus is filled with couples and they make it look so effortless, although I’m sure it’s not. If “Coupling 101” were a class, I think I’d have better luck passing graduate level astrophysics. *sigh*

For the first time, I’m looking myself square in the face.

PS – I was tempted to end with “And Damn! I’m hot!” but I’ve begun to discover what I hide behind flippancy, even from myself.


greenfrog said...
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TK said...

Over here, "hey" or a nod will do, taking all of 2 nsec. Oh, and that wanting intimacy, that's Mara sweet-talking you into roaming through this samsara searching for the next fix.

Monica said...


Mara must be pretty sneaky indeed to already have me addicted to something I've never tried. ;-)

I've managed to comfort myself in years past by labeling it desire or attachment. I've taken pride in myself for not being weak and "needing" anyone. But how much of that is actually renunciate and how much is just fear? Which is worse: the suffering of desire? or the suffering of fear?

I think this is an area of my life I need to explore, so I can learn and grow. So I can have compassion for others who experience similar things. Can I truly renounce intimacy if I don't know what I'm renouncing? And is that true renunciation if it just becomes another barrier between myself and others?

So many questions; so much confusion.

TK said...

Well, to be honest, I don't fight those tendencies. I think it is enough to recognize them for what they really are: the evolution wanting us to self-preseve and reproduce. It's sort of like what John Nash did to overcome his delusions. The recognition that his delusions were psychotic did not make delusions go away. But the recognition helped him stay calm through delusions rather than reacting. Likewise, recognizing our desires (and fears) as what they really are let us weather them in peace rather than obsessing like an addict.

ND said...

Yes, this is where balance between 'insight' meditation and 'calmness' meditation is needed, because we can easily get attached to the labeling itself, i.e. one should not get hung up on concepts like 'fear' and 'suffering' too much.

And then it is easier not getting attached to comparison of concepts.

Easier said than done, though :-)

Jack said...

Interesting article, honestly written.

A lot of times in life, we cannot clearly see our own thinking on something. The mind is a flow of emotions, thoughts, and memories. We probably make a mistake when we think mind things are something more important or permanent rather than transient.

Fear, sensual desire, an interest in connecting to and loving another human being -- these are all part of the mix, and they really do not need to be clearly separated. They probably cannot be sorted into buckets of this OR this OR this, when it's mostly a mixture of this AND this AND this.

Not being afraid of change is a wholesome loosening of our grip on life. Focusing attention on ensuring that the overall flow of life remains wholesome has been more useful for me than my natural tendency of trying to freeze the flow of reality into boxes I can analyze.