When I came to live at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, I was very idealistic. I was determined to make a big shift in my life, a shift that required a lot of idealism, and a little bit of courage too. I was putting on hold many of the expectations about what I had been taught about success, particularly with regard to making money or having a romantic relationship. I was giving these things up in order to follow what seemed to be greater ideals: to devote myself to simple living, to learn to be happy in a harmonious community, and ultimately to come to some understanding about what is really important in life, so that I could make a contribution that I could be confident would have a real, lasting value. Like all romantic notions, there was some truth to these ideals, and there was some fantasy as well.
Nearly two years later, I still struggle with the conflict between my ideals and my expectations. One of the most difficult things is a sense of loneliness. Lately, I live mostly with monks, who, as many might expect, are not the most social types. I spend a lot of time in solitude.
This requires a kind of self-reliance, and a cultivation of mind that is not always reacting to external things
My struggle is not just a struggle with loneliness, but also a struggle with the fact that solitude itself is a double-edged sword. I’m accustomed to a way of relying on others to help orient me to the world, to set the rudder, and to steer this ship of life. What I have been finding lately is that those around me have a great care about where this ship is going, but there is a different way of valuing it. The cultivating approach is more about teaching people how to steer the ship themselves. This requires a kind of self-reliance, and a cultivation of mind that is not always reacting to external things, but that has a kind of solitude in itself, a kind of perspective to see and choose a course without just being tossed around by the waves.
Solitude requires a kind of patience, but it also cultivates patience. If I am really patient with loneliness, and not just finding ways to distract myself, I find I can be patient with other things too.
Solitude requires a kind of patience, but it also cultivates patience. If I am really patient with loneliness, and not just finding ways to distract myself, I find I can be patient with other things too. I can be more patient with other people, I can be more patient with situations, I can be more patient with my own emotions and reactions. In this patience, there is space for self-understanding, gentleness and compassion.
There is a solitude in patience too–a different kind of solitude. The solitude of patience is not just about being around people or not. It is a kind of solitude of not identifying with things, of having a little more space in the mind to not be wrapped up in everything that comes up, whether alone or with others. I think that to see this kind of solitude, it is probably good to spend time alone, on retreat, or just with a little quiet space, but it doesn’t have to stay there. There is a space in the mind, or in the heart, where this kind of solitude, and this patience, can bring a lot of benefit to the world. What really matters in life? And how can we show up in the world to embody this? How can we have find a space in the mind to really pursue these questions, to really put them into practice? These questions might require a lot of commitment, but I think maybe they are not too idealistic to pursue.