How it is to be alone

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    QUESTION: Dear Dharmavidya,… As you were used to travel a lot, to go where you’re asked, to be in groups, to give workshops and talks…what is it to have to stay on the same place, in a little community or alone, as now? What is it for you to ‘miss’ (?) all this activities? Eleusis is isolated. I think that I would be scared of this isolation, although I know that we’re never isolated, but the feeling can be there!

    SHORT ANSWER: Intensely peaceful.

    LONGER ANSWER: Being alone here is rather wonderful. I welcome guests when they appear but at present I am alone with the cat and the house and the land and the sky and the deities and Buddhas, the sun when she appears and the equally fickle moon and with my own head and heart, body and breath. And with silence. At this time of year there are not even many birds, just the odd owl call at night.

    You mention the possibility of being afraid… My rational mind tells me that there is a small danger in being alone. One could have an injury or a medical emergency and there would be nobody here to pick me up and whisk me off to hospital. However, I do not feel this risk. I suppose that the truth is that one is always in some kind of danger – we are mortal beings – and so one creates a threshold. When threat comes above the threshold one becomes anxious, but the rest of the time one is at peace. And the reality here is that being alone I am less disturbed and more at peace than I would be were there people around.

    From time to time I get an urge to get in the car and drive to some far away place or book an airplane, but then I smile at myself and put it aside. I know that there is a fair chance that I will recover sufficiently to travel again so it is a matter of wait and see. If it is so then I have a pleasure to look forward to, seeing my friends in far away places once again. On the other hand, if it turns out that my condition worsens then I can remain here and enjoy this place.

    It has been a wonderful thing to be here a complete year. Many times in the past I have said to myself that it would be a good thing to do, so now it is no longer on my to-do-list. It is hard to find words sufficient to say how much I love this piece of ground – the Artemis Wood, beautiful Aphrodite Field, and all the other sacred areas. The planet is over-populated and I have 16 hectare completely to myself – sometimes I am amazed at my good fortune.

    The matter of “missing” is interesting. I have sometimes felt grief in my life – terribly when my parents died, sometimes acutely when relationships broke up – but although I am alone physically here I still feel that my heart is thickly populated with good friends, yourself amongst them. Actual physical proximity is good, but only one dimension of being connected. I am sure we shall have plenty to talk about when we meet again, and this will be, in part, precisely because we have been apart.

    I have been looking back over my life and the Amida years have had some ups and downs, but, for all the occasional drama, it feels like a supremely good thing to have done and to be part of into the future. I imagine that some people may have been envious of my life, travelling to such amazing places and meeting so many interesting people, yet the same observers would not themselves have been – were not – willing to undertake the challenges and risks involved in casting one’s life upon the wind in such a way.

    People would ask me to do things. I would say “Yes!” and then afterwards wonder, how? I learnt a lot that way. Really that is the essence of Zen – not just sitting in rows or putting up with sore knees, not using a technique to eliminate one’s stress – it is much more fundamental than that. If one is willing, then the powers will arrange. Right now they have arranged for me to reside in paradise for a short while accompanied by a rather eccentric cat. The important thing is not to waste it.

    Who knows what comes next? As Pureland Buddhists we are supposed to believe that the next life will be in Sukhavati close to Amitabha Buddha. I have some confidence in that – a kind of homecoming – but I am just as willing (and quite curious) to be sent on some other mission – the powers will arrange. However, despite its recent failings, there is probably still quite a bit of use left in my present body so whether it is here or elsewhere or once again roaming I am sure there are many more interesting experiences waiting to be undergone.

    The worldly life is shaped by conditions and we all have one. The rigidities in us are given by karma and we can’t escape them. However, even if much of a great tree is actually dead wood, new sprigs still appear each spring, looking as though they were the first sign of life in the whole of time.

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