The Dharma of Being Alone

Avis in 1940

Not having a husband anymore leaves me feeling alone, a lot. For the time being, I’m not dating anyone and I am living life without a partner, so someone might say, “She’s on her own,” or “Yeah, she’s single” and we all know what that means.  As if any of us is really on our own or living singly, especially if, like me, you have two children, a co-parent, friends that you call and talk to all the time and parents that live next door. If you are a teacher, you have students, and if you are a student, you have teachers.  Maybe you have a therapist.  We all have farmers growing our food, store clerks that help us at the stores, factory owners, workers and distributors that get you those cookies that you luuuv…the web of connections is intricate and extensive and wonderful, but still, we all know what “single” means.  Single means that you are still missing that perfect puzzle piece of a person who will fill your hole and complete you.

Ha ha! Just kidding. I couldn’t resist.  Single is really what we all are.  We need to be able to know our self-separate from our spouse, kids or extended family because it is from this place that we really come to know our personal dharma, or our roles and responsibilities to family, our community and ourselves.  The continued practice of svadyaya or self-study helps you to know your personal dharma. It isn’t impossible to uncover it while married, but I’ll tell you being single has given me a lot more time to contemplate things like my dharma and…well, being single.  Sometimes I miss having a little, traditional nuclear family so much that it hurts.  I miss being able to be in that place where four people are forging a life with the common goal of loving each other, helping each other to grow and doing it together.  And there’s something else that I miss about it…I miss being able to ignore myself. When in nuclear family mode, my personal issues could disguise themselves as group issues, husband issues or general relationship issues. “The kids were a mess today!  That explains why I’m a mess.” I could ignore the little voice that told me that I wasn’t really following my dharma (which is known to have symptoms of malaise, disenchantment, and a lack of joie de vivre) because I was too busy listening to my nuclear family voice that said, “Kids are fed and happy.  We’re just fine.  Let’s sit on the couch together with wine and a movie and put off that troublesome self-reflection.”

Now, I’m single/alone/whatever you want to call it and I have a lot more time to hang out with myself.  This is really nice when I want to read, write or do yoga. I even take myself on dates to the movies. “Do you want some popcorn, Amanda?”  “You know I do, girl.”  But when I’m not doing something enjoyable and instead, I’m grappling with something in my life that isn’t working so well, then it’s a little less nice.  In the past, when there was a family group, the reasons that things weren’t working were mostly my husband’s fault.  But now, he’s not around to blame and to my surprise, I’m finding that there are some things that are totally my deal.  There are things that I do or think or say that cause me heartache and those things are all mine.  I’ve had some dark “alone” moments (picture mascara running down blotchy, tear streaked face) but I see some light in there somewhere, too.  This aloneness has given me time to get to know myself a little better and to better understand my personal dharma.  For example, I now understand that my personal dharma is different from the fake dharma that other people thought I should have and I believed for a while, or the bogus dharma that I thought other people thought I should have.   I’ve learned that it’s important to listen when something is a little off inside and the bogus dharma symptoms appear because those are clues that things might need some reevaluation.

I think we women-moms often find ourselves saddled with a fake dharma and we too easily shrugg off the bogus-dharma-symptoms.  We want to do a good job as women-moms but no one is born with complete know-how.   We saw our moms try their best to be good at that job and our subconscious took notes.  We see friends giving it their best shot and maybe not so subconsciously, we model our behavior after those great gals.  Motherhood can be so overwhelming and it isn’t necessary or possible to figure it all out on our own, but when we just take on someone else’s version of what motherhood means without checking in to see if it is what we think it means, we can get confused about what our personal dharma really is.  We can play a part or be the grease that keeps the family unit running smoothly and it might look good and sometimes it feels good, but when our heart and soul isn’t aligned with the role we play, if it isn’t connected to who we are, singly and individually, then it doesn’t satisfy. This applies to motherhood and to all those other responsibilities we accept and fulfill.  When we do what we are here to do, it feels right and good.  We can feel it and other people can see it in us. Personal dharma is very individual. Gary Kraftsow* says, It is through the fulfillment of our personal dharma that we connect to our ultimate dharma—the one that has to do with reaching our highest potential as human beings.  It is fulfilling our dharma that gets us closer to ananda, an ultimate joy and bliss of connecting to the divine source within.  When we fulfill our personal dharma, we are better able to fulfill our ultimate dharma, the same ultimate dharma that all of us on the planet share.

This fantasy that being a part of a nuclear family will help me feel less alone is beautiful, but it isn’t the answer.  The ache has much more to do with just being a person and feeling who I am in this world, and knowing that, even in the beautiful and extensive web of connections, I have a personal, single, individual dharma to fulfill and that is to be done by me, alone.  I have to figure out who I am without explaining my aches by whom I do or don’t have along, because even though we were never meant to live in isolation from others, we still have the individual roles that we each carry out.  It is through the fulfillment of our personal dharma that we connect with this ultimate, universal and beautiful human-birthright of goodness or ananda. It is in knowing alone-ness, knowing that everyone has their individual role to fulfill that we connect to so many others out there who are working at the same thing.  We are all in this alone-thing together.

*This comes from Gary Kraftsow’s book, Yoga for Transformation: Ancient Teachings and Practices for Healing the Body, Mind and Heart.  Penguin; 2002. It hasn’t made it onto my book list yet, but only because I haven’t gotten to the end.  It probably will.

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3 thoughts on “The Dharma of Being Alone

  1. Hi Amanda, just reading a not so recent post of yours as the title caught my eye. Even when we are in a nuclear family we can still feel isolated, however we can surrender ourselves to the flow of family life. When we are separated we are not able to do this, because when we stop the flow stops. This can be a painful time and I know that I developed a habit of escaping from this pain by losing myself in the internet. I’ve looked at your blogging record since you’ve started and its consistent. It seems you have developed a wonderfully, positive habit of svadyaya, of achieving personal insight through writing, which is also a gift to your readers. I think we tend to forget that we are 99% human and 1% spiritual. and can be very hard on ourselves when the human side wins out.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Jerry. I think you are right. It is very possible to feel isolated even in the midst of family– whatever that looks like. And the very counter-intuitive response of allowing ourselves more vulnerability is sometimes the step to feeling more connected, but that is hard… takes lots of practice.

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