You’re Always Alone

Godfried Schalcken

“If you continue zazen, your characteristics change. Your sad face is completely transformed, unconsciously, naturally and automatically. It’s the Way that changes you, brings you back to a normal condition. You should not try to escape from loneliness by becoming too “diplomatic” or depending on other people. Solitude is good. Zen is solitude. Becoming intimate with yourself during zazen means being completely alone and also with the others, with the cosmos.” — Taisen Deshimaru

Who are you when you meditate? You are yourself, sure, and all of your various levels of conditioning, but you are also silent, peaceful, and unmovable. You sit solidly on the ground with your back erect and your mind tuned to the flow of the breath. Your breath is the rhythm of your life. It’s involuntary. Instead of forcing it, you simply follow it. You let the breath come and go. With the breath comes life; with life comes thoughts. Let your thoughts come and go with the breath. Everything comes, but it never stays. It always goes. In Zen, we make peace with this. There’s no use fighting life because it can’t be beat.

This is the state of solitude. In Zazen, you are entirely alone. There may be people around. There may be images of people in your head or specific names on your mind. These people come and go like the breath. You let them go. You welcome them in and welcome them out. You are entirely alone, always, even when you are with others. Why fight this undeniable truth? Why not instead let it liberate you?

When you cling to a thought, you lose the rhythm of the breath. You lose your awareness. In losing this awareness, you lose a certain sense of perspective and you deny life. You only cling to your thoughts about external things; rarely are you holding onto another person with your hands. Rarely are you clutching money to your chest fearfully. You cling only to your ideasof these things. You yearn for what they represent and what they provide. Ironically, what they provide is generated within yourself. The happiness that other people “provide” you with is created not by them but by you.

When you let this awareness sink in, thoughts become less powerful. In letting thoughts come and go with the breath, you let life in. Over time, this practice of Zazen fills you with more and more life, more and more awareness. It fills you with the strength to be alone, to rely wholly on your true self for your contentment. Anything you chase ends up chasing you back and consuming you.

We live and die alone. This isn’t depressing, contrary to what Hollywood sap stories would have you believe. It’s simply the truth. In learning to be comfortable with yourself, you stop seeking affirmation from others. Without needing affirmation, you can love and interact confidently, naturally and unselfishly. The secret is in the breath. Let everything simply come and go.

A 240-page collection of my writings is available here.

Support Daily Zen with a small monthly or one-time donation.
Get Daily Zen delivered to your inbox.