Founder Acharya His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Loneliness in Monastery
By Premanjana Das   |  Jul 30, 2022
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image courtesy of Premanjana Das

A monastery is a place where the monks who are dedicated to cultivating spiritual life live as renunciants. Living in the association of like-minded persons who are similarly aspiring and dedicated to spiritual goals empowers a person to pursue this path which is considered challenging and glorious in our scriptures. Monasteries are also often a place of worship where the congregation assembles regularly for spiritual sanga and inspiration. Ten years back, there was a new shift in our monastery when 15 youths – young, dynamic, educated, and full of vigor and enthusiasm decided to become monks. If there is something that is required for taking a break from a regular career, often times facing opposition from family, choosing to lead a sexually pure life, dedicated to worshiping God and working towards spiritual upliftment of society – it is courage and faith.

They are trained to lead a life of discipline, regulation, and selfless service to the community. Early morning prayers, meditation, worshiping deities, philosophical discourses, cleaning, services, spiritualized food(prasad), and self-study – all are various different components of the lifestyle. However, one of the crucial things that keeps one going forward on this path is the quality of relationships among fellow monks. Relationships that go beyond formal regular conversations and are based on mutual care and trust. That however may not always be the case.

“I am feeling lonely and I don’t know what to do about it!!!”, exasperated Gaura Das recently.

“I don’t want to face it but I think I cannot handle it anymore…” Gaura continued…,” I am aware that I am hooked to social media just because I am experiencing the pain of loneliness at heart. I am unable to connect authentically with devotees around me. I don’t think they understand me or would even care to listen. When I joined the ashram, it was so good. But as time passed by, I don’t know what happened..”

I wasn’t surprised by this sudden sharing. I was noticing that he is struggling emotionally, but I never approached him to express my concerns. Gaura is one of the most sought devotees for various services, seems jolly in public life, never misses his meditation Japa, counsels several devotees, and is an inspirational figure for the congregation, yet internally he was going through this turmoil.

I tried to be present at that moment with him, marveling at his courage to actually articulate it, while simultaneously trying hard not to jump in with any of my ‘wisdom’ or ‘advice’.

Gaura continued, “ I can’t see how I can overcome this feeling. It seems to be consuming me. Marriage is no guarantee either. I don’t know if I am ready to take that risk, having spent more than ten years in an ashram and seeing so many stories of struggles in marriage life with my own eyes. I know I would not be an exception to it. I have so many services as well and I try to keep myself busy, yet this experience of loneliness seems to always work in the background.”

‘Hmmm’, Thank you for so authentically sharing this with me”, I replied. It seems you are looking for deeper connections. “

“YES- Do you think it is possible to have it in an ashram? Do you think it is possible to have in this world? Do you think it’s possible to have such a thing in the modern age marked with hypocrisy and quarrel ?”

Although I did not have very clear answers to various questions that emerged in our conversation, I could resonate with him, his thinking, and the situation that he was going through. I was particularly glad for two things: His courage and authenticity to acknowledge what he was going through and that he could trust me to reveal his heart.

“LONELINESS” – What is the first feeling that emerges in the heart while hearing this word? For me, it’s something sad, unwanted, something that’s looked down upon, painful, hard to admit, and taboo to discuss.

“I AM FEELING LONELY” – What will be our feelings towards a person saying this? Assuming the person is somewhat fairly known to us.

Philosophically, It might be easy to classify loneliness as one of the miseries due to body and mind, or the result of ‘bad karma’, and yet can be quite challenging to deal with it personally or deal with our near and dear ones who are experiencing such phases of feeling lost and lonely.

With the ‘negative’ ‘taboo’ around it, it can even be more challenging to seek help or support. After all, generally one feels lonely because the person doesn’t feel connected with anyone or doesn’t trust that he/she has close friends who will care about him/her. Then whom to share with or where to seek support?

And depending upon the individual case, it may even need medical professional attention as well.

One may struggle with self-doubt and self-worth, may feel isolated, may always struggle to ‘fit in’, or may trust people very easily or not at all.

One may become addicted to intoxication, pornography, or continually distract oneself by overeating or oversleeping simply to avoid the pain of loneliness.

One of the things that can strongly help one in dealing with loneliness (either personal or in others) is taking a closer look at our relationship with feelings of loneliness. How do I see loneliness? Something unwanted? Something that I resist strongly? Something to avoid?

Words have meanings and they carry power.

loneliness can mean pain, or something unwanted. Or loneliness can mean a deep yearning for a deeper connection

When viewed through this lens – feeling lonely may mean that I am yearning deeply for a deeper connection.

Loneliness then is simply pointing to the foundational need of the soul – yearning for connection.

And our Vedic scriptures repeatedly emphasize that Krishna- the supreme charmer can provide that connection that would be deeply fulfilling. Unlimitedly wholesome. Fully satisfying. Each soul has a very unique, very intimate relationship with Krishna. Krishna can perfectly reciprocate with each soul’s longing to unlimitedly love and unlimitedly feel loved.

And yet one may find it challenging initially to experience this. What does one do then?

The transformation may not be overnight. But healing begins when one simply embraces loneliness as one’s deep yearning for a deeper connection. A deeper connection with self, with Krishna, and with at least one person who also facilitate a person’s connection with self and Krishna.

 

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