6 Practices for Honoring Heartache and Leaning into Loneliness

We don’t exactly make Heartache and Loneliness welcome at the table.

They’re the guys we’d rather have not invited, but we couldn’t get out of it. The girls with nothing good to say about anything.

And what do we do?

We go sit somewhere else. At the far side of the table, where the fun’s happening.

But heartache and loneliness are nothing to be resolved, or avoided. If you’ve ever tried, you know it’s impossible.  And for as long as we continue to do that, we can never have a non-threatening relationship with them.

But when we can chill alongside our unwelcome guests, loneliness and heartache can become kind. We can feel friendly towards them.

Making friends with our loneliness is going to the places that scare us Click To Tweet

Drawing on teachings from Tibetan Buddhism, this article is about how we might go about cultivating an empowering friendliness with loneliness and heartache.

These are necessary practices for us all, but especially if you know you run from your pain.

Feelings we can’t relax with


Loneliness is one of those, isn’t it?

For me, loneliness has had an impatient quality; a hunger that makes me full of desire for resolution somehow. And the satisfaction is only ever temporary.

It is the same with boredom and anxiety. They feel urgent.

Loneliness humbles us and helps us to become compassionate Click To Tweet

But I have become familiar with a different side to loneliness, too. A side that has been humbling to experience, and has deepened my relationship with myself and all of life.

Ultimately, our ability to be with our loneliness can change us. It can transform us from people that are closed off to our own suffering and that of others, to people with self-knowledge and compassion.

Gifts of loneliness?


As well as that hot urgent quality, there are qualities to loneliness that are relaxing and cooling. They turn our usual fear patterns completely on their head.

These are the qualities that people who seem to have made friends with their loneliness are in touch with.

It doesn’t mean that they don’t feel it, or are hopeful that their situation may be different someday. But there is no heat to the loneliness; no sense of running away.

They saddle up next to their guests. They eat dinner with them.

So what are these 6 qualities of ‘cool’ loneliness?

6 qualities of cool loneliness


In her book When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron identifies them as:

  • less desire.
  • contentment.
  • avoiding unnecessary activity.
  • complete discipline.
  • not wondering in the world of desire.
  • not seeing security from discursive thoughts.

These overlap to a significant degree. However, each quality, being slightly distinct, offers an access to how we behave unconsciously with loneliness.

‘Less desire’


Having less desire seems like it would be a bad thing. People take pills for that.

But it is actually a good thing not to be overrun with, and overwhelmed by, desire.

Less desire is the willingness to be lonely without resolution, when everything in us yearns for something to cheer us up and change our mood. 

When we practice less desire, we are effectively sowing the seeds so that the semi-permanent restlessness that seems inherent to the human condition, gradually decreases.

Lasting pleasure is found when we refrain from acting out of hot loneliness. We grow up Click To Tweet

After we practice this consistently, something shifts. We begin to taste real satisfaction in refraining from acting on hot loneliness. 

We are lonely but we aren’t defeated by it.



Can we be lonely and content at the same time?

Yeah, we can.

When we have nothing, we have nothing to lose.

There is a content to be experienced in loneliness. We have nothing and therefore nothing to lose Click To Tweet

The kind of contentment I am talking about isn’t the kind that we have been trained to value. It emerges when we have given up believing that we are able to escape loneliness, or that escape is going to bring lasting pleasure or happiness. Even if we continue with the habitual thing we do out of loneliness a billion times, we are aware we are doing it.

And eventually, we can just be right there with the mood. 

‘Avoiding unnecessary activity’

Unnecessary activity is the stuff we nosedive into to escape from hot loneliness. It’s whatever we do to keep ourselves busy so we don’t have to feel pain.

The point of all the activities is that we are seeking companionship. It is the habitual ways we distance ourselves from the demon loneliness.

Feeling lonely and avoiding 'busyness' is another way we gain lasting satisfaction. It is about self-care Click To Tweet

This practice describes doing the opposite.

We stop chasing and just relax into loneliness. We have some compassion for ourselves.

‘Complete discipline’


Complete discipline means training ourselves gently to return to the present moment.

There is nothing in particular to cultivate here. You just sit still for long enough that is dawns that loneliness is, in fact, life. We are fundamentally alone and there is nothing anywhere we can hold onto to change that.

Discipline is training ourselves to return to the present moment, when we burn to escape Click To Tweet

More to the point, this isn’t a problem.

As Chodron says, it allows us to discover an unfabricated state of being.

‘Not wondering in the world of desire’


What is wondering in the world of desire?

It is what we usually do to comfort ourselves. There is usually an addictive quality.

That quality comes from never having grown up. 

Practicing not wondering in the world of desire is about relating directly with how things are. Loneliness isn’t a problem and the same is true of any other experience that we have.

‘Not seeking security from discursive thoughts’


When the rug is pulled from underneath us, the temptation to buy into the companionship of our own dialogue about how things are and aren’t, and what should and shouldn’t be, is powerful.

This kind of loneliness is learning not to expect security from the chatter. Instead, we are encouraged to touch the chatter and let it go. We recognise that it lacks objectiveness. And reality. 

This practice helps us to look honestly, and without aggression, at our own minds. We drop our ideals and just look directly with compassion and humor at who we are.



These practices don’t provide any resolution for loneliness or heartache. That’s because there isn’t any resolving these parts of being a human. As I am sure you have already learned. 

Our unwanted guests aren’t going to magically disappear never to return one day.

Heartache and Loneliness aren't going away. That's why these practices are so essential Click To Tweet

In learning to experience them differently though, we open up an aspect of our life  – of all of life – to our witness.

In Buddhist terms, these practices challenge us to step into a world with no reference point and without polarization. This is what’s known at the ‘Middle Way’.

Waking up in the middle of the night, or in the morning, and feeling from nowhere the heartache of alienation and loneliness is our golden opportunity to be with ourselves like never before. 

And the rewards of doing that?

The places that scare us are no longer so frightening.