I’m currently reading a book by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. They are discussing how the current situations around the world can make us feel frightened or angry and cause us to withdraw. While the book covers many topics, there is a chapter on loneliness, which is too long to reprint in full here, but I wanted to share a couple of pages with our readers. ~ Gayle, C. Australia
“When someone is warmhearted, they are always completely relaxed. If you live with fear or consider yourself as something special, then automatically, emotionally, you are distanced from others. You then create the basis for feelings of alienation from others and loneliness. So, I never consider, even when giving a talk to a large crowd, that I am something special, I am His Holiness the Dalai Lama," he said, mocking his venerated status.
“I always emphasize that when I meet people, we are all the same human beings. A thousand people – same human being. Ten thousand or a hundred thousand – same human being – mentally, emotionally and physically. Then you see no barrier. Then my mind remains completely calm and relaxed. If too much emphasis on myself, and I start to think I’m something special, then more anxiety, more nervousness.
“The paradox is that although the drive behind excessive self-focus is to seek greater happiness for yourself, it ends up doing exactly the opposite. When you focus too much on yourself, you become disconnected and alienated from others. In the end, you also become alienated from yourself, since the need for connection with others is such a fundamental part of who we are as human beings.
“This excessive self-focus is also bad for your health. Too much fear and distrust, too much focus on yourself leads to stress and high blood pressure. Many years ago, I was at a gathering of medical scientists and researchers at Columbia University in New York. One of the medical scientists said in his presentation that those people who disproportionately use the first-person pronouns – I, I, I, me, me, me, and mine, mine, mine – have a significantly greater risk of having a heart attack. He didn’t explain why, but I felt this must be true. This is a deep insight. With too much self-focus, your vision becomes narrow, and with this even a small problem appears out of proportion and unbearable.
“Also, fear and distrust come from too much focus on yourself. Thus will cause you to always remain separate from your human brothers and sisters. This brings loneliness and difficulty communicating with other people. After all, you are part of the community, so you have to deal with them. Your interests and your future depend on other people. If you isolate yourself from them, how can you be a happy person? You just have more worry and more stress. Sometimes I say that too much self-centeredness closes our inner door, and it becomes hard to communicate with other people. When we are concerned with the well-being of other human beings, that inner door opens, and we are able to communicate very easily with other people.”
The co-writer, Douglas Abrams, observes: The Dalai Lama was saying that when one is thinking about others with kindness and compassion, one is never lonely. Openheartedness – warmheartedness – is the antidote to loneliness. It has often amazed me that one day I can walk down the street feeling judgmental and critical of others, and I feel separate and lonely, and the next day I can walk down the same street with more openhearted acceptance and compassion and suddenly everyone seems warm and friendly. It is almost as if my inner state of mind and heart changes the physical and social world around me completely.
This focus on the importance of warmheartedness echoes the research of social psychologists Chen-Bo Zhong and Shira Gabriel, who have found that when people are feeling lonely or socially rejected, they literally seek warmth, like sipping hot soup.
What the Dalai Lama is saying is that we can generate that warmth simply by opening our hearts and turning our attention and our concern to other people.*
*Entire excerpt taken from pages 130 and 131 of
The Book of Joy, lasting happiness in a changing world
written by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
with Douglas Abrams.