The real meaning of ‘living alone’

“Living alone” means living in a way that we are the master of ourselves, to have the freedom that comes from not being dragged away  by the past, not living in fear of the future, and not being pulled around by strong emotions caused by the circumstances of the present. When we are master of ourselves, we can grasp the situation as it is, and we are in the best position to handle whatever may arise. When we dwell in mindfulness day and night, then we are truly practising “the better way to live alone.” This is true whether we are surrounded by family and friends, or when we are living a solitary life.

If a doctor tells you, ” You have cancer and probably only have six months to live,” you will likely feel completely overwhelmed. The fear, the idea that “I’m going to die in six months,” can take away your peace and joy. Before the doctor told you about the cancer you could sit and enjoy your tea, eat your meal, or watch the moon, while now your fear takes away all your joy and freedom.

But the doctor’s words can be a bell of mindfulness. We all have six months to live, or seven months, or ten years. If we can know and accept that death is something that comes to everybody, we will not suffer so much. The doctor who tells us we have six months to live will also die. Maybe the doctor will die before us. We  may be lucky to have six months to live. If we look deeply, we see things that we can’t otherwise see. We can get back our freedom from fear and, with that freedom and non-fear we may live those six months happily.

We are all equal as far as life and death are concerned. Everyone has to die. But before we die, can we live properly? If we live properly, then the quality of our last six months can be higher than if we were to live for six or sixty years.If we are caught in the fetters of suffering, our lives don’t have the same meaning they would if we lived in freedom. Knowing that we have to die, we can become determined to live our lives properly and deeply. If we are not able to live with peace, joy and freedom, then we live as if we are already dead.

Do not pursue the past.
Do not lose yourself in the future.
The past no longer is.
The future has not yet come.
Looking deeply at life as it is
in the very here and now,
the practitioner dwells
in stability and freedom.
We must be diligent today.
To wait till tomorrow is too late.
Death comes unexpectedly.
How can we bargain with it?
The sage calls a person who
dwells in mindfulness
night and day
‘the one who knows
the better way to live alone.’

-extracted from the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh