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I am wondering what is the antidote to loneliness, or the approach towards it, within Buddhism. I am finding myself quite lonely despite being previously familiar and at ease with solitude.

I am using social media quite often, mainly to chat with others; I find this might have exacerbated my feelings of loneliness.

I am wondering two things primarily: (1) What are the things that cause loneliness and exacerbate it? What are the non-social antidotes to loneliness?

(2) Does active and directed attention, whether in meditation or attending to tasks, alleviate feelings of loneliness in the long term?

And perhaps (3) what is the Buddhist view on social media use? Is it inherently fragmenting awareness as I suspect? Does it have no benefits?

  • What has changed for you since the time when you were "previously familiar and at ease with solitude"? Whatever that change means has to be part of an answer. – user2341 Sep 19 '17 at 11:10
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I am wondering what is the antidote to loneliness, or the approach towards it, within Buddhism.

In Buddhism loneliness is viewed and treated exactly as any other undesirable mindstate.

What are the things that cause loneliness and exacerbate it?

Any mental activity that involves "feeding" (sustaining) the description or image of the world as such that considers socializing to be a core valuable activity, would naturally cause the feeling of loneliness. This includes watching TV series and using social media. Also, as ChrisW said - comparing one's situation to others who are social, attachment to past pleasant social experiences. All this can be summarized as unwise application of attention which serves as feeding/sustenance of craving.

What are the non-social antidotes to loneliness?

The same old trick, wise application of attention. Moving one's perception into position where the problem of loneliness does not exist. The possibilities are infinite, from getting oneself involved with abstract sciences, to computer programming, creative performance and art, music -- to convincing oneself that loneliness is not only acceptable, but in fact natural for persons of high realization and beneficial for their well-being -- to direct Jhana experience of reviewing one's mental continuum and praising it for the absence of typical ups and downs that would have inevitably accompanied socializing.

(2) Does active and directed attention, whether in meditation or attending to tasks, alleviate feelings of loneliness in the long term?

Yes, exactly. See above.

(3) what is the Buddhist view on social media use? Is it inherently fragmenting awareness as I suspect? Does it have no benefits?

Mahayana view would be, that as long as your motivation is to help others, the use of social networks is appropriate, even if it causes you personal pain. In other words, Mahayana is totally fine with paying the price of suffering for the higher goal of helping others reduce theirs. This thought in itself reduces personal suffering.

Of course it fragments awareness. But this is the spirit of times, and we want to be in tune with it if we are to be relevant.

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I am wondering what is the antidote to loneliness>

Be mindful and keep attention on your breath.

I am using social media quite often>

If you investigating Dhamma and discussing Dhamma it is ok.

What are the things that cause loneliness and exacerbate it? >

Unrest

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"What are the things that cause loneliness and exacerbate it?"

The cause are mental fabrications that fabricate loneliness.

"What are the non-social antidotes to loneliness?"

Stop fabricating mental fabrications that fabricate loneliness.

"Does active and directed attention, whether in meditation or attending to tasks, alleviate feelings of loneliness in the long term?"

Try it and see it yourself. Everybody has his own ways to cope with loneliness.

"What is the Buddhist view on social media use? Is it inherently fragmenting awareness as I suspect? Does it have no benefits?"

In your case, if you're using social media to ease loneliness, it's like postponing the resolution of suffering to a latter date. Instead of focusing on the cause of your loneliness, you're focusing on social media. You think you need social media to ease loneliness. In reality you most probably don't need social media ... you just need to get rid of loneliness. Once you'll get rid of loneliness, you'll probably stop spending time on social media.

What you're experiencing is normal suffering due to loneliness. Psychologists will tell you it's normal as long as it does not interfere negatively on your physical or mental health. Most people do something to ease feelings of loneliness (make new friends, read, do sports, watch TV, ..). But that's not curing loneliness. It's like having a disease and alleviating its symptoms. This is no different than being depressive and drinking alcohol to ease the depression. Off course it's not dysfunctional as drinking alcohol, but the mechanism is the same: you suffer, and instead of resolving your main problems which are the cause of your suffering, you're postponing their resolution to a later date.

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OP: What are the things that cause loneliness and exacerbate it?

I see the desire for companionship as a type of sensual craving (kama tanha). When you engage in social media and obtain the pleasure of companionship and entertainment by chatting with others, you could increase this craving. When you imagine pleasures you could enjoy, by watching the lives of other people, who delight themselves in things that you have not, again, you could increase this craving. When you watch others, you could also experience the craving to become like them (bhava tanha).

When craving is not met, it leads to negative feelings. In this case, when the craving for companionship is not satisfied, it leads to loneliness.

OP: What are the non-social antidotes to loneliness?

As stated by other answers, you can redirect your mind to other pursuits, for e.g. reading a book. I suggest the book "In the Buddha's Words" by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Please also see this answer.

OP: Does active and directed attention, whether in meditation or attending to tasks, alleviate feelings of loneliness in the long term?

Yes.

OP: what is the Buddhist view on social media use? Is it inherently fragmenting awareness as I suspect? Does it have no benefits?

Over-excessive indulgence in social media could be akin to habitual partying, with potential exposure to bad companionship and potentially increasing laziness.

According to the Sigalovada Sutta:

"These are the six dangers inherent in habitual partying: You constantly seek, 'Where's the dancing? Where's the singing? Where's the music? Where are the stories? Where's the applause? Where's the drumming?'

"These are the six dangers inherent in bad companionship: any rogue, drunkard, addict, cheat, swindler, or thug becomes a friend and colleague.

"These are the six dangers inherent in laziness: saying, 'It's too cold,' one does not work; saying, 'It's too hot,' one does not work; saying, 'It's too late,' one does not work; saying, 'It's too early,' one does not work; saying, 'I'm too hungry,' one does not work; saying, 'I'm too full,' one does not work. With an abundance of excuses for not working, new wealth does not accrue and existing wealth goes to waste."

Of course, it is also possible to find good friends and be a good friend to others through social media. From the same sutta above:

"Young man, be aware of these four good-hearted friends: the helper, the friend who endures in good times and bad, the mentor, and the compassionate friend.

"The helper can be identified by four things: by protecting you when you are vulnerable, and likewise your wealth, being a refuge when you are afraid, and in various tasks providing double what is requested.

"The enduring friend can be identified by four things: by telling you secrets, guarding your own secrets closely, not abandoning you in misfortune, and even dying for you.

"The mentor can be identified by four things: by restraining you from wrongdoing, guiding you towards good actions, telling you what you ought to know, and showing you the path to heaven.

"The compassionate friend can be identified by four things: by not rejoicing in your misfortune, delighting in your good fortune, preventing others from speaking ill of you, and encouraging others who praise your good qualities."

Social media is like a knife that both the surgeon and the murderer could use, in my opinion.

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What are the things that cause loneliness and exacerbate it?

I don't know. Hypothetically or from my own experience, I suppose it includes:

  • Attachment (contrasting present solitude with memory of previous social situation)
  • Comparing yourself to others (e.g. "They have friends and are happy, where I do not and am not") -- which, apparently, is an aspect of "conceit"

I guess there could be other reasons too, e.g. imperfect morality (generosity, brahmaviharas, and the implementation of lay social life with friends and family and teachers and so on described in DN 31).

What are the non-social antidotes to loneliness?

I try to rationalize attachment by asking, "Was that relationship impermanent and disatisfactory (in which case it doesn't make sense to wish for it), or is it satisfying (in which case it doesn't make sense to mourn it)?"

What is the Buddhist view on social media use? Is it inherently fragmenting awareness as I suspect? Does it have no benefits?

There's a lot of advice about social media use, but the advice may not be "Buddhist" (or at least not canonical).

Yes there are people who advise you should have some "real friends", and not just "Facebook friends".

I suppose if you suspect that social media use is harmful for you, then you should limit it (perhaps like you would limit alcohol).

I think that a Buddhist retreat, at least, would have a rule that you should put away your social media device.

  • Funny how everyone here seems to think that wanting to be with other people is a mark of some kind of problem to be solved. Humans are social animals, they survive collectively, and life really has no point if one is alone. Nelson Mandela said that solitary confinement is the most inhumane punishment. Loneliness is no greater of a mystery or problem to be solved than being hungry or tired. It is built in. Just find some people! Doing what you must do is not wrong or a cause of trouble. Why do Buddhists resist ordinary necessities? – user2341 Sep 20 '17 at 12:05
  • The OP asked for "non-social antidotes to loneliness". – ChrisW Sep 20 '17 at 20:15
  • And my question to him of what changed has gone unanswered. Without that piece of information, there is no answer. My guess is that he became more mature and realized that "the self is too small an object for perpetual enthusiasm", and so he must interact with others in order to continue to grow (another built-in imperative). The Middle Way doesn't say abandon everything as a matter of dogma, it says choose wisely. Replying without knowing what we are addressing is bad medicine. – user2341 Sep 22 '17 at 12:26
  • I think this site is not exactly trying to prescribe medicine, but to answer questions about "Buddhism". This meta-topic says to answer the question that was asked. Yes there would have been [much] more to say if "social antidotes" hadn't been specifically excluded, and I suppose there are other topics on this site about social relationships. – ChrisW Sep 22 '17 at 12:38
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It is important to have loving friends. There are many Buddhist groups around who practice mindfulness meditation. There are also mindfulness centers that offer mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) therapy. Some of these centers support a community of meditators, supervised practice sessions, psychotherapy, and other special therapies such as MBCT (for depression). You might consider joining one of these groups to make new friends.

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