My best friend, business partner and lover died four years ago, and I’m struggling to find myself again. I’ve tried meditating before, but it doesn’t seem to work at 5 minutes a day. I have lots of time, please help me. Where do I start?
Buddhism explains a person's self-identity is generally based on the external things the mind attaches to (MN 44). Therefore, it is expected or normal a widow may struggle with their sense of self if their partner passes away. Buddhism calls this 'aging-&-death', i.e., when a loved one dies, something within the living partner also 'dies' (mentally).
Also, while it may sound pessimistic, Buddhism tells us all conditioned things are impermanent and ‘I must be parted and separated from everyone and everything dear and agreeable to me.’ (AN 5.57)
Buddhism also says: "Separation from what is loved/pleasing is suffering" (SN 56.11).
However, Buddhism does not instruct us to completely forget loved ones. DN 31 says: "I shall offer alms in honor of my departed relatives."
The starting point of Buddhism is Refuge in the Three Jewels, which are the Buddha, the Dhamma (Teachings) & the Sangha (Noble Community).
Since you sound aggrieved, finding a trustworthy Buddhist group may help offer some support and noble friendships.
You may be feeling lonely even after 4 years of separation from your loved one because you are searching for meaning in your life and is not content with the answers that you’ve got so far even from meditating. You continue to feel lonely, for you have not found something even from Buddhism which could satisfactorily be taken as a refuge yet! Sometimes, your loneliness may serve a deeper and more positive purpose if you start seeing Dhamma in a new light. If you could see Dhamma in this light, the joy of Dhamma is unlike another. One comprehending Dhamma will never be lonely.
For this I will give you another equally plausible meaning to some words in the Buddhist Doctrine. They are aniccata, dukkha & anattata, and it’s opposite, nicca, sukha and atta. Also of two other words in ‘sam’ (pronounced as ‘sung’), and ‘Iccha’ which means “strong attachment”. ‘sam’ (pronounced as ‘sung’) means grasping with strong desire (sam).
The Buddha Dhamma promulgated the natural phenomenon of nicca, sukha and atta of what is once grasped (upadana) with sam tendencies. (nicca =desired objects are rooted in the mind as unchanging attitudes; sukha=feeling that the desired object always remains pleasurable; atta= the belief that the desired object can be brought under lasting control). This is the very reason that the Buddha Dhamma proclaims …
“Sabbesaṅkhārā aniccā ti,
sabbe sankhara dukka ti,
sabbe dhamma anatta ti”.
(sabbe – all; sankhara – intentional activities based on sam; anicca – inability to hold steadfastly to outcomes of 3 fetters; dukka - what is desirable inevitably turns in to a conflict; anatta – these outcomes are worth nothing or meaningless to bring under one’s ownership as everything transforms inevitably).
Iccha born in a mind, which arises as a tendency of sam activates nicca, sukha and atta setting the wheel of paticca samuppada in motion. Engaging with a desirable object is known as paticca. Because of paticca, a relationship is born in the mind. This is known as the samuppada dhamma. All the following Pali terms “samudaya” = “samuppada” = “sambavan” = “sambhūta” explain how an existential relationship is formed. All the 4 above terms indicate an effect or a consequence. The cause for samudaya is grasping with strong desire (sam) or paticca. When there is no paticca samudaya will not be born. Paticca, is a mental tendency that latches to the objects encountered by the eye, sounds heard by the ear, odors sensed by the nose, tastes experienced by the tongue, touch detected by the body and mental phenomena (dhamma) pondered in the mind. The reason for paticca is the undisciplined sensorium; Lack of sensory discipline. Sila or code of ethics is required to achieve a disciplined sensorium (samvara). Disciplining of all 6 sense organs eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind can be only done from within by own-self and there is nothing in the external world that can be disciplined.
Eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind of person cannot be disciplined by another person. Also no one else can discipline your sense organs on your behalf. One must understand this natural phenomenon.
Samudaya is born only in the mind. The main reason for samudaya to arise is due to actions rooted in 3 fetters/defilements of raga, dosa and moha. To stop samudaya, one must reflect on anicca, dukkha and anatta and prevent inebriation of the mind caused by the former. This approach will lead to renunciation (nibbidā), none affinity or freedom from raga (viragā), no wheeling of thoughts based on sam (niroda) and freedom from all upadana (patinissaggā).
The reflection of anicca, dukkha and anatta is essential to break free of from paticca.
Sabbe sankhāra anicca – all sam based activities end up as anicca Sabbe sankhāra dukkha – all sam based activities end up in dukkha
Sabbe dhamma anatta – all phenomena are anatta
(sabbe – all; sankhāra – intentional activities based on sam; anichcha – inability to maintain the nature of what was grasped as iccha i.e. desirability (loba=raga=1st guise)); undesirability (dosa =2nd guise); comparability between the two (moha= 3rd guise); dukkha - result of desirable turns inevitably into unendurable afflictions; anatta – these outcomes are unworthy or meaningless to bring under one’s control since everything transforms inevitably).
One must reflect on the above to break free from paticca. (pati – bond; iccha – desire; sam – 3 fetters – lobha, dosa & moha).
If you are "struggling to find ME again" then you will have experienced what the Buddha told Rahula:
MN62:3.1: Then the Buddha looked back at Rāhula and said, “Rāhula, you should truly see any kind of form at all—past, future, or present; internal or external; coarse or fine; inferior or superior; far or near: all form—with right understanding: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’”
If you have worked closely with someone you love, then you will have experienced the beautiful:
SN46.54:12.8: The apex of the heart’s release by love is the beautiful, I say, for a mendicant who has not penetrated to a higher freedom.
If you have lost someone dear and close to you, then you will have experienced suffering and faith certainly, but perhaps not joy:
SN12.23:3.11: You should say: ‘Joy.’ I say that joy has a vital condition. And what is it? You should say: ‘Faith.’ I say that faith has a vital condition. And what is it? You should say: ‘Suffering.’
For immersive meditation, beyond Joy you will need Bliss, Tranquility and Rapture:
SN12.23:2.16: I say that immersion has a vital condition. And what is it? You should say: ‘Bliss.’ I say that bliss has a vital condition. And what is it? You should say: ‘Tranquility.’ I say that tranquility has a vital condition. And what is it? You should say: ‘Rapture.’ I say that rapture has a vital condition. And what is it? You should say: ‘Joy.’
Perhaps it may be time to start reading the suttas, to rekindle or spark that joy and beyond?
We have all faced and suffered through great loss. I myself and going blind and will never see the stars again unaided. Yet that suffering does bring faith. And that faith does lead to joy and eventually to immersion.
If the suttas do not yet inspire, seek a teacher and a sangha.
Loneliness, and isolation are real, physiological problems, not something that can be overcome with the mind.
We are a social species, and our lives can only flourish if great relationships are a part of it. So I would suggest that Buddhism, mainly Zen, can be used as a mindfulness technique, but moreover you need to give yourself time to heal, move on, and find new fulfilling relationships.