Bringing mindfulness to loneliness

Toni Bernhard has an mindfulness exercise for bringing compassion to feelings of loneliness.

Toni Bernhard
8 October 2015
loneliness, toni berhard, lion's roar, buddhism
Photo by Chris JL.

Toni Bernhard has a mindfulness exercise for bringing compassion to feelings of loneliness.

It’s not uncommon for people to suffer from loneliness. Those who work around other people can feel lonely in their presence. Others may have loneliness descend on them as soon as they get home. If you’re not a stranger to this painful emotion, becoming familiar with how it operates in your life can help you address it skillfully.

Before you begin to investigate loneliness, try to let go of any feelings of self-blame. A good way to do this is to remind yourself that everyone gets lonely at times. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s just a mental state that’s arisen due to conditions in your life.

Once you’ve accepted the feeling of loneliness—enough that you feel comfortable in its presence—you can begin to examine it by asking yourself some questions:

  • Do certain experiences trigger it, like talking to others about their plans?
  • Is it worse on certain days or at certain times of the day?
  • How much is the loneliness the result of your desire to be with others, and how much is due to your not feeling comfortable with your own company?

You can continue this investigation by asking if you’re telling yourself exaggerated and distorted stories, such as “I’ll always be lonely” or “No one else I know is lonely.” The former is highly unlikely to be true. As for the latter, how would you know? We rarely know the inner life of other people.

Becoming mindful in this way of what factors give rise to loneliness in your life, and learning to question the validity of the stories you tell yourself about it, makes it more manageable. Then, with an attitude of kind benevolence toward yourself, let the loneliness be and allow compassion to arise over any suffering you’re experiencing. Find just the right words by drawing on what your investigation has revealed to you about the loneliness you’re feeling. Silently or softly, repeat phrases such as “It’s hard to be by myself after hearing about everyone else’s plans”; “It’s painful to be alone on the weekends”; “It’s not my fault that I’m lonely.”

As you say these words, you might stroke one arm with the hand of the other. I do this often as a way to deepen self-compassion. Gently hold the loneliness in mindful awareness in this way, while at the same time also maintaining awareness that, like all mental states, loneliness is subject to change and so is not a permanent feature of who you are.


Adapted from How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness by Toni Bernhard, with permission of Wisdom Publications.

Toni Bernhard

Toni Bernhard

Toni Bernhard is the author of the award-winning How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers and How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow. Her newest book is called How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide. Before becoming ill, she was a law professor at the University of California—Davis. Her blog, “Turning Straw Into Gold” is hosted by Psychology Today online. Visit her website at