It is common to imagine a practitioner as a solitary monastic meditating in a cave on the mountains for years. One of the most famous examples is Bodhidharma from the Chán traditions who, according to the tales, faced the wall for 9 years, not speaking for the entire time.
But this obviously is a tale, a teaching taken to exaggerated levels in order to highlight the importance of perseverance… but not to promote isolation.
The monasteries, even the farthest ones, have several people there who live together and form deep bonds.
The teachings of selflessness are necessary toward the path of the end of suffering. Yet, to a non-dualistic mind which understands how things are interconnected, the end of suffering cannot equate the end of "my" suffering only!
Cultivating loving kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity includes developing caring and emphatic attitudes toward others.
Knowing humans are social animals is part of "seeing things as they are". We are hardwired to keep social relationships and bond with others. If we neglect this and become isolated or dealing only with shallow relationships, we are bound to develop health problems.
Below, I'll consider meaningful, constructive relationships… There also exist harmful relationships, but I´m not going to talk about them, because this alone would take another long article in itself.
Over the past few decades, social scientists have gone beyond the evidence of social deprivation to demonstrate a clear link between social relationships and health in the general population. Adults who are more socially connected are healthier and live longer than their more isolated peers.
Many studies, like one from Berkman and Breslow1 showed that the risk of death among men and women with the fewest social ties was more than twice as high as the risk for adults with the most social ties.
Moreover, this finding held even when socioeconomic status, health behaviors, and other variables that might influence mortality, were taken into account.
Social ties also reduce mortality risk among adults with documented medical conditions. For instance, Brummet and colleagues2 found that, among adults with coronary artery disease, the socially isolated had a risk of subsequent cardiac death 2.4 times greater than their more socially connected peers.
And the list can go on! Social support is psychologically powerful, to reduce anxiety / stress as well as physical problems.
The thing is, it's easy to think that we don´t need others, that we can be comfortable at home interacting online, there we can have thousands of friends! Isn't it?
I don´t think I need to quote articles to tell you the difference between watching a screen and watching a person, detecting all gestures, hugs, pats in the black, etc. not mentioning the distance, the relief to know that help is available in case of need, etc.
All this brings me to think about a very misunderstood teaching in Buddhism, that is "non-attachment".
Let's be clear: bonding is attachment… but, in this form, it is good and necessary because this keeps the mind healthy!
It is biologically necessary to be attached to kids and vice versa; it is necessary to have empathy so we prioritize their well being; otherwise death might occur, natural selection pushes out of the genetic pool people who are too easily detached.
And that is why letting go of the unnecessary attachments is hard. So, wisdom is needed to discern what it is which you should detach from, because it is not as easy as detaching from everyone altogether.
"Blasphemy!!" will cry some orthodox Buddhists, "Send this pseudo-Buddhist to the lowest hell!"
Well, tell to a mother and an infant, tell your wife or husband and family and friends, that all form of attachment is a cause of suffering… It is!! but it's a cause of joy too! 🤪
And tell them that you are training your mind to detach from everything and everyone, and see how they react.
What we need to be detached from is our desires, cravings, concepts... i.e. there should be independence in a relationship, people keep changing and we should not be attached to how things were, or how we wish it was, etc. If a loved one is away, it is impossible not to feel sad when we say goodbye, and time heals it, but what increases the suffering and is unnecessary is the attachment to the wish that the person were with us all the time. It is this kind of unnecessary and harmful attachments that we should relinquish.
In this metropolis and internet era, it is easier than ever to isolate ourselves. You could live in a building with a thousand people within a few meters from you and still be a modern hermit.
Visit your friends or family, get into a club for some activities, heck, even accept that beer (blasphemy again 🙄) with that old friend who keeps inviting you. Talk with your neighbours, they are easy to reach and might be there for a while. Connect; reconnect! Keep your, and other´s, brain healthy.