Since The Wisdom of a Broken Heart came out, I’ve had the honor of speaking with many people who are meeting this incredibly difficult life passage with courage and tenderness. We talk about the endless waves of grief, fear, and rage and how one could possibly weather them. We talk about the valuable, hard-won heart opening that can arise. And invariably, we touch on the possibility of loving again. Many believe they will never be able to do so and, if the possibility arose, would never, ever be able to trust it. When you know love can be lost at any time, how on earth could you try it again?! I’ve heard this question time and again. And time and again, I’ve sat down at my desk to see if I have anything useful to say because I really, really want to help. I’ve probably made a dozen false starts, trying to come at the question from all sorts of angles. Frankly, I did not come up with one thing worth saying.
Today I told myself I was going to sit in front of the computer until I could figure out what to say—because I know that it is possible to open to love again, even if your heart has been broken under the most egregious circumstances (which usually involve some kind of betrayal). It happens everyday. It happened to me. I’ve studied Buddhist teachings on compassion and wisdom and have every confidence they can teach you how. So why haven’t I been able to put something together?
Here’s why. All this time, I have been trying to figure out some kind of advice for how to leave your broken heart behind in order to enter a new relationship with confidence.
For better or worse, those two things—a broken heart and having confidence in love—are actually interdependent.
When most of say we’re looking for love, we really mean we’re looking for safety. When your heart has been broken, you realize that love can never be made safe and, in fact, efforts to make it so are related more to self-protection than opening yourself to the unpredictable, impossible-to-mandate waves of passion, confusion, joy, and disappointment that accompany love. To love, you have to be receptive, vulnerable. In fact, it is through vulnerability alone that we come by true love. So in one sense, when your heart is broken, you are ahead of the game. It makes you permanently vulnerable and thus is actually teaching you how to love. You learn how deep your longing for love is, and how much you have to give. You realize that love is by far the most important thing in your life. Your heart is not just broken, it is broken open and so you feel everything—your own joys and sorrows, but also other’s, unquestioningly. These attributes make you uniquely, outrageously suited to love—if you can learn to stabilize your heart in this state of openness. The traditional practice of loving kindness teaches you exactly how to do this. Please try it and see how it works for you. It is the balm that soothes all wounds.
Plus, there is one thing that makes it absolutely certain that you will be able to open to love again. That thing is love itself. When it comes to you, from you, through you, it is unmistakable. It chooses you, you don’t choose it and, like it or not, you open, unquestioningly. Of course, there is no telling how it will all turn out (there never, ever is), but when love is present, it quells outer, inner, and secret obstacles and you are reminded that your heart is absolutely indestructible. Over and over, it can refill with love on the spot. It never forgets how to do this. Love is the rising tide that lifts all boats, those of despair and those of shame, of rage, of terror, and of longing—to cast them once again upon the waves, heading who knows where, you and your beloved along for the ride. This is how it works. I have no idea why..
So definitely do your work: Explore the nature of your wounds. Develop methods of extreme self-care. Extend the hand of kindness to yourself as you work though these overwhelming emotions. Please do this for yourself. And as you do, don’t worry about how you’re ever going to open to love again. Love itself will do the work for you.
In the meantime, here’s what you can do to help: Relax. Relaxing here means stepping off the self-improvement treadmill and, instead of trying to change yourself, allowing your feelings to be just as they are without attaching a narrative to them. Make room for them and what you now consider as obstacles will reveal themselves simply as facets of wisdom. The practice of meditation is exactly this act.
I created a special version of The Practice of Tranquility (the practice suggested in my book), for those times when you feel that your heartbreak will never end and you are intolerably fragile..
And here is a good rule of thumb. When in doubt, sorrow, or despair: do less. Over and over, accept yourself on the spot. From this gesture of gentleness, great space opens and your deepest wisdom arises to guide you. This is guaranteed.