Seth Godin, the marketing genius, writer, teacher, and all-around awesome person is one of my idols. I receive his blog posts every day and, although our topics are different, in many ways I model my work on his for its clarity, usefulness, and soulfulness.
His post today was about empathy as a most important component of strategic marketing. If we can’t see the world through our customer’s eyes, understand what motivates them to act, have insight into why they make the decisions they do, our efforts to connect with them may be clumsy and dense.
What he writes about easily applies to the world of relationships altogether, whether they take place on the sales floor or around your kitchen table.
In both cases, the ability to connect genuinely is paramount.
The way to connect genuinely is to let your preconceptions and judgments about a person go, open your mind and heart to them, and see them.
Meditation teaches us how to let go of concept and open again and again to the present moment. Continue
(photo credit: Katie Day Weisberger)
And I got to write a poem for my beloved Ming and Kate.
First, contemplate the Great Eastern Sun.
Then establish the palace of touch.
With delight, unbind the yes of that sweetness again and again,
And may that delight produce future warriors.
Say yes. Continue
Thank you so much for all who have sent me their good wishes, post-surgery. I’m healing very well. Still mostly sleeping, but I think that by next week I’ll be back to a partially normal schedule. I’m going to try to write about my strange health issues that led to the surgery (an open cholecystectomy, if you will) and if you love surgery stories (yes, some people actually do), this one is a humdinger. xxoo
Now back to our regularly scheduled performance.
The other day, I was talking to my friend Bridget about her new guy. He was everything she said she wanted: smart, handsome, funny, gainfully employed in a creative profession, and committed to the same social causes she was. Most awesome of all, sex was h.o.t. You know, the kind where your lips touch and all hell breaks loose. Who knows why this happens with some and not others, it just does.
They’d been together for almost six months and she was really, really happy. And also really, really anxious. Continue
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.
Among the many difficulties that come with a breakup, the worst may be when the person who broke up with you will not discuss it and may even cut off contact altogether. I have one friend who was talking about marriage one day, and the next, literally, could not get her to take his calls. Eventually, he got a letter saying it was over and she refused to talk to him ever again. What the?! Or one person thinks everything is fine when, out of the blue, her partner comes home, says it’s over, she’s moving out, and does not want to talk about it. I get emails from people who have been broken up with by email, text, and, in Sex and the City style, by post-it. This is not an urban legend. It really happens.
When the break up is communicated in one of these ways, you can be sure the person breaking up is not interested in much more conversation. No one knows why.
When someone leaves you like this, you are simply—and understandably—in shock. It just feels impossibly stressful and anxiety producing. You think you are now stuck with a gaping wound that will never close because the only way to close it is to hash it out in relationship. And that’s not an option.
You’ll have to figure out a way to create closure on your own. Continue
(Photo: Vanessa Pike-Russell’s Flickr photostream)
When your heart is broken or you’re otherwise dealing with strong painful emotions, the idea of feeling genuine loving kindness for anyone can seem far-fetched, much less yourself or the one who broke your heart. Loving kindness is soft and gentle, but your heart feels cold and numb or enflamed with rage—not loving at all. You may feel so unlovable and needy and freaked out that if you could shut your heart down and turn off emotion altogether, it would be a blessing. Love is the enemy. Love stinks.
So if I tell you that you still possess the most profound, elegant, indestructible well of love imaginable, you might not believe me. If I tell you that the solution for your heartache is not to seal up your heart, but to open it further, that might sound dangerous. And if I further told you that your capacity for love has never been greater and the cure for your broken heart is to offer that love to your ex, you would definitely tell me I’m crazy.
It’s possible. But hear me out. I want to offer you the practice of loving kindness as the healing balm you need. You could try it yourself and see.
The Buddhist practice of Loving Kindness (metta in Pali and maitri in Sanskrit) has been in use for over 2500 years. The story is that some monks were sent by the Buddha to meditate in a particular forest. As soon as they got their meditation gear (I guess you could call it that) settled, certain tree spirits began to harass them by making scary noises, emitting an awful stench, and generally causing commotion. I sort of picture it like trying to meditate while fifty 10-year olds bang pots and pans while farting. One can only imagine. Continue
There is a way to write that solidifies story lines–and a way to write that liberates you from them.
I and Twitter pals Hiro Boga (@hiroboga), Mahala Mazerov (@luminousheart), and Jennifer Louden (@jenlouden) all wrote on the same topic today: The process of writing.
For a kaleidoscopic view of this issue (storytelling vs truth telling), check them out.
Hiro Boga: Tsunamis in the House of Wholeness
Jennifer Louden: How to Be a Writer Who Loves the Gap
Mahala Mazerov: When Stories Hurt
You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet. ~Franz Kafka
Right now, I’m in the beautiful Colorado Rockies, teaching a meditation retreat for writers. We spend most of the day writing, interspersed by periods of sitting meditation. In the first practice, our aim is to find our voice, say something, tell a story. In the latter, the encouragement is to let go of “story” completely and instead focus on the breath, which is always in the present moment.
How can a practice that is all about story go hand-in-hand with one that is about dropping it?
On the face of it, these seem like opposites. However, they are so alike as to be almost identical. Here is why I say that: Continue
The “short form” of my New Dimensions Café interview is now available for listening and downloading for FREE on the New Dimensions website.
From their website:
“Love is the least safe thing there is. It’s fierce. You can’t domesticate it. It’s wild. When you find it you should rejoice. When you lose it you should grieve.” So says Susan Piver, because she knows the joy of loving, the devastating groundlessness of betrayal, and the deep crushing loss when love goes away. But she also knows how to turn that trauma into something sacred, a means of learning the truth of who and what is most valuable in your life. In this rich and insightful conversation she invites you to step into your heartbreak with the courage of a warrior,and to embrace your tenderness and fragility with a calm, steady heart. She’ll show you how, with a few simple techniques, you can gain authority over your pain and release its hold on you. Best of all, she points out, “Who doesn’t want to be loved by someone like that, someone who can stand in their vulnerability, can stand with you in yours? This makes you a lover of the highest order.” (Hosted by Justine Willis Toms)
(handy for working with strong emotions in general)
Nothing feels worse than a broken heart, the kind you get when someone you love ends the relationship. Feelings of shame, remorse, grief, rage, and terror can overwhelm even the most stable human being. Heartbreak has the power to reframe a workable life as a disaster.
Surprisingly, Buddhism has a tremendous amount of helpful advice for working with these terrible girl/boy-loses-boy/girl emotions. It takes an approach that is quite different than the usual advice books, which basically fall into one of two categories:
The first category is called “You Go Girl!!” (Sorry guys, all the books are aimed at women.) This kind of book suggests that you need to up the cocktails:sobbing ratio, and if you go out with your friends who tell you that you were just too awesome for him/her, get a cute outfit and a new ‘do, and cry on as many shoulders as possible, you can dance your troubles away.
I don’t think this is bad advice. Hey! You are awesome! You can look super hot! You have great friends who remind you how to have fun! This is all cool. It won’t, however, do much to alleviate the pain, beyond stuffing it for a few hours.
The second category is called “There is something very, very wrong with you and you made this happen.” This is the kind of book that says you brought this heartbreak on yourself by carrying forward unhealed wounds from childhood or, god forbid, by thinking the wrong thoughts. I kind of hate this. Of course it’s really, really important to heal your wounds and to examine your thoughts to see if they might be sabotaging you—but when the intention for doing so is to avoid pain rather than increase your capacity to love, it is unlikely to heal you. This kind of advice is often out to convince you that you can make love safe.
Love can never be made safe. It is the opposite of safe. The moment you try to make it safe, it ceases to be love. I realize this is a bummer, but think about it. Love is predicated on receptivity, on opening up again and again and again to your beloved, each time afresh. To do this, you have to let go of insisting that he or she conform to your standards for what a lover should look like, do, be, say, and instead allow him or her to simply be him or herself. Then you take it from there. To do otherwise, to continually choose who you wish this person was over who he or she actually is, is, well, it’s not love. I don’t know what it is. (Of course none of this stands to reason should any form of emotional or physical abuse be present. At this point you can forget everything I just said and protect yourself.)
Most often, the efforts to heal a broken heart center around putting it behind you and recreating the illusion of safety. Buddhism counsels something else, something best said by the American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron: “Feel the feelings. Drop the story.” That is the pith advice and it means turning toward what you feel, not away. It means letting the feelings be just what they are without trying to explain them, shore your self up, or excuse or blame anyone. This is called being a warrior. The more you allow feelings to burn clean in this way, the less confusion you create.
I have three suggestions for figuring out how to accomplish this very mysterious feat of feeling without attaching a narrative as to what it might, could, should, or dare not mean.
1. Develop a non-judgmental relationship with your mind. This is best done through the practice of meditation, instruction here. When you’re under the sway of strong emotion, you come into contact with a state of being that I like to call Insane Obsessive Thinking. If only, I should have, what I really meant was, how dare she, I am a loser, you are a loser, love stinks… On and on and on. It’s really quite painful. Without addressing a mind run amuck, the chances of skillfully working with your feelings is kind of limited. So I suggest introducing a note of discipline to your everyday life, beginning today. Spend some time everyday, not squashing your icky thoughts and promoting your good ones, but simply watching your mind in a relaxed way—no matter how wild it gets, you can remain steady. This is what meditation teaches you how to do.
The mind of heartbreak is like a wild horse. You can’t just jump on and except to ride. It will throw you again and again. So instead you hang around for a while until a sense of trust develops. Meditation teaches you how to do this, too.
2. Stabilize your heart in the open state. When you regain some sense of dominion in your own mind, naturally your attention will turn toward that raging, screaming, 24/7 searing thing in the middle of your chest—your heart.
One way to look at heartbreak is as love unbound from an object. Freed, it careens and ricochets and crashes into walls. Your capacity and longing for love is enormous and when you lose it, this is what you discover. You had no idea you could feel this raw, vulnerable, open…and it’s the openness that is so precious.
Buddhism does not counsel closing back up, not at all. Instead, in recognition that this openness is the ground of loving kindness, compassion, and the ability to connect deeply, it suggests you leave it broken and seek to stabilize it in the open state. Yes, leave it broken. The way to do this and not walk around sobbing all the time is through the practice of Loving Kindness meditation, which you can find here. In this way, you begin to shift your search for love a tiny bit, away from “I want to find someone to love me” and toward “I want to find a way to give love.” With this slight transition, the whole world changes.
When most people say they are looking for love, what they means is they are looking for someone to love them, and then they will return it. But you can turn this equation on its head entirely and have love in your life every single day by choosing to give it. This, by the way—giving love to others—is the secret, guaranteed, no fail way to heal your broken heart. Try it.
3. View your whole life as path. With a sense of clarity in your mind and stability in your heart, the third stage becomes something altogether different. There is no practice associated with this one. With mental clarity and emotional stability comes the ability to see your entire life as path. You have created the foundation for an entirely authentic life, one full of joy and sorrow, meetings and partings, giving and taking, and deep meaning. The dark power of heartbreak has led you there.
With this openness, you see that your life is telling a story. I have no idea what it is and you may not either. But trust me, your life has a life of its own and the violence of heartbreak has the power to shatter all illusions about who you thought you were and reintroduce you instead to who you already know you are. This is an extremely powerful situation.
With a broken heart, you see how vast your longing for love is and how impossible it is to make love safe. It’s just not possible. So what do you do with these two truths? This is your path. No one can tell you how to reconcile them. The place to begin is by paying attention, by cultivating agenda-less awareness of yourself, others, and of the flow of life. When you do so, you start to notice that every single day, you are continuously cycling in and out of moments of falling in love and having your heart broken. Both are always present, shifting toward you and away, each one a tiny lesson on how to be fully alive.
Pass it on.
(And please comment! I love to hear what you are thinking and feeling.)