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
Am planning to create an unabridged audio book of “The Wisdom of a Broken Heart.” I’m going to record and edit it myself and I’m really excited about it. I see it as a chance to add some of the insights and stories I’ve garnered in the 4 months since the book was published.
I’m also going to include “extras,” such as the following:
Meditation instruction for The Practice of Tranquility
Loving kindness meditation instruction
Loving kindness meditation instruction for the one who broke your heart
As a bonus, I’ll include a 5-minute video of me giving additional tips for starting the 7-Day Rescue & Relief program. It requires a certain mindset and I want to go into some detail about how to prepare mentally.
Is there anything else you’d like to see included? I’d love to know!!
Thanks so much for all your support–
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.)
Change Gonna Come
The Dark End of the Street
I Can’t Stand The Rain
I Can’t Stop Loving You
I’ve Been Loving You Too Long
There Is An End
The Greenhornes & Holly Golightly
What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?
When I Get Like This
Whole Wide World
For Your Precious Love
Read this today on Dennis Hunter’s thoughtful, helpful blog, One Human Journey, where he writes about his spiritual journey which includes hearing amazing talks from Ani Pema at Gampo Abbey. Click here to read the rest of the post.
A few days ago, Pema Chodron gave a teaching at the Abbey in which she defined the aspiration of bodhicitta in much more practical, immediate terms: it is the wish to keep your heart open in all situations, not to close down and harden against other beings even when they challenge or upset you. Bodhicitta is a fundamental openness and warmth of the heart, our connectedness to other beings, which can manifest as loving-kindness or as compassion.
This is, as Ani Pema would say, news you can use. When we practice keeping our hearts open to other beings – even the ones who really piss us off or scare us – then we are practicing bodhicitta-in-action. When we close our hearts to others and harden against them in anger or judgment, then we are taking a step away from bodhicitta. We can sit there and flap our gums about attaining enlightenment to benefit all sentient beings until we’re blue in the face, but if our hearts are actually closed towards another being in the present moment, then we’re not really practicing bodhicitta – and we’re not moving towards enlightenment.
The future doesn’t exist, and it never will. When the future arrives, it will be the present moment. The present moment is all we ever have, and it is in each fleeting, present moment that we must practice enlightenment. We will never find it anywhere else.
In January and February I drove across the country giving talks on what heals a broken heart. The talks were based on my new book, The Wisdom of a Broken Heart. Well, what is the wisdom of a broken heart then? How can something that feels so outrageously awful contain any intelligence whatsoever? Why would anyone want to do anything besides get rid of it?
These are excellent questions, especially the last one. As anyone suffering a broken heart can tell you, it’s impossible. Try as you might, you can’t talk yourself out of it. No momentary explanation (I was too needy; he was scared of relationships), form of pampering (physical, sartorial, massage-ical), divination (astrology, numerology, palmistry), or desperation (gin, body building, buzz cuts) can do anything but momentarily relieve the agony. I know. I tried them all. But all that happened was I ended up a mentally overwrought, smooth skinned androgyne with a fabulous wardrobe and no money.
One thing that did help however, was writing. I wrote obsessively about what I was feeling, ever-changing insights about why this was happening, and my dreams, which were pitiless extensions of my daytime imaginings. When I look back at the many journals I filled with my sorrow, rage, and confusion, I see now that I was simply looking for a way to relate directly to my state of mind, to take it in so I could understand it on the deepest level possible. When I would arrive at an insight of any kind—about why this hurt so much, what in my past might have made it so, what a particular scene in a dream meant), I would experience momentary relief. Clarity brought healing. The deeper I went into my own psyche and the more I understood about my own emotional reactions (and what they were called—at first I couldn’t even distinguish between sad, angry, and exhausted), the lengthier my moments of relief became.
I spent a lot of time looking inward, developing a relationship with myself. This changed my life for good. When this awful period was over, I knew who I was in a very different way. My broken heart forced me to look at myself. And with self-knowledge (whether what you find is profoundly beautiful, surprising, or embarrassing), comes confidence. With confidence comes the ability to open to love once again.
I now see that was I was doing was meditating on my heartbreak.
Meditation is substituting for your mental chatter a different object of attention, whether it is a sound, image, or your own breath. When attention strays from this object and becomes reabsorbed in meandering thought, you simply bring it back to your substitute object. In my writing, that object was my emotions.
Paying attention to something is different than thinking about it. It’s the difference between playing with your child and reading a child psychology book. One is in the moment and the other is placing attention on the past or future.
When your heart is broken, you could place your attention on your feelings over and over, simply to discover them and actually feel them. This helps you relax. Distracting yourself from them stresses you further.
When I learned to meditate, I found an even more direct method for diving into my feelings—but this time with an important difference: without trying to understand them, but simply to feel them. It sounds strange, but when I learned how to do what Pema Chodron suggests: “Feel the feeling and drop the story,” a whole new level of healing occurred. When you sit down, invite your feelings, and get to know them without agenda some kind of magic happens. The feelings begin to dissolve. Not at first, when they might actually intensify, but in time, by staying with them, without—this is key—telling your self what they might mean. Meditation is more like lying on the ground, looking at the clouds to see what shape they suggest rather than identifying this one as cumulus and that one as cirrus. It’s a kind of focused hanging out. With yourself.
So if your heart is broken (or even if it’s not right now, but was in the past) try these things: Meditate on your feelings through writing and meditate with your feelings through, well, meditation. Finally, if you feel so inclined, share what you have learned with others. It can really help to tell your story, over and over. Each time you do, the same story yields new insights.
Here is how to begin.
Try to answer these questions (these and others are posed in my book):
1. The thing that has been the most difficult for me since this relationship ended is _______.
2. When I think about our break-up, the thought or thoughts that plagues me over and over is/are _______.
3. I feel the pain of this loss most acutely when I _______.
4. What I miss most about our relationship is _______.
5. What I don’t miss about our relationship is _______.
6. The thing I regret most is _______.
7. The unforeseen benefit of this break up is _______.
8. If I could take him back right now, I would/would not and here’s why: _______.
9. The most important thing I need to tell myself right now is _______.
10. The biggest lesson I have (or hope to have) learned from this experience is ______.
In answering these questions, just write whatever comes to mind. Don’t censor. Try to spend about ten minutes on each question, simply writing in a stream of consciousness fashion. If it helps, set a timer. Pick up your pen (or keyboard) and dive in. If the first thing you think to write is screw her, screw her, screw her, then write it. If it’s I have no idea how to answer this, then write that. Just keep going. Don’t stop moving your fingers. See what happens.
Don’t feel you have to answer all the questions at once. Try one or two a day or a week. Add your own questions. Come back and re-answer them whenever you want to. The beauty of questions is that on different days, different insights may arise.
Learn basic mindfulness-awareness meditation and try to practice it regularly. It is the single most helpful thing you can do. Why? The truth is, I can’t explain why. Sure, it has been scientifically proven that meditation makes you happier (by increasing activity in the prefrontal cortex, whatever that means) and relieves stress (by lowering cortisol), but the power of meditation to transform you goes way beyond brain waves and such. The effect is beyond words. That is why I can’t explain it. You just have to try it for yourself and see. Begin with five to ten minutes per day for a few weeks or longer. Eventually, try to build up to twenty minutes.
I offer meditation instruction on my website here.
It can be very reassuring to see that you are not alone. Check out this blog post on my website to read other people’s stories of heartbreak and then post your own. There is relief in telling your story and speaking the truth.
The answers are all within you. The perfect teacher who knows exactly how to heal you accompanies you at all times. All you have to do is slow down, open up, and listen.