Heartbreak Wisdom Journal — Entry 8: Reclaiming Shards of the Past

For the longest time, I’ve been unable to listen to one of my favorite songs. Why? During my time with my ex, it became a song about our relationship, and sometimes, even she called it “our song”. This song is “Your Hand in Mine” by the ever-magnificent Explosions in the Sky. This post-rock anthem has always tugged at my heartstrings, despite having listened to it hundreds of times.

After being dumped, the reminders of everything were just too much to listen to this song. At this point, it still plucked at those heartstrings but in a way that I could not bear. I’d just skip it whenever I heard it. Recently, though, I found myself listening to this song again one morning over my ritual cup of coffee. Not only did I listen to the song once, I repeated it numerous times, taking a simple joy in listening to this beloved song for the first time in a long while.

It’s very difficult to get past the emotion in such things. Most people try their damnedest to forget by covering up their past or running from it. That’s not really moving on though (See an earlier post on this here). That’s just as reactive as clinging to something, and running like that leaves unresolved issues, untended wounds seeping deep inside. It takes time and patience–a resolve and open courage–to face the terrors and tortures that you experience in life and sit through them, yet there is no better way to be authentic and to walk your life’s path with a compassionate and awakened heart.

I’ve also found an ability to listen to this song recently which has always symbolically reminded me of the connection of the love between me and her. Now, the pain of that connection is no longer frightening or anxiety-provoking. It just is. I can hear these songs and experience the joy and beauty of them along with residual feelings of pain and sadness. That no longer scares me. After all I’ve been through in the last few months. I can sit with equanimity through many more of life’s challenges; strong, courageous, and awake–the tender presence that gives birth to deep compassion.


Thoughts and emotions will always arise. The purpose of practice is not to get rid of them. We can no more put a stop to thoughts and emotions than we can put a stop to the worldly circumstances that seemingly turn for or against us. We can, however, choose to welcome and work with them. On one level, they are nothing but sensations. When we don’t solidify or judge them as good or bad, right or wrong, favorable or unfavorable, we can utilize them to progress on the path.
We utilize thoughts and emotions by watching them arise and dissolve. As we do this, we see they are insubstantial. When we are able to see through them, we realize they can’t really bind us, lead us astray, or distort our sense of reality. And we no longer expect them to cease. The very expectation that thoughts and emotions should cease is a misconception. We can free ourselves from this misconception in meditation.
In the sutras it says, “What good is manure, if not to fertilize sugar cane crops?” Similarly, we can say, “What good are thoughts and emotions–in fact all of our experiences–if not to increase our realization?” What prevents us from making good use of them are the fears and reactions that come from our self-importance. Therefore, the Buddha taught us to let things be. Without feeling threatened or trying to control them, just let things arise naturally and let them be.
When ego-mind becomes transparent through meditation, we have no reason to be afraid of it. This greatly reduces our suffering. We may actually develop a passion for seeing all aspects of our minds. This attitude is at the heart of the practice of self-reflection.
-Dzigar Kongtrül, “It’s Up to You”, pp. 8-9

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May this inspire you to find your own ability to let things be and to utilize your own experiences to increase your realization.

Gassho!

Previous Heartbreak Wisdom Journal: Entry 7 – Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be (Part 2)

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal — Entry 5: Depression – Experience & Practice

My last entry was meant to focus on and express my experiences of depression in heartbreak, a particularly vexing set of painful emotions that keeps coming to visit, even after all this time. However, instead, I got into a philosophical examination of how depression alters our experience. This time, I’m going to focus on my experience and offer some tips/support for those readers out there who suffer from the same problems of the heart.

The world is barren. Nearly every day, I feel utterly lonely. It seems like there is no one who can hear me, no matter how hard I try to be heard. There’s no one who really cares–not really. People might show up on their own terms, but can any of them truly bear witness to me in my entirety? No. At least, I don’t know who that person is. Some days, I wonder who would care if I died tomorrow. My family, surely, but anyone else? Let’s stop here. Let me emphasize that these are feelings. Like I wrote about last time, I know that they are a particular alteration of perspective–a very pained one, curled up in a ball and wishing that the pain would end. Let’s not take these feelings to be truths, and let’s definitely not take them as blame on anyone who may be reading this. They’re my feelings, my reactions, and you hold no blame or responsibility for them. That being said, it has been particularly hard for me to move forward in recent weeks. I’m stuck at a job that irks me with false promises, poor pay for my responsibilities, and NO benefits–not even sick days, forcing me to expose my co-workers to illness out of my inability to afford missing a day. Furthermore, I struggle to find meaningful connectivity–something I’ve lacked throughout most of my adult life, despite my best efforts. Honestly, at this point, I’ve virtually given up. Who else reads philosophy for fun and yearns to learn as much as possible in this life? Who else is working hard at being an intensive practitioner of the Dharma? I don’t know such people, and they’re hard to find…

I’ve had an idea in my head for some time of returning to my ex’s city to live with some friends who stepped forward in my heartbreak and appeared as family to me. I’d love to show up and support them. However, each job I apply for comes to naught, and the other people I know there seem to be slowly denying or forgetting my existence. If I reach out and write something kind on one of their blogs or social media profiles, I get no response, but at the same time, I can see when they mention my ex and how great she is in whatever way. I guess she succeeded: in a certain way, I’m dead.

All of these difficulties have exacerbated those intense feelings I’ve expressed, and now, I’ve expressed them, both to let these feelings out and to let others know that they are not alone, not in the slightest. However, despite these feelings, I’m OK, and to explain that, let’s shift to how to deal with such feelings and such times in life. We all go through hard times, so let’s face these together with bravery, tenderness, and equanimity. The following are what I use to get through these feelings that could easily turn me into a blubbering mess; through these methods, I manage to have some grace, dignity, and joy in the wounds of heartbreak.

  1. Take care of yourself. You can’t continue with your life and show up for it if you fall into the abyss now (although there is no judgment if you crash at this point–no shame. Hang in there and recover). Taking care of yourself can make the unbearable a lot more manageable–not nice, not easy, but survivable. Not taking care of yourself will let it crush you. Also, taking care of yourself will give you the base of strength you need to excel with the other tips to follow. So–shower, exercise, continue to do things you like, reach out to friends and family to talk–don’t be afraid: others understand your pain and heartbreak, and the best way to feel loved is to reach out and find that others care, even if they can’t necessarily help beyond just listening. Personally, I had many of these self-care tools well-established this time from other bouts with depression, but this time, I learned that dressing well–that simple move of treating yourself with respect, with dignity–helped keep me positive and empowered day to day. This is not about being ostentatious or dazzling others–it’s about finding and holding your dignity. If you can find a way to do the same, do it. You could be wearing anything–your favorite band shirts and shorts. Just wear something that makes you feel that you matter and that you are embracing that.
  2. Be authentic. I’m not a big fan of the term as it is thrown around to the point of near meaninglessness. Here, I mean: show up for what’s happening. It’s easy to run away from such feelings or fall really deeply into them. Instead, try authentically showing up. These feelings show the depths of your heart. Let these feelings come up. Don’t fight against yourself or your emotion. Instead–gently be present. You’ll find that these feelings come and go, if you don’t grasp at them or fight against them. They’re just another part of your myriad possibilities of human experience. The brave, compassionate practice is to gently lean into them and surrender the fight against your emotional demons, finding that they, like a monster in your dreams, are part of you. It hurts, but it’s not good or bad: that’s just a reaction to that emotional experience. Don’t be afraid. Be brave, tender, and gentle towards yourself.

    Bringing awareness to depression works the same way. People often feel very bad about being depressed. When we don’t understand what depression is, it bears down on us. But when we get the hang of it, so to speak, we can allow more space around our depression and just let it be. Depression often comes when the hidden, dark corners we’ve tried to avoid actually surface. It may feel like a tight knot in our chest or an incredible sense of anxiety. It may feel like the earth has cracked open in front of us and we’re falling into some miserable lower realm. Or we may just feel blue. Depression is often accompanied by strong physical sensations. In the Tibetan tradition, this physical imbalance is called sok lung, or “wind disturbance.” But no matter what it feels like, remember that depression is just “experience.” And the experience of depression can be very valuable in coming to know aspects of our mind. When we come to know our mind, we feel much freer and less fearful. Whether depression is physical or conceptual, the important thing is to try and relax with it. Just relax with depression without feeding it by reacting–physically, mentally, or emotionally–with fear. There is no need to fight or identify with these habitual responses. This only makes them seem more solid and difficult to deal with. Initially the experience of depression is not such a big deal; it is more like a headache. If we bring awareness to depression. it won’t dominate our life. It is important to always return to the understanding that suffering is not personal. It’s an integral part of being alive and something that we all share. A great deal of understanding can come from bringing awareness to suffering, rather than thinking about or judging it. A quality of wakefulness comes with any sensation, which enables us to appreciate any experience. — Dzigar Kongtrül, It’s Up to You, pp. 57-58

  3. Move beyond “me”. You might notice that my expression in my story was all about I, me, and mine as well as how the world/others were not going in line with my expectations/desires. The suffering of samsara comes primarily from the grasping of self, and this is strongest with my attachments, especially in the stories of how I wish the world were. We fight very hard for these things, but in the end, they are impermanent–we lose them, and it hurts. OR we never get them at all, and it hurts because we want them so! We could discuss elaborate counter-plans of changing goals and such, but really, that just is a continuation of the same dynamic. It’s the same game with a different strategy to win. The real step forward as a brave spiritual warrior is to let go of the “me” game altogether. This sounds dramatic and incites immediate aversion, but it’s not the end of existence to stop staring at your belly button and look at the world instead. In this case, start small–engage in things that are about supporting others, even if that’s just doing things for a single friend. It can be as small as getting a plant or a goldfish to take care of and as major as volunteering to feed the homeless every week. Look your cashier in the eye–really see them, and thank them for helping you. There are truly opportunities everywhere. Small things spread positivity in the world and end up not only making you feel more positive but also getting you outside the miasma of your feelings.
  4. Engage, connect, process, and learn. There are so many resources beyond friends and family to help you feel witnessed, learn how to grow/heal, and take up your path as a brave warrior. Check out the book by Susan Piver that inspires these Heartbreak Wisdom Journal entries: “The Wisdom of a Broken Heart”. There are many blogs here in WordPress to read with others’ expressions of their experiences, tips, and tricks. I follow one called: “How to successfully get out of depression… and never go back!” The author adds lots of new ideas regularly, and they are well-informed and practical. Check that one out for a start! Find a therapist or a spiritual community. Know that you are not alone in this experience and that there are many avenues to find help and others who know your pain.
  5. Finally–Try meditating. You might scoff at this, but there is no better way to find peace. We externalize so many of our reactions, and our minds often run willy-nilly without much ability on our part to find mental calm. We think that happiness will come from realizing all the desires of “me”. Meditation sees through this and finds the basic goodness of who we are. It offers the true path to a happiness beyond the constant games of grasping and attachment. Just a few minutes a day can change your life and pull all these other suggestions together into an empowered, present, tender, brave, and beautiful embrace of your life.

May this post help others find companionship in their experience of depression as well as give them some help finding peace through it. As in the quote below, may your heart be big enough to hold all of these experiences with courage and tenderness. Gassho


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In both Western and Tibetan cultures, having a big heart is associated with generosity, kindness, warmth, and compassion. In Tibetan culture, a person with a big heart is also someone with the ability and courage to hold even the most painful truths in his or her heart without becoming despondent. During difficult times my mother used to say, “You need to make your heart big enough to hold a horse race inside.” Working with difficulties in a compassionate way doesn’t necessarily mean we can resolve them. Samsara, by its nature, can’t be fixed. It can only be worked with and transcended–which means seen through. A traditional Buddhist image of compassion is that of an armless woman watching her only child being swept away by the raging torrent of a river. Imagine the unbearable anguish at not being able to save your child–and not being able to turn away! In the practice of bodhichitta, this is the unconditional compassion we try to cultivate toward all sentient beings, even if we’re unable to truly help them until we ourselves become free. The willingness to not turn away from our anguish as we reflect on the suffering of samsara is the bodhisattva path. This path is possible only because we have seen that the true nature of suffering is egoless, or empty. Not turning away from suffering doesn’t mean “toughing it out.” It means that, having seen the true nature of suffering, we have the courage to encounter suffering joyfully. — Dzigar Kongtrül, It’s Up to You, p. 89

Previous Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry — Entry 4: Depression’s World Next Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry — Entry 6: Forgiveness

Murderous Zeal – Letting Go

Disclaimer: This post is much more personally revealing than most posts I write. This will not be quite as didactic, rather processing with the intent of expressing what I need to express but cannot share with the person with whom I wish to express it. Some of you may know me enough to know who that is, and to those, I say that this is not meant to judge or cast aspersions to that person’s character, a person I love with all my heart. Instead, this is trying to put into words what I have experienced, the pure, raw pain of it, and the folly I see in what has happened. Disagreeing with another’s choices and trying to accurately describe them as they are, to call a spade a spade, so to speak, does not mean that you belittle them or that you necessarily even think poorly of them (judgment can mean both identification as well as moral judgment; judgment here is meant as the first of these two). Believe me, that’s part of the depth of my pain expressed here. So, those of you who know, either don’t read this, and let my expression be, or see what I have to say about what I’ve felt and how I’m moving forward. Expressing this here is therapeutic for me. This is not meant to cause any stir; that person will likely never see it, and I wouldn’t publish it here if I thought that that person would. So either let this be, or read it to share my expression without any more motive than that.


You took the ideology of relationships from a friend, a maxim we would have previously scoffed at, and you embraced it as creed and animating principle. “If we were together again, it would have to be completely different.” Thus armed, like one of the furies, you killed “us” with a murderous zeal that I’ve never previously seen — lashing out in fear and pain, you held dear the despairing mantra: “This must die.” Yet, must it have? You never stopped. You never questioned. You held on with certainty, out of pain, unwilling to see how things could already be different. You instead repeated fatalistic stories of how they could never change without this melodramatic action.

Stumbling forward, revising what you said from one conversation to the next, galvanizing your certainty as having been one clear idea that you held all along — not merely a reactive lash of pain which grew into a clearer purpose with time — you stand, superior, self-righteous, cold, and cruel. I’m cast as naive, weak, and pathetic, so worthy of the death you dole out. Yet, our conversations reveal that your position has not been clear throughout beyond the reaction of pain, and your words come again to stubborn, self-righteous contradictions, and after knowing you for years, it all shines as an inauthentic escape from that which you can’t face. The hardest has ultimately been the empty promise of friendship, the last thing to die after love and family: the third and final death. I’m no more than an acquaintance now. Best of luck with your coping with this pain, with your soothing escape from it. May your pain and resentment have been quenched. I fear deeply that you will feel them again in your next deeply intimate connection, as I am not the source of your emotional reactivity. My greatest hope is merely that you can be real about this at some point, for your own growth.

I’ve been working on letting go of my pain in regards to this for some time. It’s been hard. It’s been painful (ironically, letting go of pain is painful). I’ve lost more than I can put into words, and that clings to me like an old skin that I can’t slough off — so close to a fresh rebirth if I could only peel off an essential layer of who I have been. Strangely, a few sentences in a popular psychology magazine have helped me find acceptance in ways that so many wise words from friends have been unable to do (more due to my own difficulties than any ineffectiveness of theirs; sometimes, only the right words stick — one key opens a door): “To let go of a past injustice that preoccupies us, we must relinquish our natural burning hope for equity. or at least for exposing to the world the wrongdoer — your brother, your crooked business partner, your vicious former friend — for who and what he is. Dimming that eternal flame of rage is effortful. The bad guy won. It happens.” (Psychology Today, Jan. 5th 2015, p. 56)  Indeed, it does happen, and so many of the things we need to let go of are not done by “bad guys” at all, my case included. We are people. We make selfish, myopic, or childish choices sometimes. That’s how it goes, and perhaps, the first step to letting go in cases like mine is accepting that — accepting that someone you love deeply can throw you aside, can lose sight of you, but it’s not really about you. They’ve done something “bad”, but it’s not something you should take personally, no matter how deeply that cut may go into your heart. The Stoics would remind us that there are things that are up to us, and there are things that aren’t. Only the first deserve our concern, and the only part of this situation that is up to us is our reaction to it, so let’s not make the other person’s decision — that part of existence that is up to him or her — about us. It isn’t. It’s about them. Let it be, and wish them well from a place of strength and dignity, as hard as that might be, because it still hurts…

In line with what I just said, I’ve also been inspired by a book by Chögyam Trungpa entitled “Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior”. In one passage, he states:

As human beings, we are basically awake and we can understand reality. We are not enslaved by our lives; we are free. Being free, in this case, means simply that we have a body and a mind, and we can uplift ourselves in order to work with reality in a dignified and humorous way. If we begin to perk up, we will find that the whole universe — including the seasons, the snowfall, the ice,and the mud — is also powerfully working with us. Life is a humorous situation, but it is not mocking us. We find that, after all, we can handle our world; we can handle our universe properly and fully in an uplifted fashion. The discovery of basic goodness is not a religious experience, particularly. Rather, it is the realization that we can directly experience and work with reality, the real world that we are in. Experiencing the basic goodness of our lives makes us feel that we are intelligent and decent people and that the world is not a threat. When we feel that our lives are genuine and good, we do not have to deceive ourselves or other people. We can see our shortcomings without feeling guilty or inadequate, and at the same time, we can see our potential for extending goodness to others. We can tell the truth straightforwardly and be absolutely open, but steadfast at the same time. The essence of warriorship, or the essence of human bravery, is refusing to give up on anyone or anything. (pp. 16-17)

Here, warriorship is not meant in terms of violence and war, rather courageous action in life’s difficulties with wisdom and dignity. In letting go, I think there’s nothing greater to aspire to than the courageous realization of our freedom to be upright and dignified, to walk forward with intention of loving-kindness for the world, when every signal and resonant vibration of pain tells us to stop, turn back, give up, and be jaded. This simple way of seeing the world for the beauty that it is may just be the hardest thing to do, especially in times of severe pain, but this is precisely the choice that is up to us, and it is more important in these times than in any other. Has my pain fully subsided? Of course not. However, I can choose to see it, to embrace my situation with courage and dignity. Most importantly, I can choose to love myself in all of this. What better thing to share than that, and how better to share it than being a sacred warrior?

I hope that someone out there reads through this long post and finds some point of inspiration for his or her own journeys. If you make it to these words, know that you are not alone, dear friend.

Gassho.

Bad Faith

We are masters of our own deception.

Aware of what lies before us, we can so readily turn our eyes away, refusing to see it, refusing to take agency, while distracting ourselves from the fact that this is just what we are doing. This self-deception, self-distraction, can be done in so many ways. You see it in the dreamy confusion of “denial” – a psychological cocoon, insulating from the tragic situation the person wishes not to acknowledge. You see it in elaborate narratives, newly built, those which recast entire histories with the most radical revision of a revolutionary, changing ourselves into victims of horrible fate or victors over that same horrible fate, which was once perceived as anything but…

Be careful with the stories you tell yourself. Be courageous enough to show up and face your life just as it is.

Self-deception