Heartbreak Wisdom Journal–Final Entry: Letting Go of Letting Go

I’m closing out the year with this final entry in this series of posts that has both informed my spiritual development of this year and the course of this blog as well. I’m closing this narrative with a long set of connected thoughts about letting go–both my own and some quotes that have inspired me. This year is done, and this chapter in my story comes to a close as well. May this inspire those of you out there who have also gone through heartbreak.


What is the perfection of wisdom? Let’s look at some important elements that are the core of our practice as well as our lives. In face-to-face study, a student expresses agony over a relationship that ended two years ago and asks me how to let go. What is letting go?There is a little toy called a Chinese finger-trap. You put two fingers into it, then try to pull them out. But you can’t extricate your fingers from the trap by pulling: it’s only when you push your fingers further in that the trap releases them. Similarly, we think of letting go as doing something: throwing things away, ending a relationship, getting rid of whatever’s bothering us. But that works no better than pulling our fingers in order to extricate them from the trap. We let go by eliminating the separation between us and what we wish to let go of. We become it.

Do we let go of anger by saying good bye or going away? Of course not! That doesn’t work. The way to let go of anger is to enter the anger, become the anger rather than separate from it. If you even hold on to the notion of having to let go of it, you’re still stuck. In a famous koan, a monk went to Chao-chou Ts’ung-shen and asked, “What shall I do now that I’ve let go of everything?” Chao-chou said, “Let go of that!” The monk said, “What do you mean, let go of that? I’ve let go of everything.” Chao-chou answered, “Okay, then continue carrying it with you.” The monk failed to get the point. Holding on to letting go is not letting go.

We don’t get rid of anger by trying to get rid of it: the same applies to forgetting the self. To forget the self means to become what is, become what we are. How do we let go of a painful relationship? Become the person we wish to let go of, become the pain itself. We think we’re not the person, not the pain, but we are. Eliminate the gap between subject and object and there’s no anger, no loss of relationship, no sorrow, no suffering, no observer sitting back and crying, “Poor me!”

The Chinese finger-trap is solved by going further into the trap, and the same is true of letting go: Go into it. If you avoid the situation, it only gets worse. Totally be it; that’s letting go. Similarly, when we sit, it’s not a question of trying to do something. Don’t sit there saying, “I have to accomplish this. I have to attain that.” Just let go and be what you are, be this very moment. If you are breathing, just be breathing, and you will realize that you’re the whole universe, with nothing outside or external to you. The beautiful mountain–that’s you. Anger, lust, joy, frustration–they’re all you: none are outside. And because there’s no outside, there’s also no inside; altogether, this is you. This is the meaning of Shakyamuni Buddha’s “I alone am!”–Bernie Glass, from Infinite Circle

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I intended to write this post a couple months back around the time of my birthday, but I never got to it, and I can only believe that it wasn’t ripe. I was reading the book quoted above around the same time, but this quote means so much more to me reading it again now. This is my last Heartbreak Wisdom Journal entry. After all the steps in the spiritual path of heartbreak, I’ve finally reached the realization that continuing these narratives is not fully letting go. It’s time to let go of letting go. That’s the step forward on the path of the spiritual heart. That’s the tender vulnerability that was described in the first entry. We come full circle: nothing outside.

Let my birthday journal entry, Morning Pages from a couple months back, serve as an intention in this step forward:
“Well, 33! Made it!
I’ve been thinking of this particular one for a while. As a teenager, I loved the Smashing Pumpkins’ “33”. It is now my theme song for a year, I suppose. That’s odd, in a way, as it’s a romantic song about another person making existence beautiful:
– ” You could make it last, forever, you.”
Clearly, after the year I’ve had, I just don’t feel that way about anyone, and I wonder if I ever will again. In many ways, I totally don’t respect those concepts of romance, especially as a guiding light in the life of a person. Well, maybe I can transform that into something less deluded–transmutation.
That reminds me: I’ve been thinking a lot recently about just that. I want to handle my story around the heartbreak of the end of my relationship in a very particular way. I don’t want to cast her as a monster or villain. I don’t want to cast myself as hero or victim. It simply was. It was, however, not justified–another story that explains away–no matter what came after. Again, it simply was–the complicated interweaving of sharing life and love with other people. In the end, she simply decided that she wanted something different. That’s all.
In the end, this suffering has been, as is suffering in general, useless. That’s actually one of the best philosophical essays I have read: Levinas’ “Useless Suffering”. Explaining away my pain–to myself or the explanations of others–is ultimately an unwillingness to sit with, see, and genuinely feel the agony of a broken heart. Again, it simply is, and any meaning or story that makes it OK or gives it a telos covers it over and masks it. There is beauty in the rawness, and the only use is to sit with it and be inspired to compassion for others, to aim at liberating oneself and all sentient beings from such anguish.
So, no, I won’t cast stones. However, I will transmute–that earlier thread of connection–the love I reached for her into this compassion for all. I’ll blow the lid off of the Love of an Other that completes my Self and move to a warmth for all that exists. May I step forward on the path for the benefit of all sentient beings.”


Tonight–before writing any of this or reading these quotes again–I sat down and did a mantra meditation with mala in hand, counting–bead by bead.

Om mani padme hum.
Om mani padme hum.
Om mani padme hum.



108 times
.

I focused my attention on Kwan Yin/Avalokitesvara/Chenrezig/Kannon–the listener to the cries of the world, bodhisattva of compassion. As I repeated the words and contemplated Avalokitesvara with his hundred arms–reaching out to touch the lives of all sentient beings, I felt my own loving-kindness swell, and I flashed on those who have done me pain, who have stoked my anger or sadness… I realized, as separation of I/Them dropped away, that They are I and I am They. Her face flashed by amidst others, and I saw tears and felt her fear, her anxiety. I embraced her feelings with loving-kindness. Many others flashed by as well. Among them all, my own face flashed up, my angry, sad face, tormented by delusion, struggling with all the cares of being human. I compassionately embraced this too. As Glass Roshi said in the initial quote above: “Anger, lust joy, frustration–they’re all you: none are outside. And because there’s no outside, there’s also no inside: altogether this is you.” — For a brief moment, I sat in this compassion and wisdom, in this karuna and prajna

Then, like always, my mind flitted back to ordinary shenanigans–always room for more practice.


After meditating, I lay down and finished reading a graphic novel, weathering a slight stomachache. The closing words rang true and inspired me to sit down and write this entry. We shall close with them:

I can’t give you your hope. You have to grow your own and hold it through the seemingly endless darkness. The true task–to find joy in the small things we can count on.

When we stop taking pleasure in the basic experience of being alive, beat-by-beat, we lose everything that makes life worthwhile. We must relish in every sight, every touch…
… Every memory. My daughters playing in the garden. Johl kissing my neck. Marik’s elation at a new invention. These memories are enough to light my darkest hour. To face whatever awaits above. We all of us carry burdens that seem too heavy. … Losses we can’t conceivably move past. The things that once gave purpose to life. It is all too easy to give yourself over to the traumas of the past–allowing pain to define us. There is a medicine for that–hope and perseverance. Light brings light. And no matter what we face there is one thing we can control: our outlook. It’s not about ignoring the pain or mindlessly believing things will simply be better–it’s about finding the joy in participating. And when the weight of the past pulls us low we must find the strength to release it…
…and finally give ourselves permission to start over.
-Rick Remender, Low: Volume 2, closing passage

 

The character, Stel, finds the hope to start fresh, letting go of the past, but she doesn’t do this by running away from it–ignoring it–or by blindly believing that the future will make everything right again. She’s neither lost in the pain of the past nor in a dream of a hazy, euphoric future. She’s faced all of her ghosts by sitting with everything as it was and as it currently is. She’s fully taken on her pain, her burdens. She realizes that in becoming them, the weight of the past drops with the permission to start over. That permission is always at hand, right now. It merely takes the warrior’s courage to let go: to fully be here as we are. That’s what starting over is. This may begin with holding on to the wonders of golden experiences, but this sagely wisdom fully blossoms in participating joyously in every moment of life, even the most painful or burdensome. This is wrongly called “hope” because it’s not about that belief in a future deliverance; it’s actually “faith”–trust in and no separation from all that is. This is recognizing the basic goodness of existence, and it is a clear step forward to liberation: happiness that does not rely on the conditioned.

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May this light the path to letting go of heartbreak for those who need it.

Gassho!

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal–Entry 12: Heartmind’s Abundance

Being dumped and left behind, completely forgotten by a great Romantic Love, feels much like being forsaken by a deity. On some level, this is precisely true. Love as great object of inspiration has forsaken you, left you alone to find your way in existence without it. Here echoes the existential dilemma of Sartre: alienation. You’re on your own in finding your meaning in life now, and your choices no longer involve the creation of a shared meaning with another person.

This feeling of forgottenness and abandonment has been biting at me for months. Social media hasn’t helped. I’ve seen the contacts I once had slowly forget my existence. Such is to be expected and is not anything wrong on their parts, but it just emphasizes the feeling of alienation even more. The constant reminder of this in the noise of social media babble has, along with a few other motivations, pushed me to close my main social media account for now. In a strange way, it’s been liberating. I feel that I’m taking up the solitary path that is discussed in the Dhammapada; like the well-trained elephant, I’m learning to take on the trek through the jungles by myself, relaxing in the journey yet staying on course.


Recently, I did a particular meditation for the first time in months. In it, you center for a few minutes while holding your hands over your heart with your thumbs and pointer fingers together in the shape of a triangle. After breathing and centering for some time, you ask yourself, or rather, plant the question: “If I planted my heart, what would grow?”  You then sit with whatever answer comes to form in your mind, not forcing, not judging, just observing. The last time I did this, I had some intense yet interesting experiences (you can read about them here). This time’s experience of the meditation was also intense but very different from the last.

My question first met with a blank, and then, a stalk with a pink flower popped out. At first, it was the bleeding heart flower but became a larger, bell-shaped flower.

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From this:

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To something closer to a single one of these:

Then, another and another popped up. Eventually, they started to lean down and crumple. I had a sudden fear that they were withering and dying from some blight, and indeed, they soon disappeared. However, the ground then gave birth to green leaves, like those from orchids, coming out of the ground by the hundreds, spreading out and out and out. I was struck by the abundance of this–an overwhelming sense of compassion and generosity.

I was almost in tears of gratitude as I came out of this meditation. I realized again, that the problem of this kind of pain only bites and tortures when focused on “me“. The question isn’t what I can, should, or will do for myself. That will continue the focus on the pain that is here, never getting beyond it and keeping the story locked in my orbit, reinforcing that story even. Instead, how can I give to all? If my focus becomes about abundance outward, I’ll find lushness throughout existence. Then, it’s not about me. It’s about the universe. It’s about All.

Identification born of ignorance is a source of grief, and its fading a move toward freedom, as I learned in the days following the death of my only daughter, Ona. She had been congested; her doctor failed to notice her swollen ankles and pale complexion. She was a cherubic child, and we, too, were slow to appreciate the extent of her listlessness. A trip to another physician led to a rush to the hospital; Ona died that night. Her heard had a hole in it and could not keep up with the increased burden of pneumonia.

Days and nights followed in a blur of emotion. Relatives wept with us, visitors came and went, sleep was elusive. The pain made a home in my body and lived there. I had never known such grief. Yet, sometimes, I was able to experience this grief in a nonidentified way, noticing feelings rise and fall, as I did in meditation. And I began to detect a pattern. Whenever a telephone call came–yet another person expressing sympathy–my grief erupted anew. Emotion welled up from my belly through my heart, my head flushed with sensation, my eyes filled with tears.

Watching this time and again, I saw how, at the moment of contact with the caller, an image formed in my mind: the father who lost his child. Instead of experiencing the shifting emotions of the moment–now sadness, now disbelief, now compassion for my wife–I inhabited the image of someone overwhelmed with grief. I identified with that fabricated image, stepped into it as if boarding a train, and became overwhelmed. The immediate suffering was compounded, distorted, and amplified. Knowing this was freeing. Once I discovered this pattern, I was able to watch the train come into the station but not board it. I still felt grief: Ona was of my heart; her absence was confusing and painful. But when I stopped stepping into the mental-emotional construction of “the grieving father,” that pain became less sharp and turbulent because it was not proliferated into a “second arrow” of suffering.

Insight Dialogue:The Interpersonal Path to Freedom, Gregory Kramer, pp. 65-66


Later on in the evening, I read the following in Matthieu Richard’s “Happiness” before falling asleep.

As the pain that afflicts us grows stronger, our mental universe contracts. Events and thoughts continually rebound off the walls of our circumscribed inner prison. They speed up and gather force, every ricochet inflicting new wounds. We must therefore broaden our inner horizons to the point where there are no walls for negative emotion to bounce off of. When these walls, built brick by brick by the self, come tumbling down, suffering’s bullets will miss their mark and vanish in the vast openness of inner freedom. We realize that our suffering was forgetfulness of our true nature, which remains unchanged beneath the fog of emotions. It is essential to develop and sustain this broadening of the inner horizons. External events and thoughts will then emerge like stars that reflect off the calm surface of a vast ocean without disturbing it.

One of the best ways to achieve that state is to meditate on feelings that transcend our mental afflictions. If, for instance, we gradually let our mind be invaded by a feeling of love and compassion for all beings, the warmth of such a thought will very likely melt the ice of our frustrations, while its gentleness will cool the fire of our desires. We will have succeeded in raising ourselves above our personal pain to the point where it becomes almost imperceptible.

Exercise: When you feel overwhelmed by emotions
Imagine a stormy sea with breakers as big as houses. Each wave is more monstrous than the last. They are about to engulf your boat, your very life hangs on those few extra yards in the rushing wall of water. Then imagine observing the same scene from a high-flying plane. From that perspective, the waves seem to form a delicate blue-and-white mosaic, barely trembling on the surface of the water. From that height in the silence of space, your eye sees those almost motionless patterns, and your mind immerses itself in clear and luminous sky. The waves of anger or obsession seem real enough, but remind yourself that they are merely fabrications of your mind; that they will rise and also again disappear. Why stay on the boat of mental anxiety? Make your mind as vast as the sky and you will find that the waves of afflictive emotions have lost all the strength you had attributed to them.

After reading this, I lay there in bed and started winding my mind into sleep. As I closed my eyes, I saw the image of a statue of an elephant’s head facing me. It was ancient, long forgotten in some lost glade of the Indian wilds. It was overgrown with grass and hanging vines, although only partially–his regal head was still clearly visible as well as the details of the carving. The foliage hung gently, emphasizing his calm majesty, and the light green was punctuated at the crown of his head and along the edges of the ears with light pink flowers–the same that I had seen in my meditation. His calm warmth inspired me and reminded me that the selfless path to nirvana is described in the Dhammapada as the training of the elephant. This ancient wisdom is still here to calmly inspire and point out the path, overgrown as the symbols may be, even in the darkest times of our lives. That smiling, beautiful tranquility is right here to be seen. I drifted off with this serene joy.

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Something like this guy, but just the head from straight on–face to face, and much closer…


At a retreat about 2 years ago, the shaman in charge told all of us that the point of what we were doing was to get beyond the head and into the heart. He was completely correct, but maybe, it was in an even deeper manner than he realized.

Mahayana Buddhism urges practitioners to rouse bodhicittaBodhicitta is translated usually as awakened mind or awakened heart and sometimes as noble mind or noble heart. The point I want to pull out here is that mind and heart are not clearly distinguished as separate in this Sanskrit word. When we Westerners say “mind”, we generally think only of the intellect, but ultimately, mind is all of our experience. All experiences we have in our lives are filtered by our mind. Our emotions, our thoughts, our perceptions, all take place within our receptive engagement with the universe–consciousness: mind. If anything, part of our problem as Westerners is that our usage of these words has tried to split out emotions, “heart”, from what we’ve made into a more idea-laden space of “mind”. However, psychology would show us that even emotions are tempered by our concepts, (hi)stories, and social constructs. Our experience of heart is not separate from our experience of mind. It really is Heartmind (inspired by Sanskrit’s lack of clear distinction between the two).

Opening the heart and traveling into its depths then is both getting beyond the head AND awakening the mind–the heartmind. Really reaching into these depths of mindheart is stepping past all of our identifications and constructs. It’s finding the empty and open potential for all unfolding in this moment–sheer luminosity. We can call it creative force, Source, Tao, or buddha-nature, but opening to this emptiness behind/within All, shunyata, is the great spiritual journey of the warrior who seeks to awaken the heart. Seeing this, even briefly, goes beyond intellectual constructs of self and lights the abundant fire of compassion that is bodhicitta; it makes the awakened heartmind beat with abundance.


Life is a dream,
the years pass by like flowing waters.
Glamour and glory are transient as autumn smoke;
what tragedy–for with the sun set deeply in the west,
still there are those
lost among paths of disillusionment.

Our heart should be clear as ice.
Forget all the worldly nonsense.
Sit calmly, breathe quietly, heart bright and spotless as an empty mirror.
This is the path to the Buddha’s table.

The Book of the Heart: Embracing the Tao, Loy Ching-Yuen, “On Tao: §3”

May this inspire other warriors to rouse bodhicitta and let their heartminds overflow with abundance. May the training of self, the harnessing of the process of walking the path–the trained elephant–act as a guide and inspiration on the path.

Gassho!

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal — Entry 11: Just Live

The following is a long quote from Dainin Katagiri’s You Have to Say Something: Manifesting Zen Insight. When I read this for the first time a couple of months ago, it took my breath away. It’s been a guiding principle for practice and daily life, by that I mean practicing through the moments of daily life, ever since. If there’s something that has gotten me through the difficulties apparent in my last two Heartbreak Wisdom Journal entries, it’s wise teachings like this. If you don’t find a way to handle each day well and with equanimity, you’ll yearn for escape, and when going through negative emotional terrain, this yearning for escape can be most dire and dark. I hope that you too will be inspired by this and use it as a compass in your daily life as well.


As I mentioned, it is easy to become fed up with daily routine. You do the same thing, day after day, until finally you don’t know what the purpose of human life is. Human life just based on daily routine seems like a huge trap. We don’t want to look at this, so we don’t pay attention to daily routine. We get up in the morning and have breakfast, but we don’t pay attention to breakfast. Quickly and carelessly, we drink coffee and go to work.

But if you don’t pay attention, you will eat breakfast recklessly, you will go to work recklessly, you will drive recklessly, and you will go to sleep recklessly. Finally, you will be fed up with your daily routine. This is human suffering, and it fills everyday life.

The important point is that we can neither escape everyday life nor ignore it. We have to live by means of realizing the original nature of the self right in the middle of daily routine, without destroying daily routine, and without attaching to it. When it is time to get up, just get up. Even though you don’t like it, just get up. Getting up will free you from the fact that you have to get up.

Even though you don’t like your life, just live. Even though death will come sooner or later, just live. The truth of life is just to live. This is no attachment. Zen practice is to be fully alive in each moment. Only by this living activity can you take care of your everyday life.

-Dainin Katagiri, You Have to Say Something: Manifesting Zen Insight, pp. xv-xvi.

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Being fully alive in every moment–even in that of washing the dishes


“Zen practice is to be fully alive in each moment.” This does not mean indulgence, chasing your desires, or trying to set up a string of moments you want. On the contrary, this means to fully be with whatever is at hand: for instance, fully present to washing the dishes, even if you don’t like it. Instead of an endless array of likes and wants–Katagiri says in this book that desires are endless: not the goal of a practice of nonattachment–just live in this moment, whatever arises. Being fully alive in this moment doesn’t mean yearning for something else and attaching to that yearning. Not that yearning is bad; if it comes up, let it be, but don’t invest in it. Don’t spin it. Don’t attach to it. That’s wishing for this moment to end, to be dead. That’s being dead in this moment.

May this inspire you to find the strength to just be in your life, to just live. May your practice allow you to live fully in each moment, without attachment, without mistaking presence in every moment with only showing up to the moments you want to have happen/trying to acquire as many of those moments as possible. May this help you smile at every moment, liked or disliked, without escapism.

Gassho!

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal — Entry 10: Echoes/Grief

Recent days have suddenly been emotionally difficult after relative equanimity for some time. It took some time to pin down precisely what has been bothering me, but eventually, I realized. It’s been a year. In a few weeks, it will have been a year since I got that cold, empty phone call after several days of emotionally distant standoffishness. It’s almost been a year since I was initially prepared for the death of partnership, family, and friendship (I don’t mean to be melodramatic with using the word “death”. That was the phrasing she used at the time–“This must die.”). This anniversary has particular weight not only because of the end of a relationship but also because of the unraveling of my life in general at that time. My job shifted dramatically around the same time, and I got notice that my landlady was also changing the terms of my lease–I got ousted in the process. Difficult changes and challenges have continued to mark the months and days since. It has been the hardest year of my life, even more so than the handful before which were no cakewalks.

It’s interesting looking back, as anxiety-provoking as it might be. It’s interesting because clearly time has passed. Much has happened. However, either due to some sort of experiential time warp or longing, it doesn’t feel that long. The events do not feel that separate from now. In fact, the last 2 or 3 months are the first time that they’ve felt separate at all. I think that’s why I can say it feels like a scar now in one of my recent writings.


Honestly, I started writing these words for this entry a few days ago and then put it aside. Some reading, writing, and meditation have brought me into this experience more–facing it rather than wriggling under the knife of emotional pain. Loving-kindness meditation has been extremely powerful in this brave, tender facing up to change. It involves wishing yourself, a close friend or loved one, a stranger, an enemy, and all sentient beings loving-kindness in gradual succession. This is the mantra to guide this visualization of loving-kindness (first said for yourself, than the friend, etc. while imagining pure positivity sent to each):

May I/you/all be happy
May I/you/all be healthy
May I/you/all be at peace
May I/you/all live with ease

I’ve found that offering such positive love out into the world, into everything, releases my focus from “me” and “my” pain. I can flow along with the world and the suffering of others, helping them find their own connection and loving-kindness as well.

I don’t say this to say that my feelings are unimportant or easily ignored. They’re there, and if I hadn’t been practicing hard for months now, I’m sure that I’d be utterly lost in them as I was for a few days about a week ago.

What are those feelings? I think that they’re my first real experience of grief. I lost an entire life in this transition–home, lover, family, and friends. My story had to be fundamentally altered, a process that I’m still working through.

What stands out to me as a symbol of this grief, nestled into the whole experience is the loss of my ex’s grandmother. She died only a few weeks after my ex dumped me. I saw her in person one last time. She was very ill. We talked for a while. She was clearly in a lot of pain and wasn’t fully in our conversation. As I got up to leave, she told me that I was “right up there” with her grandkids in terms of people in her life. She basically said that she cared about me almost as much as them. She died a few days later. Those were her last words to me.

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Grief

This might seem unimportant, but I have never had anyone I was really close to die before. My great-grandmothers died when I was in my youth, and a classmate died as a teen, but I wasn’t as close to any of them as I was to this woman. This was my first really personal experience of the loss of death other than a few pets dying while growing up. It’s a peculiar kind of loss, knowing that you cannot, will not, ever see this person again, a person who was a family member (as I was honorary grandson to her, I definitely considered her grandma as well). This kind of experience brings home the true depths of loss in the fullness of its meaning.

Alongside this was the loss of one of our cats too. He died in the same time period, and in many ways, he was the heart of our home. I still think of him and speak of him often…

So these echoes of grief, of loss, have a couple solid anchors in death. Not only was there the symbolic death of love, friendship, family, and home in breakup; there was the actual death of a couple key pieces of that structure.

Some might read my posts of the last several months and point at how much I have grown, but suffering, ultimately, cannot be rationalized or justified. We move to find some meaningful explanation of our troubles, to pin them down and make them “OK”. However, that’s the same drive that leads us to blame the victim–“They had it coming because…” All we can do is lay bare the root causes of our suffering or someone else’s and sit with those causes mindfully, accompanying them and that person through the mystery of being, rather than trying to explain it away.

With grief, I’ve had to face my attachment to the way I wish life were in the barest rawness of disappointment, despair, confusion, loneliness, and fear. It’s brought me into a deeper relationship with myself and Truth, but that does not mean it was justified or a “good” thing. Such experiences lie beyond any plan, rationalization, or telos. I would never wish such a thing on anyone or try to explain how it’s good for them. I will open my arms to accompany any I meet with grief and share loving-kindness with them in the abyss.


It seems like every return to this writing has changed it. It’s been an interesting process, and while the pain still resides, it doesn’t torture me as it did when I first was writing these words. It truly has been a hard year, but unlike the beginning of this post when I felt like I couldn’t survive another year like this, I’m now looking at this moment and the path that lies ahead with equanimity. In honor of the mix of feelings I’ve gone through and where this year really started, I’d like to add a song by Adele. For some time, I listened to her songs about heartbreak again and again, and I think that “Rolling in the Deep” will always remind me of this time. However, I’d like to share another one about moving on, burning the past, and heartbreak in all of its pain, confusion, longing, and forced violence to the attachments that were. It came up on the radio while at lunch the other day, and it immediately reminded me of all of this:

Here’s to setting fire to my own rain.


May this help those who endure heartbreak, grief, and the anniversaries of life-altering times feel accompanied and seen. May it help them find their own means to establishing equanimity within when it feels like the world is in turmoil.

Gassho!

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal — Entry 9: Scar

Several months ago, as the end of my relationship began to unfold, I wrote a poem about having a scab over my heart (read it here)–inspired by one of my last visits to my ex, in which she and I (and cute cat in tow) acted as a family, saving a little baby bird that our curious cat had found. In the process, I climbed up on a neighbor’s roof, scraping my knee and leaving a nasty scab. The emotional treatment I got during this time period left a scab on my heart too, hence the poem.

Now, so many months later, I feel that change has come, but it’s only one letter of change: from scab to scar. Of course, I don’t mean to say that this change just happened today or recently, for that matter. No, healing is a process, and many changes are processes (by that I mean longer term developments). However, I’ve encountered so many times, in both everyday conversations and even in my masters psychology courses, talk of healing as though it’s a return to fullness to the same state as the way things used to be. However, the word “healing” and the associated concept are related to “health”, and “health” is ultimately an idea/understanding of physical well-being. Why is this important? Anyone who has lived much past childhood can likely understand/agree with the proposition that some wounds do not “heal” to be what they once were. In fact, most wounds don’t once we get past the abundant vitality of youth (though it may take some time before we realize that things didn’t “heal” fully). For instance, I sprained my ankle badly once in my late teens. It’s never been the same since, but for the most part, it functions well enough to get by without issue. That’s what healing is: a return to general functionality–well-being. It is not a cure. Curing is a complete eradication of ailment, which would apply mostly to disease; with a contagion, viruses/bacteria can be completely killed off. Healing has to do with the fact that we are unfolding processes of change on biological, mental, emotional, and spiritual levels. With healing, there is a recognition of the organic nature of these becomings: time marches on, all of these changes are impermanent (in the sense of not being a final change), and even a revitalization does not mean that everything can be or is reversed.

Scar tissue is a particular example of this irreversible healing. I have a four-inch long scar on my lower abdomen where my appendix was removed as a child. Despite the initial pain of a cut that had opened all the way to my internal organs, the pain receded within a couple weeks, and I could do most things normally afterward. However, for a year or so afterward, I remember being unable to do certain exercises like sit-ups without excruciating agony after a few repetitions, and even today there feels like a slight imbalance between my right and left sides. While it may be minor, and perhaps, the difference is in my head, it has affected my experience, and the scar has had a long-term impact on my life.

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Years ago, I had a cut much like this one after having my appendix removed. What do the wounds and scars of heartbreak look like?

Scar tissue can be sensitive for a long time, and the muscle may mend but not quite to the strength of what it once was. Internal scar tissue can even cause problems for organ functioning, as it is different than the normal tissue around it.

So how about the scar tissue of a broken heart? Honestly, I can’t readily say. Very few days go by where I don’t miss her in some way–usually minor but sometimes greater. It’s the scar’s tingling, unique sensitivity–that of nostalgia. In fact, I dreamt of her recently, and though the dream was odd and painful, it left the rest of my day an aching knot.

The one thing about the healing that seems more certain is that I don’t feel the same way about romantic love. I’m not seeking it, and I have little interest in it. It seems primarily tied up with stories of self and finding completion in another. That’s the whole game of samsaric conflicts that I don’t need.

Plus, I reached a deep-seated love of absolute gratitude for my ex, foibles and all–not that this meant that I didn’t see and support how she could grow past her painful patterns; acceptance is not enabling such patterns. This is a regular point of confusion for people. Acceptance is not collusion. Just because it isn’t some sort of domineering attempt to force a person to change does not mean that it is a stance that enables a person to remain hurtful to themselves and others; true acceptance is seeing a person’s beauty and pain and trying to help them get past their pain out of love for their well-being. A mother loves her children with her entire existence, but this does not mean that she lets them do selfish and maladaptive things. Instead, she tries to steer them to the best path and growth for them, although this requires some discipline at times. The problem is seeing what should be done for that end of helping and loving someone else and what is being done out of one’s own selfishness… I’m not sure that healing can take me back to a state of opening like that–intense gratitude–with another person. It’s difficult to describe the overwhelming joy and gratitude I had for her in the last few weeks I was with her. I feel like this experience may never return, no matter how much time is allotted for healing. Instead, the tingling pain of a scar remains. Instead of actively seeking this type of love again, I’m cultivating love and compassion for existence now.

I don’t know what the future will bring, and I don’t worry about it. If romantic love comes my way, fine. If not, fine. I don’t seek it or deny it. I don’t worry about it. No attachment. Whatever arises. Meanwhile, the wound heals in its own way.


May this help others find their own peace with their scars.

Gassho!

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 7: Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be (Part 2)

Clarification: As I wrote at the beginning of the last post, I’ve broken this entry into two pieces. The first was about my personal healing experience. This piece is a long quote from Lama Surya Das’ Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be. It’s taken from the opening section of the final chapter: “Spiritual Renewal — Healing Our Wounded Hearts”. Reading this section felt very resonant with what I have been experiencing, and it was great to find that understanding and affirmation. I thought that others could benefit from his words as well.


To one degree or another, we all have wounded hearts etched with at least a few of life’s infinitely variant scars. But if that is the case, how can we find peace? How can we release our sorrow and move beyond negative memories and hurt? How can we alter and release our attachment to the past? How can we come unstuck? How can we let go of the person we used to be?
Men and women trying to recover from disappointment and loss tend to hear a wide variety of well-meaning advice. “You need healing,” their friends tell them. “You need closure.” “You need resolution.” “Move on.” Sometimes this facile, though well-intentioned advice, is the last thing that someone wants to hear. “Change your life.” “Okay, sure. Will do. Thank you!” It is easier said than done, isn’t it?
Almost twenty years ago, while I was in three-year meditations retreat, I received a letter from an old friend who told me that her talented and beloved son was gravely ill; he was only in his mid-twenties, and I remember being very saddened by this news. She asked if we would pray for him. Later I received word that he had died. I knew that my friend suffered grievously from the loss of her son. But I was still young and I probably didn’t fully understand what she was experiencing. About two years later I visited her in upstate New York and gave her some platitudinous advice.
“Maybe it’s time to let go and move on,” I said.
“Maybe it isn’t,” she replied. “Maybe I’m not done.”
The truth and authenticity of her statement were pretty startling in the face of my well-meaning, albeit useless, chiches. Maybe she wasn’t done with her mourning; maybe she would never feel done. My dear old friend is not unique in her response to major loss. Many have told me that they have never really “gotten over” some of their experiences.

Mourning is a necessary process as well as a deep and significant spiritual experience. It brings us closer to the ground of our being and our felt sense of authenticity. We need to intelligently process our most difficult experiences in order to regain balance, harmony, and inner peace. But there comes a time when it is helpful to seek and find ways to release the pain. Yes, certain losses remain with us; they are part of our history and our karma. But that doesn’t mean that it is appropriate for us to spend our lives grieving. We need to find ways to peacefully coexist with our sadness. We can embrace our pain and our losses and be greater and more authentically real for doing so.
I am not alone in saying that a broken heart is often the beginning of healing and renewal; many wiser men and women have spoken these words. Sometimes it is only desperation that can drive us out of a rut. When we are sad, we need comfort; we need to find new hope; we need spiritual renewal. These are attainable goals; these are all possible. Everything is possible to those who seek and persevere. In the New Testament, Jesus spoke the following beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Spiritual transformation and renewal are forms of healing, of rectification, of rebalancing. Such renewal restores us to wholeness and to peace through new beginnings. Our hopes, dreams, and aspirations are revived, and we are able to make fresh starts. Sometimes all we need to do to make a fresh start is to begin seriously questioning ourselves–our assumptions and beliefs and what we are doing. This kind of self-examination helps us think “outside the box.” When we do this, it can help us view the world in such a different way that we are sometimes able to make dramatic changes. Seeing differently is believing differently and leads to different ways of living.
Buddhism teaches that the reason we are unhappy and experience difficulty is mainly due to ignorance and our false sense of incompleteness and separation. Out of this ignorance and feelings of separateness comes all kinds of unsatisfying unfulfilling behavior and effort. A pop example that comes to mind is the all too human tendency to look for love in all the wrong places. We do well to renew our outlook and our efforts toward more intelligent and fulfilling directions and modes of seeking what we really want and need. Remember that one definition of insanity is doing what we have always done and expecting different results.
Few of us carefully examine whether or not our current pattern of desires and habits are producing the results we want. Too often we just continue as we have always done–“same old, same old”–just as our friends, colleagues, and elders have always done, thought, reacted, hoped, and believed. We do this without thoroughly, conscientiously, and deeply scrutinizing for ourselves how well these strategies work for us.
Rebirth is one form of renewal and regeneration. This may happen in the afterlife or in heaven, or it may happen through reinventing oneself or one’s career and relationships in this life. Or it can happen moment by moment by taking a good deep breath and taking a fresh and renewed look at life in the immediacy of the present moment. This moment-to-moment rebirth is a practice of both love and freedom. It allows us to embrace reality right now, as it is; it allows us to be as we are without being burdened or conditioned by the past.

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May this resonate with you who need this as it has with me. May it help you let go of your past, the person you used to be, so that you may move forward in reinventing yourself for the good of yourself and all the world. May you find liberation in stepping from your sloughed off old skin.

Gassho!

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