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!

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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!

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal — Entry 6: Forgiveness

Going through heartbreak is one of the trials of a lifetime–of the soul. Everything that was once familiar and taken for granted is now gone, destroyed, lost–but not forgotten. If only it could be forgotten! You won’t be at your best. It’s as simple as that.

In my last entry, I had a quote that said your heart has to be big enough to hold a horse race inside. How do you do this when everything feels wrong and you feel weak? Even if you can muster up the presence to show up and do your best for others and yourself, you will fail–miserably and often. Sometimes your big and beautiful intentions will come to naught. You won’t get any farther than tripping over your own feet. Such moments feel like there is no point, like all you can do is give up.

What do you do? — You forgive yourself. You have two choices: you can either feel guilty and hate yourself as well as everything you’ve lost, or you can forgive yourself for struggling, for wanting to be happy, for being vulnerable, and for having a heart. If you truly want to share deep compassion with the world, you have to begin with yourself. That’s how your heart grows to hold even the hardest emotions with tender equanimity–growing to the size of holding a horse race. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to push yourself to learn and to get beyond your own mistakes; instead, it’s giving yourself the gift of patience to do just that.

May this plant a seed of compassion in anyone out there who suffers from the pain of a broken heart.
Gassho!


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