Heartbreak | Sitting in Turbulence

I feel oddly inspired today to thread together a few different experiences and ideas with a couple quotes. May this share my inspiration precisely as the etymology of that word implies: others breathing in the animating spirit of the ideas here for their own benefit.


I’ll start with some morning pages from today. I’ll cut a bit for brevity, but I was surprised at the vulnerability and feelings of mistrust that spilled out. I know that I have these feelings, but generally, they aren’t this intense. The sudden burst surprised me, but it’s an interesting change in the death I’ve described in recent posts and leave me wondering about my future and whether focusing on compassion is the better direction for a fuller life, rather than the egoic hurt of identity and love. I’ll expand on that in the second section after morning pages.

Second, but it came up first emotionally and in order of events, I just saw one of my poems to [the person] briefly as I flipped this open. So many things like that come back to mind now and make me feel like a complete idiot.

I mean, it just emphasizes the feeling of unfairness, of not being seen, of not being valued. She told me that the poem was “the sweetest thing anyone had ever done for me”. Yet, now, it’s buried in some corner, forgotten, just like I am. Does intense effort even matter in the end? I honestly don’t even know, and I ultimately don’t know that I can ever really trust anyone to value me back. I keep thinking: “I need a spiritual friend,” and my mind replies with – “My friends! There are no friends!” I’ll keep meditating and building gratitude, like in this moment.

Myself – Morning Pages Journal

I know this feeling is there. I told a friend a while ago: “What do you do when you tell a person your heart beats for them, and they basically react with: “That’s nice. Whatevs.”? How do you trust love at all after that?” That’s part of where I’m at, beyond the feelings that it’s unlikely that I will find someone who is highly compatible with me. How do you trust? The vulnerability of putting your heart out there to care, to give, to love is intense. I think I’ve felt unseen one too many times, and this time, it just feels too fundamental for me to really trust the process of others. I’ve always operated from a hermeneutics of trust when it comes to love. I don’t know if I can do that anymore.

As a counterpoint, I want to return to a beautiful moment from last night and cap it off with a couple quotes. This experience is the reference in the final line above of “keep meditating and building gratitude”.

Last night, I went down to the sea and pumped up my inflatable paddleboard to enjoy perhaps the last really warm evening before the rains of fall. It was right before sunset. I put in my headphones, went down to the water, and paddled out into the cool breeze. I paddled north – my destination about a mile down the shore, a set of pillars where I had spent some of my favorite moments from this year with the person. She introduced me to paddleboarding and to my destination. The water rippled with every stroke, gliding along with my arms’ strength. The movement felt peaceful and empowering as post-rock accompanied the changing colors, graceful flows of birds in the sky and waves beneath me alongside the misty mountains in the distance like something out of Tolkien.

When I reached my spot, I stopped and stretched my legs. I’m still no good at standing up, so I tend to kneel and paddle. It makes my legs stiff after a bit. I looked at the mountains, and my board slowly turned with the waves and faced the beach. I saw many people there, catching the final gasps of summer just like me. I switched to sit cross-legged and sat the paddle across my lap. I realized that this could be a great way to meditate, as my heart struggled with the mix of the beautiful scenery with my myriad associations of love and loss. I put my hands in a zen meditation mudra, with the paddle on my lap, after changing the music to a fittingly deep song for the moment (will cross-post to a post on that song soon!). I breathed in, feeling the rocking of the waves, letting my eyes gently unfocus, seeing the beach and people there with me. My mind shifted to a version of the equanimity meditation I had been doing a few months ago – thinking of all their own lives, stories, motivations, and struggles. I repeated the mantra: “All beings are heirs to their karma,” and felt my heart gently open to the sensation of life rocking up and down, being moved by things beyond our full control, the life-waves pushing us about, just as the waves bobbed my board up and down. My resolve grew to sit in this and open my heart with equanimity.

I had to stop a couple times to avoid the waves of boats or reposition to not bob too far out or in, but I spent several minutes like this, and my heart felt much more open to the world around me and the pains of others, including my own. The thought occurred to me and did again this morning: “What’s my own karma right now, and how can I be more accepting of it and myself in it?” I don’t have an answer yet, but my heartmind is trying to sit with that.

Here are two quotes from two recently discovered books that I read after writing morning pages this morning. I feel they expand on these ideas in even grander and more inspirational directions and depths than anything I have written (or could write here):

It’s clear, in this peaceful desert, that peace is not the opposite of violence. Peace is in violence. It can only be seen by the open eyes of awareness. Peace is itself. The experience of peace I’m discovering in the desert had always been with me in the city. I hadn’t let it in.

The peace being expressed in these writings doesn’t come from the mind, the lips, or from gentle actions. It doesn’t come from legislation made by governments or peacemaking movements. It’s a peace that appears without effort. Like the desert filling up my eyes. It appears like snow, wind, or rain. Peace arrives on its own if I don’t resist it.

During years of chanting and meditation, the habit of fighting against what was in front of me rose and dissolved like waves in an ocean. There were times when I asked questions, critiqued, and took action. And there were times when confusion took over, the mind doubled down on itself. The only thing to do during those times was to breathe and be still. The body knows when to do this. Stillness is inherent. After suffering and resistance, the only thing left is contemplation of life and after contemplation, stillness, and after stillness, peace.

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel – The Deepest Peace: Contemplations from a Season of Stillness, pp. 12-13.

More than any other aspect of embodied spirituality, I have found that living more fully from our hearts is the single most powerful step for many of us. The shift from thinking of the heart abstractly to actually feeling physical heartbeats can transform us in the moment. Try it when you are already in a fairly present state and let it deepen. Then try it when you are emotionally stuck and see what happens.

Susan Aposhyan – Heart Open, Body Awake: Four Steps to Embodied Spirituality, p. 15.

May this inspire others to sit and open their hearts, even in the pain of loss, in the trauma that breaks trust, and in the stillness underneath the ever moving turbulence of movement and violence.

Gassho!

Heartbreak | Poetry | Undeath

Loss, death, grief
The heart stills
And feels empty
Yearning for a spark
Life — no longer present

And yet, not dead either
Like a hungry ghost,
Starving for the desired
While still shambling around in this body
A facsimile of the person before

Unheimlich” — unhomey, uncanny
The space between alive and dead
The heart between overflowing and pulverized
How do you sit here in undeath? In unlife?
The presence of sitting contains multitudes…

The depths of feeling light the way
Truth lies not in a covered heart, in a comfortable story that explains away
Courage to face everything authentically
Such is real love
Such is the intensity of life and death to wake the heart


May this help others find their own ability to sit in the feelings of loss, confusion, and despair.

Gassho!

Heartbreak | Change and “Healing”

I return to the heartbreak topic one more time to just speak through some personal experiences regarding change and “healing” (I put healing in quotes to point to some difficulties in the concept which I will talk about below). I bring these topics up out of some frustration and insight in my own process and discussing with others. I can only hope that sharing these words here will make some others feel seen, understood, and accompanied on their own path.

Even before I was fully cut off from the person behind my heartbreak, I spoke to her and others about how dating others held little interest for me and how I knew it would be really difficult to find someone else who is what I want for a long-term committed partnership. She and most everyone else have challenged me, but when I really present my perspective, there’s not really any counterarguments to be made.

Here’s the thing. I have a couple decades of long-term relationships and dating women as experience. Furthermore, I have a background in psychology and data analysis, meaning I’m used to thinking of problems like “who is in the dating pool?” in terms of metrics and demographics. Over the last couple years, I’ve thought about what I would like in a future long-term partner, and for me, that means a high degree of compatibility. I have a solid list of what kinds of interests and personality traits I see working well with me in a way that I would feel excited to commit to, especially in ways that I see as being easier to work with than the problems I’ve had with previous partners. That being said, many of them are more like “open to my way of doing x”, not so much – “you have to do x too”, so they aren’t fully rigid, and I’m big on being a compromising and supportive partner as well.

It’s quite clear to me that a few of my marks for compatibility dramatically reduce the number of good matches to something like less than 10% of heterosexual/bisexual women in general out of the gate, and that’s not even factoring in aspects like age, location, availability, etc., and yet, people just tell me to do things like “cast my nets”, as though randomly trying with others will make them compatible or in complete ignorance/dismissal of what I know from my heart and a couple decades of experience is what I want for myself moving forward.

The funny thing in that is that in challenging a particular friend with a very logical, data-driven breakdown, she couldn’t argue, as she’s quite data-minded as well, but she replied that although she agreed, she found it incredibly sad because it’s a perspective where I likely don’t get a happy end.

However, that’s the thing. We’re told time and again that we will. That there’s “our person” out there, etc. That’s a very long-standing desire. It’s almost fundamental as an existential counterpoint to feeling your identity as a person in the world with the needs for connection, sex, understanding, and companionship. There are colorful versions of that deep in mythology across cultures, not to mention Aristophanes’ poetic depiction of it in Plato’s Symposium.

Here’s the other thing. That’s an existential security blanket. There’s no guarantee that there is such a person out there. There’s not even a guarantee there’s a great match out there. Furthermore, even if there is, there’s no guarantee they’re nearby, a good match in terms of age, or that they’re currently looking for a partner too. It’s tough to hear, but there’s no guarantee of a happy end for any of us. Truly, if you speak to many about their lives, it becomes clear that life is complicated with a variety of ups and downs and unforeseen circumstances in relationships. If anything, the guaranteed happy ending is a fairytale, just like we know that term really implies.

This mental shift for me – focusing on what I want, pushing myself to avoid stepping into a relationship where I just begin compromising so greatly out of the gate where I immediately end up sacrificing my wants to someone else’s, and enforcing boundaries to uphold this idea that “single > settling” is a big move for me, and it’s one I’m committed to. I’ve even tried to challenge my hypothesis by looking through hundreds and hundreds of dating profiles for my area online. Absolutely none of them have changed my perspective regarding how much of a needle in a haystack such a match would be – my sense of demographics and what I want is even probably more accurate than I initially realized.

Here’s my point, ultimately, with this post. This is a big change for me, and it’s one I intend to further, even if for the rest of my life. I’m trying hard to think of myself in a new light, a new role for my future. I’m trying to reimagine what I might end up having and how I can sit with it in the years ahead. I keep my heart and mind open to being surprised along the way, but I’m not going to run towards anything just out of the desire to not be alone. Even though that’s really hard for me and this is the most depressingly lonely time of my life (and seems to look out on a wide horizon of more of the same), I would much rather that than being in a relationship where I feel alone and unvalued with a person sitting right next to me.

Now, in relation to “healing”, I’ve received some critiques that my position will soften over time or that I will find the right person when I heal and go back to the old me. Honestly, I hope not – for one, because then all this insight and one of the only two big, meaningful experiences I’ve pulled from this time (perhaps I’ll write about the other sometime soon) feel empty, dramatic, and histrionic. That’s not my jam. Personal and spiritual processing for me has impact, it builds, and I ingrain such changes into my life. They’re not passing seasons. Maybe aspects of them lessen or wax and wane, but something remains to grow or be challenged moving forward. Ditching these insights for my old paradigm seems both against my more general approach to life and a step backwards into really unhealthy patterns. If anything, others should be hoping along with me that I don’t move back into that.

The problem with “healing” as a concept is that it’s often used in just that sense: some recovery of function that returns to the old. Sayings like “time heals all wounds” illustrate that idea. However, wounds can heal improperly. Function can return, but not the same as before. For instance, I sprained my ankle at 19, and it still bothers me from time to time. That ankle works well enough for the day to day, but it is not and will never be the same as before. Other physical injuries I’ve had are the same. If anything, healing over time isn’t a return to form, it’s an adapting to changes of the system to keep going on well enough. Granted, some wounds do heal by fully disappearing, like a scab on the skin, and an indication that there’s still an issue there shows a problem that hasn’t healed. The wound is still there, festering. This applies to not getting over animosity and hate or an inability to build trust again with someone who makes every effort to build it in clear good faith. I say such things with no judgment. Some psychological wounds are the absolute hardest to truly “heal”, and the best that can be hoped for is a moving on that works around the pain somehow.

In any case, a change into a different worldview about love and relationships and what I want from them doesn’t indicate that I have some sort of temporary bleeding wound that will scab over and disappear. There’s something to be said, valued, and appreciated about this kind of change and how it’s actually a healthy move forward, not the opposite.


May these words make others feel accompanied and understood in their own developing heartways.

Gassho!

Heartbreak | Facing Death

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, and although the intensity of the thoughts and feelings have ebbed and flowed, I feel like it’s important to return to, even if it’s mostly to focus my own mind and practice in the writing. Beyond that, however, I hope these words help others. The words are dedicated to them, with that intention.


In my last post, I said: “I’m left feeling like, to steal a poetic line from said person, in experiencing life right now, I’m watching the death of my concept and experience of love as I watch the death of a relationship.”

Honestly, death is on my mind a lot these days. I find myself muttering to myself, “I hate my life. I wish I could die.” It’s so by rote that it almost feels like a script, but there is still weight behind the self-talk. Deepest samsara – when clinging and desires aren’t met – hurts greatly. That’s why so many coping mechanisms revolve around escape and altered states. It feels nearly impossible to just sit with the full intensity of these painful feelings.

I find it haunting and thought-provoking even after years, that Camus opens his classic work of philosophy, “The Myth of Sisyphus”, with “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” Ultimately, it’s true – each and every one of us stamps the meaning on our own lives and has the ultimate say on whether it is worth living or not. Our approach to our lives is ultimately one that leans into mortality and affirms life as worth living… Or doesn’t. The same problem resonates, albeit somewhat differently, with Viktor Frankl’s famous “Man’s Search for Meaning”. He emphasizes that the root idea of his approach of logotherapy is that “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how” (supposedly a quote from Nietzsche, although it seems more like a rewording). The need for meaning is crucial in these existential approaches to the human condition. They are the key agency we have in making sense of our mortal lives and making them shine in the dark horizon of death (riffing on Heidegger and Foucault’s ideas of finitude in “The Order of Things”).

To return to the pain of deepest samsara, the meanings and identities we cling to the most, for me a future of partnership and family, are those that make life feel meaningless when they’re shredded to pieces (I actually wrote a masters paper on precisely this topic – the problem of the loss of meaning and the world becoming senseless after trauma). How do we face such scenarios? With Frankl, the loss of such meaning was a key indicator that others would succumb to the concentration camps. To Camus, it would mean falling into an overwhelmed despair in the face of the absurd, and if he truly is a follower of Nietzsche, would lead to nihilism – willing nothingness: choosing suicide.

In my darkest moments, that’s precisely how I feel – a pointlessness to my life, a wish for it to end, an overwhelming feeling like both myself and everything else doesn’t matter. The person at the core of my heartbreak recently reached out and told me she hoped I was finding peace in the end of our time together. That hurt so deeply. I wanted to scream. The only peace I feel is the peace of death: the death of meaning, and as I’ve described here, that is not any kind of peace that the living thrive in, quite the opposite.

Overall, however, I have long-developed self-care routines and the desire to do well for all sentient beings. These keep my strength focused beyond my own story, and they lead me to lean into compassion. For instance, I am kind to others I encounter, trying to be present and warm to them as genuine encounter. A contact at my local grocery store befriended me online recently, and I found that she has been in prison for a car accident and is just making her way back out into the world. Moments like that make my heart break and bring perspective to how much kindness and warmth needs to be cultivated and shared in this world. She thanked me for always being kind to her and spoke to others in her other job being rude. We all go through so much poor treatment and bad circumstances, even some bad karma from our own poorly made and poorly informed choices. We all deserve compassion. For the most part, that’s my North Star, when I’m not overly wrapped in my own story to see it.

I’m inspired by the path and the direction of the bodhisattva, aiming at a deeper engagement with reality. The new desire: working for the enlightenment of all sentient beings – a heroic and impossible task, that of wisdom and compassion. May that be my concern rather than samsaric worries about my own future.

I’m closing this off with three quotes that I hope will develop and connect these existentialist and Mahayana Buddhist themes.

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Albert Camus – “The Myth of Sisyphus”, p. 123

When a Zen priest who has taken a sufferer under his care has reason to fear that he is not equal to his suffering, he will visit him repeatedly. Not with the intention of relieving him of distracting worries, but of reaching his inner self. He will try to make him face his suffering by bringing its full extent and magnitude to consciousness. He will help the sufferer to see that great suffering is not overcome by refusing to face it or by surrendering to it in despair. He will warn him of the danger of allowing himself to be solaced, and of waiting for time to heal. Salvation lies in giving full assent to his fate, serenely accepting what is laid upon him without asking why he should be singled out for so much suffering. Whoever is able to bear suffering in this way grows to the stature of his suffering, and he detaches himself from it by learning more and more to disregard the fact that it is his suffering.

This detachment paves the way to healing, and healing follows of itself the more sensitive one becomes to the suffering of others, and the more selflessly one shares their sufferings. This fellow suffering is quite different from the sentimental sympathy most of us indulge in, which, easily aroused and quickly dissipated, remains ineffective because it is not selfless enough. True compassion not bound to words forges the most intimate bond between human beings and all living creatures. The real meaning of suffering discloses itself only to him who has learned the art of compassion.

If the sufferer’s ears and eyes are opened by this clarification of his state of mind, he will mark that neither flight from reality nor denial of suffering can bring him detachment. And if, thrown back on himself, he shows that he is trying to become one with his fate, to assent to it so that it can fulfill its own law, then the priest will go on helping him. He will answer his questions, without offering anything more than suggestions and, of course, without preaching.

For there is something that seems to him very much more important than words. Gradually he will fall silent, and in the end will sit there wordless, for a long time, sunk deep in himself. And the strange thing is that this silence is not felt by the other person as indifference, as a desolate emptiness which disturbs rather than calms. It is as if this silence had more meaning than countless words could ever have. It is as if he were being drawn into a field of force from which fresh strength flows into him. He feels suffused with a strange confidence, even when his visitor has long since departed. And it may be that in these joyful hours, the resolve will be born to set out on the path that turns a wretched existence into a life of happiness.

Eugen Herrigel – “The Method of Zen”, pp. 124-125

We are reminded again of Dogen’s description of his own awakening: “I came to realize clearly that mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun, and the moon and the stars.” According to one Mahayana account, the Buddha was enlightened when he looked up from his meditations and saw the morning star (Venus), whereupon he declared: “I am awakened together with the whole of the great earth and all of its beings.” It’s not that every living being became enlightened in the same way that he did at that moment, but that his own personal awakening was an achievement of the whole. Awakening, then, involves realizing that “I” am not inside my body, looking out through my eyes at a world that is separate from me. Rather, “I” am what the whole universe is doing, right here and now.

David R. Loy – “A New Buddhist Path”, pp. 86-87

May this provide solace to those feeling the abyss looking back into them after staring into it. May you find that you take a leap and a net appears.

Gassho!

Heartbreak | Loneliness

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, and although the intensity of the thoughts and feelings have ebbed and flowed, I feel like it’s important to return to, even if it’s mostly to focus my own mind and practice in the writing. Beyond that, however, I hope these words help others. The words are dedicated to them, with that intention.


I’ve recently been going through an on-again, off-again, dramatic semi-relationship with someone who has excited me to the possibility of a future together and made me feel more alive than any other romantic partner I’ve had. The only reason that really matters as backstory is that something in the progression of this connection and its long, slow, painful demise has made me really sit with my feelings regarding partnership and compatibility. I’m left feeling like, to steal a poetic line from said person, in experiencing life right now, I’m watching the death of my concept and experience of love as I watch the death of a relationship. I plan on writing more on that in a second post, but in this one, I want to focus on the related feeling of loneliness.

I’ve been lonely in relationships for pretty much all of my adult life. I wonder if this is normal. For me, I think it’s primarily because I’m a person with some particular and unique interests. It’s hard to share space and life with a person and feel like you’re not connected on many levels. Perhaps, it’s because of my ideals of partnership which I’ve written about on here before. I really seek a deep engagement with a partner, not just sharing of space and time. With that, I tend to throw in a lot of energy and support that doesn’t get matched, which leads to more feelings of disconnection and even resentment.

Loneliness when losing someone who meant so much to you, loneliness even during the slow fade of such a loss, is much more brutal. It’s like the sun went down and isn’t coming up again. In a way, it reminds me of my recent post on the tarot where I talked about three cards being about choosing love, not being disillusioned and not giving up hope. That was a positive, can-do interpretation. It could be just as much that in choosing this love, I was moving into an experience of disillusionment and despair. Now, I think about future relationships, and I see little to no likelihood that I’ll find someone else with the compatibility and partnership I seek. In a sense, such a spiritual friend is rare. I’ve thought about my experiences and the statistical demographics of who’s out there in the world, and in all likelihood, the frequent pulls of the Hermit card in the last few months are wise counsel for getting deeply in tune with myself, my own wisdom, and my own solitary path.

With feelings like this, most balk, and tell you you overreact, even though they don’t have a single real counterargument to a logical and experiential breakdown. I think we’re given way too many expectations of ending up with a partner with an Aristophanes’ story of another person somehow complimenting us out there, just waiting to be found. There’s simply no guarantee. Just as there’s no guarantee I will live past today. When faced with that, people tend to react really strongly to protect this groundwork, existential desire. A co-worker recently heard me out and said, “I agree with everything you just said, but it makes me sad because you don’t get a happy ending in this perspective.” This shows that, ultimately, the standard paradigm is a wishful thinking fallacy.

Sitting with loneliness is particularly hard because I feel out of place in a very physical sense. I live just a mile down the road from the person, and this neighborhood is new to me. I don’t feel fully at home here. Everything reminds me of her. Everything reminds me of how I’m facing a future of being alone, not having a family, not becoming a father. These are all things I held much more tightly than I thought. I have been trying to patiently sit and look at those feelings and fears arise with as much peace as I can muster, but the Buddha was right: the things we cling to are really what cause samsara. It’s incredibly difficult to not react to such feelings without squirming and running to the next.

However, I think that sitting with all of this offers one of the greatest opportunities for spiritual growth, even though I’m barely up to the task most days or fail on others. I wanted to write about my experience after reading a chapter in Pema Chödrön’s classing “When Things Fall Apart”. In sitting with ourselves in our most vulnerable, our most tender, we cultivate the warrior’s heart that opens us to more compassion for all beings. In many ways, this time has made me more patient and open to others, instead of less so. This kind of healing and growth leads to warmth to life, even in darkness.

Not wandering in the world of desire is another way of describing cool loneliness. Wandering in the world of desire involves looking for alternatives, seeking something to comfort us–food, drink, people. The word desire encompasses that addiction quality, the way we grab for something because we want to find a way to make things okay. … Not wandering in the world of desire is about relating directly with how things are. Loneliness is not a problem. Loneliness is nothing to be solved. The same is true for any other experience we might have.

Cool loneliness allows us to look honestly and without aggression at our own minds. We can gradually drop our ideals of who we think we ought to be, or who we think we want to be, or who we think other people think we want to be or ought to be. We give it up and just look directly with compassion and humor at who we are. Then loneliness is not threat and heartache, no punishment.

Cool loneliness doesn’t provide any resolution or give us ground under our feet. It challenges us to step into a world of no reference point without polarizing or solidifying. This is called the middle way, or the sacred path of the warrior.

When you wake up in the morning and out of nowhere comes the heartache of alienation and loneliness, could you use that as a golden opportunity? Rather than persecuting yourself or feeling that something terribly wrong is happening, right there in the moment of sadness and longing, could you relax and touch the limitless space of the human heart? The next time you get a chance, experiment with this.

Pema Chödrön, “When Things Fall Apart”, p. 65-66

May these words help others sit with their most difficult experiences of feeling lonely and spur them towards compassion and wisdom.

Gassho!