Heartbreak | Music | Songs for the Deep

I hadn’t planned to write more heartbreak posts, but ultimately, the journey through the abyss to safety (recent I Ching reading but also reminiscent of the Moon card) is a fraught one with new challenges and rapids along the way. For me, this is much more true than I’d like to admit. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve cried about her, thinking about how I’ll never see her skin and smile again, or reliving a moment I wish I could change to maybe make things end up differently. It hurts so bad some days, and I couldn’t tell you why those days are worse. Every day, I wish my heart would stop beating. It just hurts too damn much, and some days, like today, something breaks you into full on panicky hyperventilation and crying, and you can’t even really say what triggered that exact moment. However, even then, there are events that make you feel understood and seen.

I went to a concert last night – Garbage and Alanis Morissette. These two artists really brought this to mind because they both have songs about some difficult emotional experiences. Listening to them and seeing how popular they both are, even 20+ years later, made me think of previous heartbreak and the sense at that time that so many songs are about love lost and pain around it. There are certainly more songs about this experience than the opposite (not that there are none of those), and it made me realize that the experience of loss, grief, pain, and frustrated hopes is more common, impactful, and lasting than that of some deep joy realized, which is generally more fleeting and less deep.

If we think of this in spiritual terms, we’ll quickly arrive at the Buddha’s fundamental truth that upholds all of the Four Noble Truths – the first one: there is dukkha. There is a suffering in existing. It occurs on both great and mundane levels, and those great levels speak to our greatest desires (see the second noble truth) and the difficulties involved in them ending or not being fulfilled.

Our relationships with others are a fundamental. They are part of being in the world (riffing on Heidegger here but pulling in a Buddhist direction). We become entangled in the desire of being with, regularly. There is both some of the greatest beauty and the greatest suffering in this, as other humans reveal the depths of who we can be, what we can feel, and how we can flourish.

In any case, I wanted to pick a few songs from this experience alongside a couple others to really pull at the heartstrings regarding heartbreak and the pain in it. Music can give voice to the human experience in profound ways that make us feel seen. Perhaps this is cathartic in itself. I know that even in just driving to the concert, “You Oughta Know”, spoke to my more fiery feelings of being overlooked, unvalued, and cheated. I’ll just leave it as a reference here without linking it for better options that don’t delve into such anger, but even that can be valuable and worth expressing in its own way.

First, let’s go with Garbage’s “It’s All Over but the Crying”, which speaks to ending, loss, and the grief afterwards as well as the poor treatment and misperceptions of someone else. They didn’t play this at the concert, but I was really wishing they would have played something from “Bleed Like Me”.

Beyond that, Garbage played a newer song, “Even Though Our Love is Doomed”, at the concert that really spoke to me. The main refrain kept asking why we kill the things we love the most. I kept wondering the same, as my feeling time and again is that extraordinary was traded for ordinary in my situation. I can’t help but feel like I was told I was superlative repeatedly but then was not chosen because of more or less bullshit reasons that never really made sense and seemed historically revised and over-hyped over time. In the end, I have to wonder why we kill the things we love the most, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one who feels a resonance with that question. Furthermore, the song has a “even though” this killing is doomed, you still want the person anyway because you see the beauty of that love. I couldn’t understand that any deeper than I already do. As a friend pointed out today, that’s why I hurt so much now and feel dead – I loved that deeply that its passing is a grief to my core.

Between sets, songs played over the speakers, and an old fave came forth and reminded me precisely of the strength of crying out against not having been chosen, of the feeling of what it is to roll in the deep of the abyss. Adele’s song is a classic for a reason in this genre.

In a note more fitting with my usual musical journeys of late, I was walking home today, listening to my newest post-rock album release of focus, the fantastic Transmission Zero’s “Bridges”. Their song, “Still No Sign”, has this haunting feeling of floating through space, waiting for some signal and it never coming. That’s the feeling of waiting and not hearing anything, of feeling on edge with the hope that continues to cut rather than soothe, as every moment is that Buddhist play of dukkha and tanha arising together. I felt so haunted by this song that I stopped in opening my building’s door and just rested my head on it for a second to catch my breath and resolve. It’s simple but feels like a deep journey of waiting and yearning.

Finally, most importantly, I wanted to share a positive note. Alanis ended her set with “Thank U”, and it struck me hard, even though it was a song I never really liked before. The journey through pain, through the heartbreak, even in its angriest moments like some of her more memorable moments from “Jagged Little Pill”, is ultimately soothed in gratitude, in moments like telling the audience that she certainly recommends getting your heart trampled on to anyone. These are part of living with others and vulnerably putting our hearts out there. In the end, that’s how we become strong and how we give back grateful compassion. Every day, I feel like dying right now. I really wish my heart would stop sometimes, but ultimately, I also always paddle on past that abyss of deep waters, keeping my resolve to continue, do well, and give my kindness to others. It’s incredibly hard, but every time, I’m thankful for continuing, despite feeling unworthy and unfit for the challenge. I love the closing lines. I’m thankful for my own disillusionment, my facing nothingness, my sitting in silence, and the clarity of strength I find in myself every time I do that with vulnerable surrender and resolve rather than anger or self-involvement:

Thank you India

Thank you providence

Thank you disillusionment

Thank you nothingness

Thank you clarity

Thank you, thank you silence

Alanis Morissette – “Thank You”

May this help others feel both expression and some gratitude for continuing forward in heartbreak.

Gassho!

Path of the Dharma: Dhammapada – Chapter 1: “Twin Verses”

This opening chapter shows the way by pointing out the enlightened path and comparing it to the deluded path. The amazing thing about this opening passage is its balance between solid ethical philosophy/cognitive-behavioral psychology and more austerely poetic spiritual maxims. It’s pretty long, so I’ll only cover part of it, and I’ll go through that part in pieces.

All that we are is the result of what we have thought: we are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfish thoughts cause misery when they speak or act. Sorrows roll over them as the wheels of a cart roll over the tracks of the bullock that draws it.

All that we are is the result of what we have thought: we are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts give joy whenever they speak or act. Joy follows them like a shadow that never leaves them. — Trans. Easwaran

This initial chapter is called “Twin Verses”, and the reason is clear here. We have the deluded and enlightened paths–samsara and nirvana–side by side, twinned in the same structure and style of explication.

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The first sentence is the same in both, and it reveals the importance of karma in a way that resonates with Western philosophy and cognitive psychology. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics couches virtuous (that is excellent) action in an ongoing awareness of oneself within a social landscape. This requires an ongoing examination of how I have been molded by my background–upbringing and origin–and how I am molding myself further with each thought and action. Another familiar parallel is cognitive-behavioral psychology, which is more or less the successor of a Stoic understanding of the mind. Our thoughts mold our perception of ourselves and the world. In that sense, all that we are and all that the world is are the thoughts that mold us/it. Therapy, then, becomes an engagement to change the thoughts that harm us and the related behaviors to those thoughts. With these comparisons, the relevance of the Buddha’s position for us from the West is made clear.

Our two paths are displayed before us, and this is where the Buddha goes dramatically beyond these familiar points of comparison. The deluded path of ongoing suffering is the path of selfish thoughts. This includes all the plans oriented on my own aggrandizement. Out of the just listed Western parallels, the Stoics would be the only ones to make this dramatic leap (I’m reminded here of Marcus Aurelius speaking of being a citizen of the Universe). Selfish thoughts, even those oriented toward my success, my story, and my truth, even when they don’t harm others, will lead ultimately to dukkha, i.e. suffering, discontent, and continual yearning.

Why? This is a path that continually tries to get beyond the inevitability of impermanence. It’s an ongoing attempt to rig the game just right to get me that happiness of success that will never dissipate, never change, never fade. If I try hard enough… If I plan thoroughly enough… If I get the conditions just right…

Notice how all these thoughts are turned inward. If the world gives to me just right, I will be happy. That is the crux: external conditions have to be right, whether following the path of avoiding pain or pursuing pleasure. The energy of this system goes from outside to inside, from the world to me, thus the inward nature of these thoughts. “I” become the focus and goal of thoughts set up toward making my life just perfect. Even if that perfection includes others, it’s still about my perfect life.

In comparison, the enlightened path is one of selfless thought (and action). Such people (at least attempt to) give joy to all in all their speech and action (that which follows from thought), and hence, they are regularly cultivating joy in situations. It follows them everywhere. This invites a larger discussion of Buddhist psychology and karma, but let’s put this simply: the first path keeps the selfish person in an ongoing chain of cause and effect. His or her actions bring consequences that maintain an enduring cycle of felt dissatisfaction and of fighting to be free of this dissatisfaction with subsequent action … which is ultimately not fully satisfying. Selfish thought leads to selfish action which leads to the karmic consequence of this never-ending cycle: samsara. The other path invites us to at least see the difference. Then, perhaps, we have a gap after selfish thoughts arise–before we speak or act on them. Realizing that they lead only to sorrow, we instead change our thoughts, speech, and actions to more selfless ones. With time, this practiced self-reflection becomes a new mold for our thoughts, and selfless thoughts come on their own. With such a shift, we attempt to give joy to all, attempting to help them find peace, happiness, and health (by inspiring them to step beyond sorrow-laden paths as well). With this, we first begin cultivating more positive chains of consequences (as if that’s a necessary motivation), and ultimately, we step beyond the cycle of ongoing dukkha–that karmic chain is broken.

Notice that this second passage focuses on the selfless person giving joy, not getting it. Here, we have the contrast that this path is not inward-oriented like the first, in the sense of seeing the world’s purpose as to give to me or for me to take from it. Instead, this is outward-oriented. My thoughts are aimed out from myself toward the joy of all. The energy of this system now moves from me outward, rather than the inward grasp of appropriation for self. Through such a step beyond concern about my own joy, beyond “I”, me, and mine, I paradoxically realize that very joy in myself.

Let these discussions open one other passage for consideration:

“He insulted me, he struck me, he cheated me, he robbed me”: those caught in resentful thoughts never find peace.

“He insulted me, he struck me, he cheated me, he robbed me”: those who give up resentful thoughts surely find peace.

For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love. This is an unalterable law. — Trans. Easwaran

Again, I’m reminded of Western philosophy in that one of Nietzsche’s greatest concerns is man’s propensity for “ressentiment”–more or less, resentment. The problem is precisely how inwardly driven this is–it’s literally a feeling again and again, a “re-sentir” (to feel again). This keeps us trapped and tortured, perpetually reactive, rather than vibrant, active, and creative. We get again and again, but we only get the pain of a stung mind, an envenomed heart. As in the passage of Thus Spake Zarathustra (II, 29–The Tarantulas), we feel the toxic bite of the tarantula, again and again, stagnant and rotting with emotional poison, and with Nietzsche, according to Deleuze, the problem is that this reactivity, this “feeling again”, lies throughout our entire human psychology. So the question becomes how do we step beyond this into that active state, rather than feeling reactivity everywhere?

To exemplify this problem, we can take another verse from chapter 18 of the Dhammapada:

There is no fire like lust, no jailer like hate, no snare like infatuation, no torrent like greed.

Notice that all of these are reactive evaluations–wanting to have what one does not have or jealousy of what someone else has (which is really another version of the same). In each, we become trapped in or tortured by reactivity. Hate, the jailer, is an instance of not wanting, and as such, it is wanting. It is not wanting a situation or person to be as he/she/it is, so it is wanting to have the world be completely different for me. (See my comments on love and hate in Love, Rebounds, and Relationships: Part 3 – Love and Metaphysics and also my comments on hope and fear in Reiki-The Five Precepts: 2nd Precept-Faith)

In comparison, the Buddha offers the selfless, enlightened path, one that is not stung by holding on to the continual, reactive poison of internalized wrong done to self:

For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love. This is an unalterable law.

To let go of the resentful thoughts, the bars of the prison of hate, we cannot negate that person or thing out there which has wronged me. This is the most basic impulse in us, but as Gandhi said: “An eye for an eye makes the world go blind.” Selfish action to escape pain, begets another and another, and moreover, it begets this same resentful and retaliatory (as with hatred) reactivity in others. The only way to get beyond this is to selflessly give–to love–rather than to selfishly take–to hate (remember that hate wants the world to be utterly different in a way more suitable to me; it is a wanting, and it can lead to the subsequent action of taking, through negation). This means even giving up the self-righteous thoughts of being wronged. You instead give yourself to the world, finding connection with it, finding the suffering in those who have “wronged” us, finding the compassion of an awakened heart.

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In conclusion, let’s offer this passage of Red Pine’s translation of Verse 63 of the Tao Te Ching which I discussed in a recent post. These guiding words for the Sage go hand in hand with the Buddha’s words for the arhat who walks the selfless path of love, peace, and joy:

Act without acting
work without working
understand without understanding
great or small[,] many or few
repay each wrong with virtue
– Trans. Red Pine


May this inspire you to read the rest of this beautiful chapter and the whole book. May it show you the first steps on the selfless path, and may you begin to walk it towards joy, peace, and love.

Gassho!