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!

Closing a Book

The following is my last entry from my first journal for morning pages. I felt like it spoke to many of the challenges and growing pains I have gone through in walking the Way in recent months and thereby thought it may be useful to others to share here.

file0001121336470


Well, this is it: the final entry. The last few months have been quite a journey. I’ve continued on the path of practice with all the challenges that arise in such an endeavor, the endeavor to wake up. Furthermore, I’ve endured heartbreak. Perhaps these two go hand in hand…

I just looked back at the first few entries of the journal to get a sense of who I was at the time. I was finishing the Heartbreak Wisdom bootcamp. I was finding my way to digest my pain of the last few months before and transform it into strength as a spiritual warrior.

In some ways, I’m still at these steps, but at the same time, my focus on the open-hearted way is intensifying. I less readily get emotionally reactive, and when I do, I can better stay present with it or subvert it instead of fully running with it.

I more readily see our ways of spinning stories and creating our own drama. I see this all the time in others, and the pell-mell run towards happiness and away from an underlying anxiety leaves a smile on my face. I smile compassionately, and when I’m very awake, I can see when I do these dramatic shifts myself and can center myself with compassion.

Something that has been very interesting for me in recent spiritual adventures is the call to the mystery of being. Getting past the ego’s focus on “me“, on certainty, on the undying (or rather, a yearning for it) opens a door to the profound enigma that is emergence. Each moment is truly a miracle. We fail to see it, so we experience it boxed and filtered through our own interpretation. We throw labels like good and bad, like and dislike, interesting and boring, on everything before we’re even experiencing it. The rawness of it generally eludes us, and it takes a “doing nothing”, a “just sitting”, to open to the miraculous that unfolds every moment in the universe universing itself. This doesn’t mean that our flitting thoughts are to be discarded. They are part of this unfolding miracle as well. However, we generally give them weight–grabbing onto them and holding them as more important than the puffs of breeze we feel softly moving across our skin–but are they really that different? Do they not pass by just as quickly if we don’t flow along with them? Do we try to hold onto the wind or to run alongside it? Wonder is right here to behold, just waiting for an open heart.

Heartbreak Wisdom Journal – Entry 1: Wounded Heart’s Tender Flesh

Disclaimer: I’ve been working through heartbreak still. It’s a process. Although I’m much better than a couple months ago, I still work through sadness while diligently pursuing a path of compassion and learning. Each day goes by, and each day, I show up and practice a bit more. I recently purchased a book to work through to help me with processing all the challenges and opportunities of a broken heart. It’s called “The Wisdom of a Broken Heart”. The book recommends keeping a “Heartbreak Wisdom Journal” as part of the process, with many included activities to get you to see your situation more clearly and tenderly. I’ve started this journal and thought I would share some of the posts here for anyone else who may benefit from sharing the process of heartbreak.

A book to work and write through…


After starting this yesterday [there was an initial exercise in the book with some basic questions], I had strange dreams in which Lisa told me how little she loved me and for how long that had been the case. It was very upsetting. I think that sitting calmly through my feelings for months and reading many of the same books that inspired Susan Piver’s The Wisdom of a Broken Heart have put me several steps ahead of her initial points. However, I realize now that the feelings continue to drag on because I have not fully walked toward them and invited that pain into my tender heart: fully taking up the warrior’s heart.

These dreams felt like the opening of a wound–the emotional pus oozed out. The tender flesh underneath has much to heal and much to offer.

The point when I knew that The Wisdom of a Broken Heart was perfect for my healing process was when I was reading the introduction and found that the author was inspired in her heartbreak by the same book that touched me and brought some sense back to my shattered world a couple months ago. Furthermore, she quoted a passage from the book that sticks with me more than most any other. I will share it here in greater length than she did:

When you awaken your heart in this way, you find to your surprise, that your heart is empty. You find that you are looking into outer space. What are you, who are you, where is your heart? If you really look, you won’t find anything tangible and solid. Of course, you might find something very solid if you have a grudge against someone or you have fallen possessively in love. But that is not awakened heart. If you search for awakened heart, if you put your hand through your rib cage and feel for it, there is nothing there except for tenderness. You feel sore and soft, and if you open your eyes to the rest of the world, you feel tremendous sadness. This kind of sadness doesn’t come from being mistreated. You don’t feel sad because you feel impoverished. Rather, this experience of sadness is unconditioned. It occurs because your heart is completely exposed. There is no skin or tissue covering it; it is pure raw meat. Even if a tiny mosquito lands on it, you feel so touched. Your experience is raw and tender and so personal.

The genuine heart of sadness comes from feeling that your nonexistent heart is full. You would like to spill your heart’s blood and give your heart to others. For the warrior, this experience of sad and tender heart is what gives birth to fearlessness. Conventionally, being fearless means that you are not afraid or that if someone hits you, you will hit him back. However, we are not talking about that street-fighter level of fearlessness. Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world. You are willing to share your heart with others. –Chögyam Trungpa Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, pp. 31-32

Warriors Rejoice at the Great Eastern Sun!

Months ago, I wrote a poem about a scab over my heart. This was right before I had my heart broken completely. Maybe it’s time to pick at that scab and reveal the tender flesh beneath… Then again, I think I have already started doing just that.


Next Heartbreak Wisdom Journal Entry: Entry 2: Gentleness Toward Your Experience