On Compassion and Enemies

May 4, 2011   |   120 Comments

On Monday, I wrote a little about my response to Osama bin Laden’s killing. Upon hearing of his death, most people expressed heartfelt and understandable relief that our hunt for one who wished to destroy us was over. Others participated in “celebrations” that seemed tinged with what could be described kindly as poor sportsmanship. The question I was trying to raise was this: if we must kill (as in this case), is there a way to do so that will increase chances for peace (which is why we did it in the first place) rather than violence?

People showed up on my blog who were quite pissed off at me for being arrogant, judgmental, delusional, and/or some kind of pussy. This confused and hurt me.

What I was calling for—and will continue to call for, most of all from myself—is compassion: certainly for those who lost loved ones on 9/11 and for our whole country which has suffered deeply, but also for our “enemies.” This is not because I’m some super nice kind of person. It’s because only by cultivating some kind of empathy rather than hatred can we begin to create lasting change in our world. Escalating violence and retaliation do not lead to peace. I’m a realist.

On a scale of 1 to 10, my certainty on this score is 11.

Compassion is rooted in seeing others as similar to ourselves, in removing any and all ideas that there is an “us” and a “them.” There is only us.

But how do you do that for someone who wants to kill you? Is it even a good idea? Some commenters have said things like well, when cornered by a rabid dog, you don’t want to say, “please don’t hurt me” and hope for the best; that I’m incredibly naïve and probably some kind of Mac user. (Really, that was one of the accusations.) (How did they know?!)

Of course we want to protect ourselves from violence and danger. Please stop igniting all of my neuroses from childhood by talking to me as if I’m stupid. That turns me into a rabid dog.

So, I’m not counseling stupidity. I’m not counseling what has been called “idiot compassion,” which is the idea that you’re always supposed to act nice and be some kind of touchy-feely asshat.

In Buddhist thought, compassion is synonymous with skillful action, action that is rooted in seeing reality from the largest perspective possible. When you are able to pay attention to the reality that exists beyond your thoughts about reality, you know what the next right action is. If you need to love, you love. If you need to avoid, you avoid. If you need to cut, you cut. There is a sense of precision and elegance and kindness in all cases.

To do this, you put aside your assumptions, judgments, and projections…and simply look. You open, even to what and whom you dislike. This doesn’t mean forgiving or liking anyone–it simply means taking them in as flesh-and-blood human beings, not as cardboard cut-outs who have no reality beyond your judgment. You let go of concepts, again and again. You give up what makes you feel safe, secure, right in order to do this. It is an act of extreme courage.

True compassion is a profound skill, one that has much more in common with fierceness than softness. Compassion arises when you allow someone else’s pain into your own heart without a personal agenda. This is what so many of us are terrified of doing, and understandably so. To view our “enemy” as part of the human family rather than a scourge to be obliterated means we have to take on their pain as our own and most of us are already full up on that score. Nonetheless, we must do it anyway. It requires fearlessness and and a sense of genuine power, and is not, as a few characterized it, some kind of lefty do-good politically correct emasculating bullshit.

The stumbling block for many of us is that we haven’t learned how to have compassion for ourselves. The idea of extending it to others then causes resentment, anger.

This is where the work begins: by opening to your own experience with kindness.

Forget for the moment about political strategies, ethical systems, or whether or not you’re acting like an asshat. We can begin much more simply than that, by cultivating some tenderness toward ourselves. From here, open-heartedness blossoms naturally.

Thus the practice of meditation—which is the act of sitting with yourself exactly as you are—is the foundation for cultivating intelligent compassion.

If you would like to try meditation, please do. You can find instruction in the video below.

Please remember: If we open our hearts, we can change the world. The truth is that there actually is no other way.

OK, now call me an asshat. It’s my new favorite word.


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  • Posted by:  Ana

    Dear Susan,
    just before the break up, I started mindfulness therapy and I think without that, I would have been completely lost in my “broken heart-situation”.
    Your book “Wisdom of a broken heart” has been the logical next step, since I suffer from a broken heart.
    The break up was 7 weeks ago and it has been quite a complicated situation, as the love of life is married to someone else and so am I. We met 18 years ago and had lost sight of each other for 15 years due to different circumstances. (please forgive me my bad English at times, as I am from the Netherlands). We met again beginning of september this year and it was as if we were in our twenties again. (Now we are in our 40’s). To cut a long story short: we decided that we wanted to grow old together and that we were going to get married eventually. We told our spouses that we fell in love with somebody else and after being away from his family for 1 day and night, he panicked and went back to his family. (I was still with my family, because we were going to take it slow….)
    For me the whole situation is really hard to cope with, but thanks to the meditation and tools from Mindfulness and your wonderful book, I’m managing.
    I really would like to attend one of your workshops, but I don’t know when you’ll be in the Netherlands again.
    For now, thanks again for your book and for helping people by letting them share their stories on this blog. It’s good to know that you’re not the only one!

  • Posted by:  Susan

    Ana, oh my. Your situation sounds so intense. What a roller coaster ride. I hope you are taking it easy and giving yourself a lot of rest and quiet. I also don’t know when I’ll be in the Netherlands again, but I hope it won’t be too long. I truly loved my visit there. Please take good care and, if you ever feel like it, stay in touch. xo Susan

  • Posted by:  Tawa Chodron

    Hello Susan,

    My heartbreak isn’t from a breakup, but from some unfortunate circumstances that keep my love a whole ocean away from me for an indefinite period of time. There is simply no holding on or holding out; we simply do not know if we will *ever* see one another again.

    The experience of letting him go (which happened yesterday in the airport) has reopened wounds in my heart that few situations ever penetrate deeply enough to touch. As I sit here and sink into my heart, I hear these words: “There went my one shot at love and happiness. I am always going to be alone. I will never be able to love anyone else ever again. I will never have what I want. I have always been alone, there must be something terribly wrong with me.” In this moment, I can see these thoughts as thoughts and I can also hold my heart as if it were the hand of my best friend, but sometimes… I can never predict when but sometimes these thoughts rise up like solid, real, and terrifying demons and they torture me until I feel like I am about to lose my mind. I see images of him turning away from me and taking with him everything that is good in my life. I feel a great vacuum in the space all around me that swallows up everyone who would get close to me and offer me warmth. I look out the window and all I see is a cold, heartless world that is about to suck the life out of me. I also feel the part of me that is still five years old and can’t comprehend why she is alone so much of the time. I don’t know what to do in these moments. Everything I’ve learned about working with my mind deserts me and I just. freak. out. It hurts so bad!!! I feel like I’m always looking over my shoulder, waiting for the next surprise attack.

    I continue to take this experience as part of my path by meditating, reading dharma, talking to good and trusted friends (including my therapist), and sometimes even eating ice cream, but I’m also afraid that these wounds are too deep and too severe to ever truly heal. I’m afraid that these unhealed wounds will make it impossible for me to ever truly love and be loved (by a man who actually lives on the same continent as I do – believe me, it is no surprise that I fell for a man who had to… leave).

    I guess I don’t have a specific question. Perhaps just the hope for some advice and encouragement and that my sharing might be of benefit to others. May all of us beings who are experiencing heartbreak recognize and take advantage of this opportunity to heal hearts that were, in truth, kind of broken to before we ever me him (or her).

    Thanks for what you do, Susan. And thanks to everyone else who shared their stories here. It has really helped me 🙂

  • Posted by:  Liza

    Dear Susan & other readers,

    My break up occurred four months ago – we just bought a house together – and since that time, my primary emotions have been sadness, disbelief, and doubt.

    The last time I felt feelings such as these was when we first broke up five years ago. What I notice when I compare these two experiences is that the first time we broke up I had a lot of hope for us to get together again. The hope was so strong it also held me from letting go and go on with my life. This time it feels so much different, because I know our ‘second chance’ did not work out and we cannot keep trying forever. Another difference with the last time, is I do feel stronger this time. Whereas five years ago I really was an emotional wreck – I didn’t function at all – this time I’m still able to eat, sleep, work, laugh with my friend and colleagues, and enjoy the nice things I do.

    The thing that has been the most difficult for me since this relationship ended is the idea that for twelve (!) years we have been so close and now slowly we’re becoming strangers.

    When I think about our break-up, the thoughts that plague me over and over are ‘Have I been too demanding?’, ‘Is this all a misunderstanding, and should I do something before it’s too late?’, ‘Is he also feeling sad?’, ‘I want to call him’, ‘It will only make things harder when I call him’, ‘Has he slept with other women yet?’.

    I feel the pain of this loss most acutely when I think about all the good times we had, when I hear his voice in my head, the way he used to call my name.

    What I miss most about our relationship is his smell, his skin, his hands, his voice, his laugh, the way he held me, his arms around me while I sleep, lying with my head on his chest.

    What I don’t miss about our relationship is his bad temper, his silence, his passiveness, the way he took me for granted, almost never giving me the feeling I was special, and me being insecure as a result. Our fights about all these things.

    The thing I regret most is that I realized too late we were in this vicious circle of me asking for attention, him not giving me attention, me asking for attention even more, him not giving it to me even less.

    The unforeseen benefit of this break up is getting to know I’m much stronger than I (and he) thought I would be – already. After a few weeks I already noticed I can be on my own very well. Also: appreciating little things more, like having a drink with my friends.

    If I could take him back right now, I would and here’s why: I still love him so very much. But this could only happen if he would come to me and tell me he realized how special I am and he doesn’t want to be without me. It feels like it’s just not possible the other way around.

    The most important thing others need to know about healing a broken heart is it helps to have ‘a project’ to focus on. For me it was working on my new place – I decided to move into our new house alone: I have been painting, papering, decorating and redecorating for four months already! Make sure you take enough time to rest too though.

    Thanks for giving me an opportunity for sharing my story. I cried my eyes out while typing it, but right now I also feel relieved 🙂

  • Posted by:  Susan

    Liza, thanks so much for taking the time to tell your story. I can feel the sadness AND the strength. I’m sure others can too. Wishing you all the healing power of love, Susan

  • Posted by:  Kimberley

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Thank you for saying this all so well.

  • Posted by:  EB

    Hi Susan, your post yesterday (and today) was so valuable and it brought a lot of comfort to my being – knowing that there are thinking people in the world who are courageous enough to ask questions of themselves and do some deeper analysis. I also think you are a very wise and lovely woman. Thank you for sharing this space.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Thank you, EB!

  • Posted by:  Christina Rossiter

    I am trying to repeat this mantra i have just read:
    *By divine decree, in the name of God I now call forth a pure white columnn of Christ Light to bring the unconditiional love of Christ consciousness to Earth. It is done.*
    You have to repeat it three times!
    In Love, Light and Gratitude.

  • Posted by:  Linda Ford

    Yes! You put it beautifully, with an opportunity for introspection and spiritual growth to come out of that decision. Our President shares the same message in a succint and secular way: We don’t have to spike the football.

    Thank you for your insight and your loving courage.

  • Posted by:  Teresa

    I am moved by both today’s post and yesterdays. I’ll glady join the asshat group and I’m not even a mac user! 🙂 You’re right on with all this. Being a leader is never easy..but it changes the world. Thanks for making my everyday thoughts a public forum !!

  • Posted by:  Mark


    I agree with everything you said, yesterday and today. I think a big part of the disconnect is that people who have traveled some down the Buddhist path have a very different understanding of what the term “compassion” means than those who simply assume it means offering your head to the nearest executioner.

    My experience has been that any awareness that arises out of a meditation practice leads inexorably and organically to a deep identification with other people. This is the wellspring from which true compassion springs. Self as other, other as self. It isn’t something that you can turn off and on depending on who the other person happens to be. It just *is* that way. Anyway, My 2 cents.


  • Posted by:  kate

    thank you, susan, for sharing your thoughts yesterday and today in particular. having just watched HH the Dalai Lama with Amnesty International on live feed, your words and his presence have softened my feelings of discomfort over our collective behavior since the killing of obl and those close to him. i have forwarded your two days of blogs to many family and loved ones. their responses are similar ~ distress with our celebratory, cruel and inane activities since the killings. living in reality and searching deeply for intelligent knowledge and wisdom from inside with compassionate tenderness for ourselves and all living creatures is the most courageous beginning. i believe only from this can we open our hearts and go inside to find a path toward compassionate action, empathy and peace. thank you all for being involved.

  • Posted by:  Alexia

    Susan, I wrote the below upon hearing of Bin Laden’s death, then found your post, added mine to yours, and emailed the whole thing to my entire family. I got many many many positive responses to what you said. What you said was/is right on the money. Thanks for having the courage and compassion to speak out. FYI, another good word is “assCLOWN.” Give it a try. 😉 ~Alexia

    “This (Susan Piver’s post “One Buddhist’s Response”) is EXACTLY how I felt this morning, and I was there on 9/11. Smoke and human remains-filled ash flew into my Brooklyn apt windows. On that day the weather was still warm enough to have the windows open. On that day, if I hadn’t decided to work from home for only the 2nd time in my whole life, I would very likely have been trapped underground on the 2/3 train as it headed near the Trade Center on it’s way uptown. All the trains were fine on that day, but Mom and Dad and all of you wouldn’t have known where I was until hours later, and then only if I had been able to get a cell signal out. On that day, by 9:30am, cell service was barraged and many many many calls didn’t get through until the afternoon.

    When I heard the news this morning I burst out crying. Not for Bin Laden, but for our country and all those who celebrate(d) his death. It’s a sad day when anyone rejoices over the death of another. I also cried because all of the stresses of that day, and the many many months afterward for NYC, were so hard and changed us so much and were called back by this news of today.

    I’m glad I’m alive, and I’m glad he’s dead. I just don’t think we (or anyone) has to gloat. That’s not honorable.

    Much love, and thanks for reading,

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Alexia, your words touch me so deeply. Thank you so much. I’m so glad to know you. And I feel exactly as you do–glad I’m alive, glad he’s dead, and repulsed by gloating. Or, as our President said, there is no need for “spiking the ball.”

  • Posted by:  laura

    hi susan–
    i’m a new follower of yours as of yesterday, when a friend shared your post on his facebook yesterday. i have so much admiration for what you said–and how you said it. it’s exactly what i’m feeling, thinking and wrestling with, but you were able to put it into words, which was such a delight to read! despite the comments you received, please know that there are many of us who appreciate what you said, and appreciate you for saying it. thank you for adding your thoughts to the frenzy, and offering up a different option to the public than the knee-jerk reaction that seems prevalent. compassion requires more work from us, but work is what peace requires to become a reality.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Very nice to know you, Laura. And grateful for the encouragement.

  • Posted by:  Kim Mailhot

    Thank you for this wisdom, Wise Asshat ! 😉
    Love is the answer to every question. This I know.
    You have put it so perfectly here.
    Lght and love to you.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      I’m the wise asshat! I love that.

  • Posted by:  Gemmond

    Susan, this piece was even more brilliant and moving than yesterday’s. Yes, yes, YES. Thank you.

    For those of us who are honest, we all struggle with practicing universal compassion (just think of how some people treat their own families!) whether it’s with neighbors or strangers.

    I’ve printed out both of these pieces and will continue to refer to them as needed to remind myself of the real meaning of compassion and of right thinking and right action.

    My hope is that some of those who have come here to dump on you (rather than disagree, which is a totally different thing, IMHO) would open themselves up and really LISTEN and hear what you are saying.

    Namaste! Thank you for your courage and bravery in saying what you have posted here these last two days. People need to hear it and open themselves up.

  • Posted by:  christine castigliano

    Beautiful. You’ve taken a great deal of care to express exactly what many of us have been feeling. Call me crazy, but I’ve felt compassion for Bin Laden too, as a powerful human who wanted to change the world, but in a destructive way. Woah! Does that make me an Asshat? Happy to join the club. 🙂

  • Posted by:  Karen

    I like it when a Buddhist writes the word pussy. In fact, it’s the only time I like it. It reminds me of when the Dalai Lama said, ‘fuck it’ in a talk he gave in my city a few years back. I think it went something like this: ‘If anybody here doesn’t agree with me, then fuck it, I’m getting on a plane tomorrow anyway.’ And then he started giggling.

    Your words were incredibly smart, genuine, and a strong limb for me to cling to on an emotionally blustery day. Thank you.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      And I didn’t think it was possible to love The Dalai Lama more.

    • Posted by:  Eli Rarey

      Susan — I’m with Karen on this one. I really love the way you write with gentleness and frankness at the same time.

  • Posted by:  Kyle Lovett

    So glad you have such a great sense of humor!

    I think you captured the essence of what a loaded word compassion can be, especially when emotions run so high as they are over OBL or the Washington Capitals (Damn you Ovechkin!). So often one side of a debate will demonize the other side by generalizing their position to the extreme, when it is almost never the case. I think it’s human nature to want others to feel the way we do, about things we are very passionate about. Compassion can be saving a starving kitten or feeding the homeless; it can also be putting a mortally wounded animal out of its misery on the side of the road or using the word asshat to demonstrate a point.

    Thank you for this post! (ps OK I promise, no more sophomoric humor posts from me) hehe no…no I don’t promise. 🙂

    • Posted by:  Susan

      “OK I promise, no more sophomoric humor posts from me”

      Sir, you disappoint me.

      No wait, you took it back. Phew.

  • Posted by:  Dave K

    I’m currently on the other side of the planet (hello from Australia) watching all of this unfold back home, and your words have been a soothing balm for me. Thank you for bringing much needed clarity, compassion and understanding to the discussion… and for reminding me how much fun it is to say the word “asshat” out loud. And by the way, I’m a Mac user too and I also hug trees – add that to the list. 😉


  • Posted by:  Robin

    Hey Mac-using Asshat!

    Your messages are spot-on, Susan. I appreciate your take on the death of OBL and the craziness of people celebrating his death. As a “freelance” Buddhist, i.e., no formal teacher (yet), your words have meant a great deal to me.

    Thank you…and keep up the good work.

  • Posted by:  a.

    oh my goodness, SOOOO well-put. especially the part about how having compassion for yourself is the first step towards developing real compassion for others. and that this is developed through mindfulness. you have articulated so many things i’ve been thinking, so clearly!!!

    i wanted to provide you with a quotation from the tao te ching that offers an answer to your question, “if we must kill (as in this case), is there a way to do so that will increase chances for peace (which is why we did it in the first place) rather than violence?”

    the short, pithy summary quote: “a victory must be observed like a funeral.”

    here’s the longer passage:

    “Weapons are the tools of violence;
    all decent men detest them.

    Weapons are the tools of fear;
    a decent man will avoid them except in the direst necessity and, if compelled, will use them only with the utmost restraint.
    Peace is his highest value.
    If the peace has been shattered, how can he be content?
    His enemies are not demons, but human beings like himself.
    He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
    Nor does he rejoice in victory.
    How could he rejoice in victory and delight in the slaughter of men?

    He enters a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if he were attending a funeral.”

    . . .

    “On happy occasions precedence is given to the left, On sad occasions to the right.
    In the army the general stands on the left, The commander-in-chief on the right.
    This means that war is conducted like a funeral.
    When many people are being killed, They should be mourned in heartfelt sorrow.
    That is why a victory must be observed like a funeral.”

  • Posted by:  Diana Lee

    I love the word asshat! 🙂 Thank you again for putting into words something I was having trouble expressing. I’m incredibly grateful for your words and bringing some clarity to this complicated situation.

  • Posted by:  Susan

    a: I am so grateful to have these quotes. Thank you so much. Will read and reread. Susan

    And Diana Lee; you’re welcome! And thanks for sharing sentiments–

  • Posted by:  Suzanne

    Your words are so soothing and remind me how much of a “warrior” we have to be to reach down and touch our compassion for all, even those who wish to do us harm. They, and ones who merely annoy us, can be our greatest teachers.

  • Posted by:  kate

    suzanne, thank you for your words. you are teaching me.

  • Posted by:  elizabeth

    Susan, I posted your monday blog on my 2 FB pages and here are some of the responses. I am sending you them so you know that your words spoke to us on so many levels. I have also been ripped apart for some of my beliefs and one time it stopped me from writing for 2 weeks and then I came back even better and with the courage of my convictions in tact. my next blog was titled: When being Harassed becomes a Pain in the Ass.
    Your words need to get out there. You are changing the world for the better. I hope these will help you feel better. elizabeth
    some of the responses I got:
    i can totally relate, cassidy, because i often feel persecuted for being a pacifist. i, too, was worried because it’s so easy for things to become misconstrued. but i don’t think we should be afraid to be who we are: peace-loving treehugger…

    All political views aside, I went to her web page and she is amazing. The bin laden post is very good, but her views and writings on life brought a calm over me. Thanks Elizabeth for posting this and getting me to her web/blog.

    Very thoughtful piece, and loved her website. I felt exactly the same way when I heard the news. Glad it’s over, but what was all that jubilation stuff!! It only signifies the passing of a man whose life was dedicated to hatred. Unfortunately, it will leave a lot of aggrieved people who know doubt will look for their own vengeance.

    i felt somber by the news, actually and saddened by the joyous reactions here. i don’t mean to judge those who’ve lost loved ones. as susan so wisely states, “When we hate, we cause hate. When we think we have won by vanquishing our enemy, we have lost.” she is a kind and wise woman and i too, enjoy her blog.

  • Posted by:  Rubin Naiman

    Thank you, Susan, for this courageous discussion. I’ve found myself musing a lot about the notion of “asshat” today. I think it’s quite relevant here because it’s suggestive of the Jungian concept of shadow. Many of us are familiar with Jung’s belief that “we do not become enlightened by pursuing images of light, but by bringing awareness into the dark.” It seems to me that asshat —having our heads up our butts — can have two distinct meanings. It is most commonly about avoidance, blindness or denial. But it can also be suggestive of a conscious attempt to examine our own shit. Maybe the spiritual equivalent of a colonoscopy — and just about as comfortable. One thing I appreciate about your work, Susan, is that its not mired in sweetness and light, but acknowledges shadow. I believe the willingness to acknowledge darkness in a non-judgmental way in both others and ourselves, is essential and very humbling. I like the word asshat, too. I wonder if it might inspire a new yoga posture.

  • Posted by:  Jennifer Hofmann

    I am so glad for your voice of compassion, for your thoughtful heartfelt reflection and sharing. Despite the MLK and Dalai Lama quotes, there aren’t yet enough voices like yours to norm this stance in the world, so the resistance you experienced comes as no surprise. People in fear don’t know any other response but attack and defend. I’m so thankful for your willingness to model another way. Namaste.

  • Posted by:  Jill Avey

    Thank you so much for both of these posts. The first one really helped me sort out some of my conflicting feelings. And, the second one made me smile because I can relate to a lot of the confusion over compassion that you have been facing. I work in the defense business and am surrounded by people who have an equally hard time understanding how compassion really works like some of your readers. Humor always helps!

  • Posted by:  Vihara

    Thank you for the thoughtful posts yesterday and today. Somehow it is easier to recall the sting of criticism, so I hope you “feel the love” of those who can relate to what you have said. I keep in mind the long historical view of how the US began it’s relationship with OBL & the Taliban in 1980’s. The enemy of my enemy does not always end up being my friend. Hundreds of thousands of people have died, among them Afghans, Pakistanis, Iraqis, Soviets, Americans and one person named Osama bin Laden. If the use of skillful means:meditation, compassion, lovingkindness, wisdom can prevent the deaths of more people I’m all for it.
    I’m going to start using Asshat too!

  • Posted by:  Seth

    I am sorry you felt you had to defend yourself after your Monday posting. I work for the federal government, have traveled to Afghanistan, and for a period of time was involved in the search for bin Laden. I thought what you wrote was just right, and I sent it off to others (although I did replace the word “Buddhist” with “Christian,” because those to whom I sent it would have discounted it coming from a Buddhist perspective, when in reality the sentiments you expressed were similar in kind to what I believe Jesus would say). Too many Christians today, especially those on America’s political right wing, seem to believe that Jesus came with a sword. Most of those to whom I sent it thought it was great. Of course, these weren’t people who were cheering on Sunday night at the White House. We live in a climate of hatred and fear, and while bin Laden helped instigate those attacks, it was our response to them that has created that climate. In such a climate and soil, it is hard for words like those you wrote to take root. But you were right to have written them. They are true, even if unpopular.

  • Posted by:  Nils Montan

    You guys are sweet, but this has been the hope of many for as long as mankind has walked the earth. Not going to happen. In this case, Bin Laden was responsible for the death of untold thousands of people. He was an international mass murderer subject to arrest. After 10 years on the lam he was found and died in a fire fight during which American soldiers risked their lives in trying to capture him. If someone broke into Susan’s house tonight and killed her I assume we would all agree that the criminal should be captured. If cornered by the police in a warehouse and if he resisted arrest, I further assume we would agree that the police would be justified in returning fire and if the perpetrator was killed in the fire fight, well, as my father used to say, “that’s the too bad department.” The young people who danced in front of the white house are just that, young and impressionable. They acted in a silly but understandable way. As for me, I agree with Mark Twain, “I have never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.”

  • Posted by:  Karen Talavera

    Ah I love your style and vocab (reminds me slightly of my own edginess) but most of all thanks for this post eloquently and very completely explaining compassion and “right action”.

    We live in such a reactionary society in which 90% of people don’t spend even a minute a week getting centered, coming out of their thoughts and into their hearts (let alone meditating) that it’s no wonder what appear to be a majority reacted on Monday, and generally react, as they do. Is there any hope they are remotely equipped for “right action”?

    In today’s first world societies of instant gratification, constant motion and no time to feel or slow down, its’ never been so important to teach how to be still, go deep and reconnect to our true essence in ways that I think used to spontaneously happen in life. Now we must intentionally create those ways, but without them we run the risk of allowing shallow ego-driven reactionism to rule the day.

  • Posted by:  Elizabeth McLean

    Susan, thank you & thank you again for your voice of sanity in both postings. I’ve told a few people why I felt badly that some found this death cause for partying but did not succeed in changing their view. Perhaps if they took a few minutes to read and reflect on your wise thoughts, it might help. I will keep trying, and hoping…

  • Posted by:  Marianne

    Susan, I’m sorry you were attacked for your compassioate writing. A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post saying that I chose to practice compassion for Greg Mortenson and one of the commentors told me that was “disgusting” and that he was horrified that I would justify or defend Mortenson.

    Now, obviously I’m not comparing Greg Mortenson to Osama Bin Laden (poor Greg has been through more than enough lately without that) but I think my commentator and some of yours have mistaken compassion for justification or even condoning someone. I wrote at the time a little of how I felt compassion was different from both those things but your post today does a much better job of it.

    As a Buddhist I have committed to the practice of cultivating compassion as a spiritual path back to my truest self. It’s a practice of opening into myself and has nothing to do with judging or approving of the object of my compassion. Thank you for writing so passionately and clearly about this.

    PS: I have no idea what an asshat is, but it sounds kind of cute and fashionable to me, no?

    Also Seth – thank you. Your comment really touched me. As a Buddhist raised in a Christian home by parents who really do try to practice the compassionate path modeled by Christ and as someone who worked in Afghanistan as well, I really appreciate your perspective. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Posted by:  eric

    I’m very sorry to see that you were hurt by some comments. You are trying to do some good in the world. That’s the important thing. You’re one of the good guys (make that gals!)

  • Posted by:  Susan

    Nils, I appreciate you taking the time to comment, but you miss my point altogether.

  • Posted by:  Carlos

    The point that led me to comment your initial article (mainly with FB friends, as for some reason the ID site didn’t accept my comment) is present here also: I can’t understand how you’re so sure that killing was needed even in this case. I mean: I tend to agree or at least praise the opportunity for reflection you offer.

    But I think that presenting something as controversial as the killing of OBL, planned as a “killing operation” (it’s been reported that it was never considered the possibility of capturing/judging OBL, it’s been an operation planned since its inception as a “killing operation), through a non authorized operation in a foreign and sovereign country, as needed, conceding it’s “legitimate”, and saying this is “clear”, is “sure” (you did this in your first article) is, in my view, clearly ideological.

    It’s said that ideology operates through the mixing of reflected, considered topics, common sense and controversial topics, in a way that controversial topics seems “natural”.

    Presenting killing as (clearly, surely) legitimate as part of a planned state policy, in spite of another sovereign country, and in spite of all the accepted world legislation on war crimes and all is what, for me, makes your text there and here seem rather ideological. US interests are above any law. US can do whatever it’s best in spite of other countries, people or beliefs.

  • Posted by:  Nicole

    if i had to be the one to pull the trigger, i would have done it, possibly more than once. and i would not regret it, i might even be proud. but i would not, i don’t think, be celebrating.

    i think calling someone arrogant- because they don’t condone the celebrating of bin laden’s desk- itself, arrogant, as well as reactionary. check out this article in the post: (hyperlink at the end of this paragraph) and read about the reactions of four people who lost family members when the trade towers were attacked, including 7 year old aidan fontana. these people aren’t arrogant, or unamerican. and they aren’t celebrating. neither was the notably anonymous afghani man interviewed on the radio the day after bin laden’s death, saying he was glad this evil man was captured, but he wasn’t celebrating the death of anyone.

    when i woke up, half awake, to the radio announcing bin laden had been killed the night before, my immediate reaction was, in that sleepy state, relief. i grabbed the bedpost of the bed i was also sleeping in the morning of september 11th, like it was a friend in a raft that had finally touched shore. no, this wasn’t rational, but neither was my reaction later that day, after being inundated with news of his death all day long, when i caught myself making some sarcastic comment in conversation to the effect of, “bloody good riddance!”

    the point is not what is rational or irrational, right or wrong. the point is what is human. we can observe and master our negative reactions to things, including those that lead to peace, including those that lead to more violence, and including those that lead to intelligent work to stop people like bin laden from gaining power and influence in the first place.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      “The point is what is human.” I couldn’t agree more, Nicole.

  • Posted by:  Nicole

    PS~ i am also an asshat and a mac user.

  • Posted by:  Nils Montan

    Susan, how so? It’s a messy world and there will need to be enforcement of rules of behavior against criminals. This sometimes will result in violence. If violence occurs as a result of what the criminal has done, then, in a sense, it’s a form of karmic retribution. I understand that the USA “contributed” in many ways, known and unknown, to the very creation of the Bin Laden persona and myth, so we are all responsible for his life and death. I really just can’t get too upset about it, although I am very glad that there is a certain portion of the population like you guys who are. Again, you are sweet. You are like a bunch of lovely flowers decorating a field. You add to life. I just don’t want you all to be on the police force.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Nils, I appreciate that you think I’m sweet, but that is not the case.

      My post is not in any way about the necessity of enforcing rules of behavior. I think that killing Osama bin Laden was probably the right thing to do. I can’t say “definitely”‘ because I wasn’t there. But, according to what I read and gather, it was inevitable and has provided a very real sense of relief to millions, including me. I am not, not, not upset about his death. This is where you misread me.

      What I am upset about is our collective inability to think of others as similar to ourselves and to see our victory not as a winning touchdown but as a regrettable necessity that, while understandably bringing us relief, causes others fear and rage. If we are to be true victors, it will be by demonstrating our humility, not our immaturity. It will be by acting boldly and doubtlessly to neutralize enemies by peaceful means when possible and, certainly, non-peaceful means only as a final resort and as an act of compassion for those who suffer, including the perpetrator. I want those who defend me to be the wisest among us, capable of understanding when compassion is best expressed as dialog and when, on those rarest of occasions, it is best expressed by a gunshot. That’s who I want on my police force.

  • “Compassion is rooted in seeing others as similar to ourselves, in removing any and all ideas that there is an “us” and a “them.” There is only us.”

    I’m with on being an “11” on this one.

    When I was in 5th grade, for our Civics class (remember those?!) our teacher, Sister Celestine, had us pretend that we were arguing a case in front of the Supreme Court. As I recall, it might have been on affirmative action. She gave us all the facts, found out what side we thought we were on, and then she made a brilliant move. She had us argue for the opposing side of the case. I’ll never forget that — it was an exercise in developing empathy and compassion (though she never described it that way).

    I think that Martin Luther King, Jr., said something similar — in order to truly be an effective social change agent, you must deeply understand what it is your opponent believes in and values. It certainly was the basis for his whole life.

    No “them, no “we,” only us.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      I love that, Maia.

  • Posted by:  Nils Montan

    PS – have you ever noticed how hatred begins. Watch your reaction to what I have written and consider.

  • Posted by:  Susan

    Yes, I try to notice all the time!! Was I being hateful? If so, please accept my apology. I was just trying to explain myself, not malign you. If you could explain my misstep, I’d appreciate it.

  • Posted by:  John

    Peace to all who visit this web site. I am not a Buddhist. I am spiritual. I am an ex-psuedo macho man. I have worked with the government in a capacity that most of the males and females displayed a macho mentality. It is part of my sordid past. Today I strive to maintain as much peace towards all humanity. I am at the baby step stage. Very fragile but walking it a spiritual path toward peace, love and kindness. Sue I came across your web site during a tough emotional struggle in my life about a month ago. Thank you little sister for your wisdom. Peace, love and kindness to all!

  • Posted by:  John

    I am dismayed how so many people miss the point of this web site. To me this is a web site about the development of a spiritual path. One of the paths that could help in a unity growth of humanity. I am through with violence. Can I be triggered YES! But I no longer want it to be part of my life. I have seen the the ugly side. The debate about OBL I can take a stand on both sides. I still struggle in my walk to be peaceful. The whole concept of being a pacifist is hard for me to swallow, but I have to at least try to endeavor to make my little spot of earth better for us all. We have to start somewhere. Lets start from within. Peace, love, kindness.

  • Posted by:  Susan

    John, thank you so much for your words.

  • Posted by:  Ellie

    Thank you for your honest responce to this act. I find it difficult in this day and time to express to people that anger and vengefulness is not the answer to making a difficult situation better. Peace is always the answer, peace from a state of unconditional love………I am not a Buddhist but a very spiritual person who has lived at times with very angry people and I have learned that at some point in time living with this type of behavior leads to the same behavior. I have choosen Peace for myself and to teach it to my family, freinds and co-workers. Upon hearing of this act on our enemy, I was confused because everyone seemed to be relieved, however I felt completely distressed and sad. What is next, is the thought that came to mind. My grandmother and elders who inspired me growing up used to say this to me “Two wrongs DO NOT MAKE A RIGHT!” Such a simple thought! With that thought I remain……..Did he need to be punished for his acts on the US? Well yes I agree he need not be left to live as if he did nothing wrong, however is the way we went about correcting his wrong going to be for the betterment of the US or is it going to create continued violence? That of course we will have to live out to know for sure. I think anyone reading this blog should remain peaceful and know that we had no part in the decision making around what was done but we do have the ability to continue to grow Peace amongst all people by not continuing to act out violent thoughts or actions. I am grateful for people Such as Susan Pivers for being bold enough to state her feelings and opinions. If anyone does not agree then those of us who support her type of thinking should only work to continue to grow Peaceful Attitudes in ourselves and others and work to overcome and influence non-violent actions and the thought that war is the only way to peace! Thank You Susan! Please find the strength to continue your work and know that there are many of us who appreciate your faith and belief in Peace and Unconditional Love!!

  • Posted by:  robert birkenes

    Susan, you’re 100% right about our needing to be compassionate for ourselves and for our enemies, and to struggle not to differentiate between us and them.

    In a narrowly military understanding, we cannot overcome our enemy if we do not understand him. We have known this for more than 2300 years–“Know the enemy and know thyself / Then victory is not in danger”–and it still underpins successful counterinsurgency strategies today. Understanding and compassion (and love) are more effective than bullets to win hearts and minds. Most senior U.S. military leaders know this now, both from studying the Sun Tzu and from experience.

    In a broader sense, I am surprised that people would react so strongly to your radical suggestion to love thy enemy. After all, that radical Mac user Jesus used to say such wimpy things like “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use and persecute you.” The New Testament part of the Bible is full of ‘lefty do-good politically correct emasculating’ stuff like that, which many modern Christians like to ignore. As Ghandhi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” We should not be surprised to encounter animosity when expressing a theme that’s common to both Buddhism and Christianity.

    I guess being called an ‘asshat’ and Mac user because you reminded people not to get tied up in hatred and vengeance puts you in good company!

  • Posted by:  Angela

    Reading this blog makes me re-think about how to approach a love one who I’ve failed to communicate with a whole new different way. “You let go of concepts, again and again” is what I appreciate the most. Thanks for sharing, Susan.

  • Posted by:  Marcela

    I must confess I have been feeling really sad at the celebrations of death that I have been witnessing. I do understand the anger that those who survived 9/11 or lost someone there must have felt all these years but, to be honest, I do notthink justice has been served. Vengeance has. But Justice involves, I believe, acting differently: a trial and a conviction.
    I find deeply disturbing that someone may consider the execution of someone in front of his children, however wicked and evil that person may have been, to be justified. And I am deeply, deeply saddened and worried by the fact that this supposed “achievement” is bringing people to justify torture. Gandhi said it better : an eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind.
    Or as Disney’s Rapunzel would scream: Find your humanity! (I have 2 1/2 year old twins, so lately my quotes have been influenced by cartoons 😉

  • Posted by:  ordinary life

    Sometimes (actually often) situations present trade-offs and dilemmas, in which whatever action is picked will lead to at least someone’s suffering. In these cases love and compassion may be necessary conditions (and welcome) but they are never sufficient conditions. That is, they can’t serve as guiding principles to deal with the situation and make the difficult choices: something more is needed. Like you said “I don’t really know”. Wrong answer! Running or hiding away is not an option .

    Of course, Someone can just ignore all the key issues of a situation and rely on magical thinking instead, that somehow we just need to be open (whatever that ACTUALLY means) and the right/perfect decision will pop up.

    “In Buddhist thought, compassion is synonymous with skillful action, action that is rooted in seeing reality from the largest perspective possible. When you are able to pay attention to the reality that exists beyond your thoughts about reality, you know what the next right action is. If you need to love, you love. If you need to avoid, you avoid. If you need to cut, you cut. There is a sense of precision and elegance and kindness in all cases.

    To do this, you put aside your assumptions, judgments, and projections…and simply look. You open, even to what and whom you dislike. This doesn’t mean forgiving or liking anyone–it simply means taking them in as flesh-and-blood human beings, not as cardboard cut-outs who have no reality beyond your judgment. You let go of concepts, again and again. You give up what makes you feel safe, secure, right in order to do this. It is an act of extreme courage.”

    I also find your magical thinking hypocritical. Your life would not be what it is right now without a large group people actually implicitly doing the “us vs them” on your behalf. You can’t separate your life from theirs and the direct influences their actions have on the conditions that will feed your own actions. Or may you can … partially by telling yourself simplistic stories …

  • Posted by:  John

    We are all in this together. For those who have never travelled to the Middle East and spent time with the people I can assure you we have much in common with them. I am a firm believer in the possibility of real peace as opposed to the illusive dream offered by the Mac users. (That is too funny.) Rarely ever addressed, however, is the simple fact that there is no profit in peace. You can provide all of the soulful and intellectual analysis you wish (all of which makes perfectly good sense) but as one young woman who works for a defense contractor in Afghanistan put it, “I know what we are doing is killing people but I need the job.” More importantly on a political and economic level the corporation she works for needs the profit. In our society peace will always come out second best in a contest with profit. ALWAYS. The power of love is greatly challenged by the power of North American greed. I understand how Susan feels regarding the comments recieved from many. If there is an “us and them” perhaps it may be more appropriate to look at it as “us” being the 99.99999% of the world’s population and “them” as being those who profit from the insanity.
    It would be nice if love did make the world go ’round. But if you shut your television off and go out into the world to find the truth you may discover than love faces some pretty stiff competition from weapons, oil and drugs. And the power brokers on Wall Street and in Washington are playing those hands. Ironically the only thing that can change it is awareness of the truth (you will not find the truth on television) and a willingness to love each other, including our brothers in the Middle East.

  • Posted by:  Tuigen

    In comment 57 we find this:

    “I also find your magical thinking hypocritical. Your life would not be what it is right now without a large group people actually implicitly doing the “us vs them” on your behalf.”

    Their is also, in comment 57, a reference to “simplistic stories”. What “us vs. them” is being done on our behalf exactly? If you’re talking about the murder of Osama Bin Laden, I’ll say this: it benefits no-one. Al Queda still exists. It would be the same as throwing him in jail for life. If we did that instead, we would have not upset his innocent wife with the sight of blood and gore, and he would be rendered harmless anyway.

    Isn’t all of what happened just cause and effect, in the long run? Don’t we have a certain level of responsibility for all the things that happen around us? So, their is no excuse for the comfort of cynical attitudes towards spirtituality- because a false sense of superiority is all that comment 57 shows. Not insight at all.

  • Posted by:  Patty

    Nice thoughts, Susan — I appreciate the nuances you’re exploring here. And fwiw, even if we don’t agree 100%, I don’t think you’re an asshat or pussy (potty-mouth, perhaps, but that would be the pot calling the kettle black – lol!), even if you do tacitly admit to Mac usage. (grin)

    @Tuigen ~ A little background before I respond: I work in Corrections, specifically in Restorative Justice, so this is something I have spent a lot of time thinking about and exploring, and it’s something about which I care a great deal. I swim in a sea of people, every day, whose job it is to explore better ways of dealing with those who violate our laws and who do harm, or threaten to do harm, to others (be it psychologically, financially, or physically) and who damage or steal the property of others, so there is a lot that I have learned sort of by osmosis but can’t always put into words. I say all this not to position myself as some kind of “Authoritah” but rather to give you a sense of my general orientation. I am a peacemaker and healer at heart. My whole capstone project for my Master’s degree in Mediation centered on applying restorative practices to juvenile victims of domestic abuse who kill their abusers (instead of sending them to prison as we commonly do today).

    The unfortunate fact is that, in essence, there IS an “us” and a “them” out there. I generally break it down this way:

    “US” is made up of people who are capable of compassion, who feel remorse when we hurt others or do something else we know was wrong, who try to be good even if we often fail, who make it a priority, at a very minimum, to avoid infringing on the rights, health, property, safety, etc. of others, and who, ideally, reach out to others with caring, patience, respect, and a desire to give of ourselves.

    “THEM” is made up of a (fortunately very limited) subset of people who are not generally capable of compassion, who feel no remorse when they hurt others or do something they know to be wrong, who don’t generally even know what “good” looks like let alone how to try to become it, and who don’t particularly care whether or not they infringe on the rights, health, property, safety, etc. of others, and who may appear to reach out to other with caring, etc. but usually only do so when it serves their own self-centered agenda.

    These people we generally call sociopaths. They are defined by their lack of remorse for the harm they have done and their ruthlessness in executing their agenda. As a rule they are unreachable as far as treatment for their mental illness goes.


    You may be familiar with the old joke about “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?”

    The answer is, “Only one. But the light bulb has to WANT to change.”

    And sociopaths simply do not see themselves as having a problem. They are so completely devoid of empathy for others that the idea of needing to correct, modify, or “treat” anything in their own behavior or cognitive processes is rejected out of hand.

    That line from The Terminator movie comes to mind: “Listen! And understand! That terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with! It can’t be reasoned with! It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely Will. Not. Stop. Ever. Until you are dead!”

    So it is with the antisocial personality disordered individual.

    While I am not a therapist, nor do I play one on TV, the idea that bin Laden fits the profile of a sociopath, and a paranoid, depressed one at that, is not all that radical or new, and I daresay evidence to back it up is pretty strong — to wit, this recent analysis of an interview (including the text of the interview) with one of his wives in 2002:

    This was someone who would have continued to execute his agenda of hate and bloodshed if not stopped. If jailed, his prison location would have become a target for radical jihadis, innocent correctional officers and staff would have been at terrible risk, and his trial would have given him the public mouthpiece he so obviously craves, likely winning even more followers to his hate-filled, distorted Islamist cause. And God help us all if he had been acquitted … or even if there were a mistrial of sorts and the process had dragged on, I do not think we’d have been better off.

    Until we, as a species, develop a better set of diagnostics and a more comprehensive set of treatment methodologies, there will be a segment of the human population that will kill without remorse, and we will not be able to reach them to “fix” that. And so long as their are nations willing to give safe harbor these people and even enable their continued criminal activities, if only by turning a blind eye to their presence, we will be at their mercy.

    And these are people who are not capable of mercy.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Patty, thank you for your detailed response.

      I’m not questioning you or what you say, but I am completely at a loss to understand how one would read my posts and think they are in any way saying that Osama bin Laden’s killing was a mistake. That is not the point of my posts. Even though I wish there could have been another alternative, when it came down to it, from what I read, there wasn’t. So be it. Please, please to Patty and any other commenters out there, while I am thrilled that you have taken the time to comment on my ideas, I would be even more thrilled if you would stop trying to convince me that we had to kill bin Laden or that I am somehow naive or insane (or both) for thinking that compassion may play a role in creating a more peaceful world, perhaps more than continued violence.

      We have tried the path of continued violence and all the theories–psychological, spiritual, sociological–that can justify it for thousands of years. How many more ways can I say this? IT DOESN’T WORK. OUR THEORIES ARE CONVENIENCES MEANT TO JUSTIFY ACTING OUT OUR WORST FEARS. When will we grow up? I hope it will be soon, in time to save our world.

      What I am trying (unsuccessfully) to point out is that until we are able to stop viewing the our fellow humans as us or them, we are headed for a world that is inhabited by, well, either us or them. I for one prefer to try and avoid a path that ends in annihilation–of anyone. The people who are saying there is no choice, that we are already at a point of us OR them do not have my agreement and have written off many, many people as undeserving of life. I think there are things to try before that and it is my belief and experience that the path of compassion can save a lot of bloodshed. Maybe not for you or me, but for our children.

      The big, big problem with your explanation of us and them, presented as a fait accompli, is that sometimes I am an “us” and sometimes I am a “them.” Sometimes I can feel compassion and understand the consequences of my actions and sometimes I cannot. I wager that you are the same.

      When you or anyone else tries to paint such categories as unequivocal, I become very concerned about who in the end will judge which of us falls into which category and by what measure. It’s just not that simple.

      In any and all cases, I truly appreciate this thoughtful and penetrating dialog with you.

  • Posted by:  Scorpionis

    I’m sorry people gave you such crap about your essay regarding Bin Laden, though I’m not surprised. We live in a country where our President had somewhat poor approval ratings until he decided to violate some of our most cherished principles and kill another human being without due process, something that I believe *everyone* is entitled to regardless of where they live or what they did. I’m still not sure how to feel about that, given that I campaigned hard to get the man into office. I do believe that a crime almost as great as the one he supposedly perpetrated occurred on the day that he died and if I could ask the President just one question, it would be why OBL was not brought into custody rather than killed.

    Aside from those feelings, I share your sentiment that a distinct lack of foresight and compassion soaked the operation that led to OBL’s death, and that lacking will only further the chain of bloodshed that we have sought to end for the last decade. It reminds me of a political cartoon displaying an endless line of tombstones, each one of them reading “killed for avenging ——->”, pointing to the next tombstone. Even now, OBL’s son is talking about how his father’s death was a crime, and while I may not share his general beliefs, I do believe that he’s right about that. There was nothing right, legally, politically, or religiously, that happened when he was killed.

    I appreciate your blog, thank you for writing it!

  • Posted by:  Nils Montan

    Wow, the death of a mass murderer is the equivalent or a greater crime than 9/11. I really tried to find the point in your positions, but I have to say, you people are out of your minds.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      I appreciate you taking the time to try, in any case. Maybe another time.

  • Posted by:  Patty

    Nils ~ Hope you’re not lumping me in with your “you people” comment there! 😉

  • Posted by:  John

    I am not going to pass judgment on anyone’s comments. Nor am I going to jump to any conclusions other than those that I have been able to verify in person off the beaten paths all over the world. Therefore if my statements offend anyone I can assure you that the intent was not intentional.
    I believe Susan’s comments, when viewed without all of the emotional entanglements that people have attached to them, basically stated how much we are all alike. In order to provide a method by which we could “measure” our level of compassion Susan used as an example a woman who had provided her with a paricularly difficult challenge. I will also suggest that part of her blogs in the past few days have even touched on the subject of compassion regarding Osama bin Laden.
    It was an example I think she provided us with in an effort to have us examine our own levels of compassion and for good reason: I am the only one who can change me into the compassionate person I wish to be. In order to change it helps to have a goal and after reading the responses from many of you over the past few days I am pretty happy with the person I have become. Far from perfect but much more compassionate and tolerant (they must go together don’t you think) than I was in years past.
    Nothing good comes from me standing in judgement over Susan, the President (past, current, or future), or Osama for that matter. That doesn’t mean I am not judgemental, but I do see the futility in it, and I do see the opportunity for growth in searching for the seeds of compassion because I get to measure, not against you, but against the person I once was. At the end of the day I can be angry for the comments directed my way or grateful for the lessons as a result. It is really up to me.
    Keep up the good work we are all in this together.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      John, I really appreciate the stance you’re taking. S.

  • Posted by:  Madeleine

    I don’t remember quite how I found that entry, but I have to tell you that you quite eloquently phrased what my mom and I were feeling. Despite the horrible things he did/caused, his death is still a life lost. There are now more children growing up without a father. And the fact that we were cheering that day did not make us any better than “those people.” Kids at my school were cheering too, and when I mentioned that even though yes, it was a relief and considered to be necessary, it was still sort of sad so maybe we shouldn’t be quite so happy about it, they informed me that they do worse things to prisoners and people they kill. So my question was, do you really think our “celebrating” was so much better than what “they” do? I liked your reference to the “celebrating” as “bad sportsmanship.” Kudos. Sending lots of good thoughts your way.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      No, our celebrating was no worse than what they did. Exactly the point. We should be better than to condemn others for doing something that we then turn around and do. (As in the specific case you mention—cheering.)

      Thanks for your kind thoughts!

  • Posted by:  Susan

    Thank you very much for this post. It is easy to love your neighbors and your friends. It is much more challenging to love your enemies.

  • Posted by:  Ann

    1. The breakup occurred 3 days ago, and since that time my primary emotions have been desperation, sadness, and confusion.
    2. The last time I felt feelings such as these was when we split the first time. Last time, there was more of a touch of shock; this time there is more uncertainty and grief. Last time, I felt regret and disgust with myself. This time I feel more despondent because I don’t see an episode of redemption like I was blessed with the first time around. Before that, I felt heartbreak when Peter broke up with me. Since that was amicable and generally healthy it wasn’t quite the same. But I feel the same exhaustion, heaviness…the same grief for memories and happy times
    3. The thing that has been the most difficult for me since this relationship ended has been finding the energy to care about other things.
    4. When I think about our breakup, the thoughts that plague me are wondering if he hates me/is indifferent to me; wondering who I should be with; emotions that surge up wanting to make explanations for his behavior and think of ways we could be together, ways to reconciled
    5. I feel the pain of this loss most acutely when I remember him saying sweet things to me, and when I remember stroking his face while he told me about his life, the feeling of him opening up to me, knowing he’s now closed himself off…and when I see places that remind me of him, or see my empty email inbox
    6. What I miss most about our relationship is the feeling that he trusted me and needed my care and companionship and loved me for it.
    7. What I don’t miss about our relationship is the guilt and nagging knowledge that it had to end; the frustration that we just could not communicate well; the sneaking around
    8. The thing I regret most is that I didn’t leave things as they were after the first “breakup” when all was as it should be.
    9. The unforeseen benefit of this breakup is that it happened sooner rather than later.
    10. If I could take him back right now, I would not, even though I would have such a strong urge to do it. I would not take him back, because we do not communicate well, I don’t trust him not to hurt me when situations get tough, I don’t believe that he’s completely rid himself of his past, he doesn’t inspire me to be a better person, and he is lacking in basic social/relationship/life skills.
    11. The most important thing I need to tell myself right now is that things are going to be ok.

    Trying to learn how to feel when the person you wanted to save won’t accept you anymore.

  • Posted by:  Helen

    My break up occurred 5 months ago and since that time, my primary emotions have been anger, hurt, and sadness.
    The last time I felt feelings such as these, they were never this strong.
    The thing that has been the most difficult for me since this relationship ended is the loss of his friends and family and the loss of hopefulness. (But this book has given me renewed hope..:)
    When I think about our break-up, the thought or thoughts that plagues me over and over is/are that night and those words and the postings on Facebook.:(((
    I feel the pain of this loss most acutely when I get up in the morning.
    What I miss most about our relationship is the love between us and the companionship we shared-eating, drinking, laughing and sharing.
    What I don’t miss about our relationship is anger and insecurity.
    The thing I regret most is leaving too soon.
    The unforeseen benefit of this break up is I’m getting more secure with myself.
    If I could take him/her back right now, I would and here’s why: We are all flawed- no one is perfect and I still love him.
    The most important thing others need to know about healing a broken heart is to feel the pain, cry as much as you need to, and read this book!

  • Posted by:  Susan

    Ann and Helen, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. It really sounds like you are both working to face the sadness and intensity of the situation. Which makes you both warriors. Sending love and strength as you make your way– Susan

  • Posted by:  Steve G

    1. My break up occurred about 1 ago or so, and since that time, my primary emotions have been mourning, sadness, loneliness and depression.

    2. The last time I felt feelings such as these was when prior to my marriage of twenty years. What I notice when I compare these two experiences is that there were more than two. I have had a difficult time believing I am loved, even by those who love me! In the most recent case, I have a sense that the other individual had no idea of what I was experiencing, the depth and genuine-ness of my feelings. I was also hurt that the end was a complete break – that there is no decent way to reconcile and heal – no balance – when someone cannot be honest with themselves, how can I be honest with them? – when someone has no true sense of love for another human being, how can there be resolution?

    3. The thing that has been the most difficult for me since this relationship ended is losing a friend to share confidences, music, intimacy; the sense that I have to hold up on my own without that closeness. I am not always given to being lonely, but this break has left a huge hole in my life.

    4. When I think about our break-up, the thoughts that plague me over and over are that I am somehow responsible for the mess I got into. I am deeply hurt, my trust violated. I don’t know why I attracted this sociopath into my life. I still love this person and pray for their healing, but these moments can be interrupted by negative thoughts and just plain old hurt over having trusted and gotten kicked in the teeth for it. I do not understand how or why someone would pretend to be involved and the turn on a dime and decide not to love. I have to guess that they were simply pretending to care, to love, to desire me. Ouch.

    5. I feel the pain of this loss most acutely when I get caught up with my ego thinking about the other person and when I am alone. I have other friends, but want to get off the habit of simply sharing bad and difficult stuff with others. I hired a therapist to try and get out of this, but when I think about it I am still deeply hurt.

    6. What I miss most about our relationship is the joy and ease of our company. Laughing, having fun, sharing the most personal things one-to-one. Common interests. Love of God [the universe].

    7. What I don’t miss about our relationship is she is crazy in many ways. I mean that, literally and figuratively. She is loud, overbearing, needs to be the center of attention and is even mean to her kids. I honestly think she is a sociopath that does not understand what it is to love another truly.

    8. The thing I regret most is that it is over.

    9. The unforeseen benefit of this break up is I get to work on my relationship with me and others. Having been hurt has in a sense increased my sense of humility and deepened my commitment to try to be more loving toward others, BUT NOT IN ANY WAY THAT IS PRETENTIOUS, not in any way that someone might later interpret as in-genuine.

    10. If I could take her back right now, part of me would and would not and here’s why: The fear of being hurt that deeply, having trust violated – it is just not worth trusting my love to anyone on that level right now. I would because I still have a deep abiding love for this person. I would not because she might ruin my life.

    11. The most important thing others need to know about healing a broken heart is time is the true healer.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Steve, thank you so much for taking the time to write, and for expressing yourself so clearly. You are obviously a kind and soulful person who is committed to love. It is very nice to know you!

  • Posted by:  Pam

    Dear Susan,

    My fiancé walked out almost two weeks ago. It was very sudden and I am devastated. Everything you write in your book, “Wisdom of a broken heart” is now my reality. I feel like I am in hell. You describe how I feel better than I can describe it.

    I am trying to do put one foot in front of the other but I am finding that I am so overwhelmed with missing him and feeling so empty without him that I can barely function.

    I visited your website and wanted to thank you for addressing this incredibly hard situation. I feel that I will never get over him, that I will be sad for the rest of my life, that I will never again be able to experience a loving relationship. Because this relationship was the best I’ve ever had. I am 50 and have had several long, serious relationships. We got engaged last February and I was the happiest I’ve ever been.

    I am very alone in this – my family has never seen me like this and my two best girlfriends don’t know what to do with me. Family and friends want me to move past this and I just don’t know how. I am trying every hour of every day. It is exhausting.

    I have weathered some hard stuff too, conquering a major illness, losing two close friends to sudden death and losing my job last year. Losing the man I love dearly and wanted to marry has stopped me dead in my tracks. I can’t think straight, I cry most of the time and I can’t believe he did this. He was my best friend and I trusted him.

    I don’t know how to begin accepting this and not feel that I will never have a relationship like this again. We fit together on many levels and even though we are very different personality-wise (he is more introverted and less comfortable around people than I am), we loved being together – great chemistry, traveling, being with family, cycling (we rode a racing tandem together – he was my training partner), reading and discussing topics, watching movies, playing and snuggling with our cat (now with him who I can’t see). Cooking together. It rips me apart to know I won’t be able to do these things again.

    Is there an online network I could plug into? Do you think it is wise to talk to someone? Or find a support group? I am trying to push ahead but feel so horrible, I don’t know if I can.

    Thank you in advance for your kindness and understanding. I appreciate any practical help you have.


    • Posted by:  Susan


      Thanks so much for taking the time to write.

      The best I can say is to please, please be very gentle with yourself. Give yourself time to heal. This is all so new and, yes, family and friends may want you to move past it, but that is simply not possible, nor should you expect this of yourself. Time, gentleness, grieving, and feeling what you feel without critique or judgment are what will help. Yes, it is definitely wise to talk to someone and find whatever kind of support you can. This is a big loss and our culture doesn’t give it enough credence. However those of us who have been through it know that it is as devastating as you describe.

      In terms of practical help, the best I can suggest is to speak to a therapist (a good one, not one who only wants to palm off medications on you) and rely on friends who will be patient with you. If it is possible for you to try the program in my book, I suggest that as well. It can seem impossible that meditation might help but over time it can, especially if you undertake it slowly and with kindness toward yourself.

      Please do keep me/us posted.

      Warmly, Susan

  • Posted by:  Steve G

    I can totally relate, being 53, after 20 years of marriage and a recent almost girlfriend that broke my heart in a huge way. I am pleased to say that after two months of letting go and carefully examining my part in all this, I feel much better. It has been a difficult time, but I do see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel.’ Hang in there.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      S0 happy you’re feeling better, Steve! And it is kind of you to offer encouragement to others. Warmly, S

  • Posted by:  J

    1. My break up occurred 1 month ago and since that time, my primary emotions have been sadness, loneliness, and emptiness.
    2. The last time I felt feelings such as these was when a close friend committed suicide. What I notice when I compare these two experiences is that both took me by surprise and that made them even more painful.
    3. The thing that has been the most difficult for me since this relationship ended is that the reason he gave for leaving was his current financial situation and family responsibilities. I would have given anything to convince him that I want to stay together despite the circumstances.
    4. When I think about our break-up, the thought that plagues me over and over is wondering whether we could have been together forever if life had not intervened.
    5. I feel the pain of this loss most acutely when I go to bed and wake up alone.
    6. What I miss most about our relationship is the friendship, companionship, love, intimacy, care, and concern.
    7. What I don’t miss about our relationship is nothing. We have never had a fight or disagreement.
    8. The thing I regret most is he won’t know how much I still care for him and want the best for him.
    9. The unforeseen benefit of this break up is I am learning how to be content in my own company again like I used to be.
    10. If I could take him back right now, I would and here’s why: we were so comfortable together. There was so much openness, trust and commitment that I have never experienced a moment of doubt during the relationship.
    11. The most important thing others need to know about healing a broken heart is what doesn’t kill us will make us stronger.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      J, thanks for sharing your story. Your sadness and grief come through so clearly. Please know that you aren’t alone. I wish you all the blessings of this hard, hard journey.

  • Posted by:  Cindy

    My break up occurred just over one year ago. Since that time my primary emotions have been anger, sadness, and fear.

    The last time I felt feelings such as these was six years ago when I was in the throes of finishing my thesis and prepping for my defense. What I notice when I compare these two experiences is that in both situations, I was trying very hard to make something work that wasn’t working for me anymore. At the beginning of each – the relationship, grad school – I was idealistic, but truly following my heart and was so inspired and excited to grow and discover. At the end of each, it was clear that the path and doorways ahead were not what I wanted. With my relationship, it looked and felt right in some areas, and felt lonely and disconnected in others. It was so hard to accept that fact, and to simultaneously acknowledge the deep emotional love and connection, and yet our incompatibility at a foundational level. Same with the academic life: I loved the knowledge and learning, but to pursue a traditional academic career did not feel right for me; similarly, the loneliness and social disconnection (that is so intrinsic to research) seems to be my theme…

    The thing that has been the most difficult for me since this relationship ended is feeling publicly rejected, and negotiating our mutual friendships. My ex is now engaged, to someone from our social group. I’ve been creating a new life for myself, new friends, new habits, new places to be social outside of our old haunts. I feel resentful and angry about silently yielding physical territory and certain communities to him, but it’s cleaner…less painful for me.

    When I think about our break-up, the thoughts that plague me over and over are “What did I do wrong?” “If only I had been more this or that, we could’ve worked it out.” I still feel like I wasn’t good enough, worthy enough for him to want to work it out.

    I feel the pain most acutely when I think of them (ex and the fiancée), see any of our mutual friends, or get any goddamn Facebook invites to an event from the “old gang.” Ugh.

    What I miss most about our relationship is the affection, and the blissful domesticity of our partnership.

    What I don’t miss about our relationship was the difficult communication we had. I know he was much better at showing than telling, but when under pressure, he just couldn’t talk about it and it frustrated me. I don’t miss the very big chasm of emotional maturity between us.

    The thing I regret most is not being compassionate or giving when he asked for my presence. My ex is a very social, extroverted person. I am by nature introverted, so I find social gatherings, especially bars, pretty draining and I can only do so much. I wish I had taken the time to understand this more, and shown up to more socially. Or learned how to do it with a different attitude.

    The unforeseen benefit of this break up is the profound change in direction with my artistic endeavors. I’m back to my music after a very long hiatus, and now it’s truly coming from a soulful place that touches people, in a way that I had not done before.

    If I could take him back now, I would not – because I realize I need to be with a partner who has a growing sense of spirit and spirituality. That’s important to me – unless things have changed, I don’t think it’s important to him.

    The most important thing others need to know about healing a broken heart is to take your time. I really wanted to get over this as quickly as possible, so I was in denial of a lot of pain in order to ‘look good’ and ‘I’m over it.’ However, today – a year later(!) is when I sense that the healing is beginning for me. That first year was chock full of feelings and emotions. But it’s quieter now. It’s easier to listen to what my heart needs now that it’s stopped crying.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Cindy, this sounds unbelievably intense. I so appreciate you taking the time to share your story and your feelings. It is really wonderful that you are turning to your art. As a fellow introvert, I know how wonderful it can be to reconnect with your inner life in this way. And thank you for encouraging others to give themselves time and be gentle toward themselves. This is the most important thing.

      Wishing you love in all things, Susan

  • Posted by:  Sarah

    A year ago my first love, of then 5 years, celebrated the possibility of a new beginning together. I had just turned 24 and he, finishing his undergraduate education and me beginning the last few courses to complete my own, celebrated an engagement to mark the celebration of the love we had blossomed and the spiritual journey we were about to take together. Being both young and yet having given one another space to grow and evolve spiritually was the beauty we gave to one another. I felt completely joyous having him in my life.
    Yet, a week into the engagement I began to experience the beginnings of cold feet, I was scared of commitment. Thoughts of “what have I not experienced, are we too young, should I explore life on my own, in my own solitude (we started dating the end of high school, my first boyfriend, love and sexual partner)?” began to surface and I questioned and rejected the engagement. Needless to say, this was painful to my partner who had opened his heart to me. It took a few days to settle and in that short time I felt as though I was losing the love of my life. So, why not pursue this journey? What we had built was so beautiful and could have the potential to continue as such. He graciously reaccepted my ‘yes’ and both decided to take the engagement slowly.
    However, my early questioning did not bring on a level of security, as much as I loved and cared for my partner. I was afraid to wear the engagement ring, feeling judged by my own thoughts of possibly being too young or limiting my options though at the time, I thought these judgments were coming from my peers, friends and mentors. I now know they were my own projections. I also felt limited to whom I could tell the wonderful news. I never announced our engagement to extended family, I only confided in a few friends we were to be married, and I felt ashamed to admit to a culture that questioned the institution of marriage that ‘yes’ I wanted to be married.
    This is when we began to grow apart. My partner, an amazing individual with a beautiful heart and mind always open to the unknown of the universe, began to focus more heavily on his passions. The town in which we live has a strong music culture and him being a musician and artist he has been very well connected in the community. At the same time of our engagement he accepted an Americorp job as a caseworker for a homeless youth drop-in center. Something very intense but something others saw he had a skill in working. I, on the other hand, continued to complete my education while working multiple jobs in the health sciences to attempt to pursue a goal of being a medical doctor. Time became something we shared little of.
    I became aware that though we were still engaged, he was starting to question his own commitment and desire to stay in the relationship. Silly, but a peak at his Facebook status noted he had changed his relationship status from “engaged” to “it’s complicated” in January. It hurt, but I was also experiencing the same thing so did not address this much and rather gave us both space.
    End of February we decided to move into a cute 2-bedroom house together, an upgrade from the studio apartment we had shared over the last 3 years. The night before making our final decision, we went to see “The Illusionist.” In the last scene of the film, there is a moment in all the silence where your heart opens to the pain of growing up with the loss of creative life, magic and possibility that beautifully consumes us in childhood. I held my partner’s hand when I turned to see tears rolling down his checks. It was a painful and delicate moment I had felt honored to share with him. I felt my heart open to love and loss at the same time as intuition told me he needed to go even though there was a great love shared between us. I felt his loss of childhood and his necessary need for him to explore being a young man and independent individual. With me he could not fully experience these things. And a past had maybe had withheld his full development.
    At the beginning of our relationship, his mother had undergone a severe wave of depression. I remember our first date to the big city from our small town he received a call from his sister asking him to come home as “mom was acting crazy.” We rushed home and his mother was experiencing a delusion of God’s punishment; she was hearing God tell her he was going to take away her children. My partner’s father was away on a fishing trip, and thus he was left to comfort her while I tried to draw attention away from the situation by playing a board game with his sisters.
    After that initial breakdown, his mother had attempted over the next months suicide. Eventually she was admitted to a mental hospital where the family waited a few months to have her come home for Christmas. Once home, she again had a suicide attempt. This left the family in complete despair and it wasn’t until May that she returned home having undergone extensive psychological treatment.
    During this year I went away to the city for my first year of college. My partner, with one year to go in high school, would visit every weekend. My first year away, I sank into depression. I was processing the trauma of his mother, the new world of solitude & independence, new friends with dark pasts, and my own relationship concerns with my parents. We clung to one another tightly that first year nurturing a protective force of love and safety.
    As time passed we were also growing and our love grew too. I felt that after the first couple of years of space, healing and personal growth from long distance we had set the beginnings of really solid foundation in our love. I decided to transfer schools to attend college where he had been going (at this point we were together 3 years). Living with him was an adventure. My personality was quiet, introverted and reflective while his was extroverted, creative and always wanting to live on the edge. I remember his train-hopping jaunt, a couple hitch-hiking experiences, his connection to punk music, selling art on the streets, part-taking in various music ventures, his love of forming community with anyone who was different but offered something, posting tags and making street art making concrete design ominous against nature’s beauty. This is what brought me joy; this is why I will always love him.
    Yet, as we were settling and questioning the acceptance of a committed life together there was a feeling I believe we both shared but never spoke. We had reached a point where we were no longer growing. As he put it on the night of our breakup, we were just too different.
    The day we moved into our home I spoke out of fear that deep down I knew I would lose him. “If we move into this house, I need you to promise you will help us make a home together.” I was stating demands out of my own insecurity rather than accepting the need to let go for his own and even my own happiness. At this point in the relationship I was clinging to hold on, making other stipulations in hopes he would feel compelled to stay, one even my mother suggested: “if you can’t commit I need to move on.” From a background in poor communication and passive-aggressive tendencies, I resorted to a conditioned behavior; a power dynamic of demands that of which I am ashamed of and one that I resorted to out of fear. I want to tell him I am sorry for this. Deep down, I just wanted him to be happy and find love, the hopes of it being with me.
    After moving into our new home, he left for 10 days end of April with his band to go on tour. When he returned, I saw even less of him. Shows, friends, the punk scene seemed to take priority. I began to feel abandoned, coming home from a long day of work and school I wanted to have someone to be there to simply love and support me. It was difficult to be part of his life. I had spent so much time trying to keep up with school that to stay out late and maintain adequate health and energy to get through the week was difficult. Our conversations dwindled with my exhaustion and our unshared experiences. There seemed to be a point where science and art could not collaborate, though as many know the two topics were created simultaneously (without one there could not be the other). We had lost the ability to understand and therefore communicate as well as listen to one another’s needs. In May we took a break, still living together, but taking the time to reflect if things were working and if we were right for one another.
    At that point, he started to bring up how he met a girl in Oakland on tour and that he felt attracted to her. The information hurt, but I accepted it. Only when they began to send letters back and forth did it really hurt. Over the summer he began to change his style, becoming more handsome, hip and connected with the music scene. I felt exhausted and emotionally depressed, taking little time to take care of myself (in fact I had two sinus infections and massive headaches during this time). I was trying to focus on studying for the MCAT, but felt emotionally and physically unable to do so. Eventually there hit a greater point of disconnect where things became tense.
    After reading a book on the basics of love communication I discovered that I was not getting what I needed from him, which was the support needed to grow. Confronting him on this, I received a devastating response, which was he didn’t know if he could love, appreciate or support me. I knew I had to move out. However, that week we took a break and he came back seeming to want to make things work. He loved and cared for me. But after a month it all fell apart.
    While we both took vacations with friends to different sides of the country, I came home to a feeling I was dreading but hoped would be false. The night he picked me up from the airport from the East Coast, he stated, “I’m moving to San Francisco. I don’t know if I want to be in a relationship, I want to have relationships with other people and I don’t think I can love you the way you deserve to be loved.” This was devastating and the aficionado to the breakup.
    It’s hard to accept a breakup and needless to say for the month following, I was trying to figure out what it all meant. I was twisting my mind around its existence. Was it real? We had come so far and gone through so much, I felt we could work it out even. But reflecting on my feelings and looking back at my own observations of him the break just had to happen. I don’t regret or hate him for this inn fact I still love him with the same passion as any point in our past relationship. As I can tell the breakup ended naturally. He at one point, weeks after the breakup, stated he didn’t want to grow up and was discovering his needs and how I couldn’t meet them. Reading books by bell hooks, Maria Rainer Rilke, and Rosenberg I discovered it wasn’t so much about my inability to meet his needs as it was about his and my desire to feel free to explore who we innately are. To become grounded in ourselves so we can actually be there to support and be part of another’s life journey. To know and be in love. We were young, had not experienced things apart or in solitude and the inevitability of being with your first love is unlikely without growth.
    I am still accepting the situation and working towards moving on. I know he too is on his own journey, learning about whom he needs and what he wants. I can tell he is just unsure as me about what’s next, in fact he ended up not moving to San Francisco and has been changing his life for what sounds like the better, knowing this adventure is worth taking. I hope one day, when healing and growth have fully evolved we will come together in a new way. Without expectations
    The most difficult part of the process has been the acceptance that he is intimately involved with someone else. Though it was bound to happen and will likely happen for myself, you feel the most loss when you watch love move on. But even in this new pain of loss, I have learned that prior to his new relationship we did have love. We were motivated and taking the journey to support our spiritual growth. We had past the point of lust and attraction and were practicing with each other what it means to truly love.
    Three months post breakup I am already stronger. I have discovered a great deal about myself and I’m changing negative tendencies to be self-sustaining rather than self-destructive. I am now taking a journey to pursue my creative self, abandoning (maybe temporarily, maybe forever) my past pursuits in medicine. I am finding that being raw and letting your heart remain open after the pain of a breakup puts one closer to an uncovering of their unconscious, opening one up to a sacred metamorphosis.

    • Posted by:  J

      Thanks so much for your story. I am hurting a lot but your story gives me hope.

    • Posted by:  Susan

      Sarah, thank you for sharing your story with such heart and soul–and for your commitment to emerging from this experience stronger and more loving than ever. Wishing you a wonderful journey, Susan

    • Posted by:  jessica k

      Sarah, thanks for your story.

  • Posted by:  Dave

    I have read each posted story and am embraced by both a sense of kinship & compassion, largely due to the shared similarities in most everyone’s tale of woe. Male or female makes no difference…sorrow knows each gender.
    My story in a nutshell: was led to believe via both words & actions my ex loved me/was in love with me. That our last time together affirmed this & a pet name she had for me was still applied couldn’t prepare me for the truth: she broke up with me – over the phone – with no specifics: just ‘I’ve moved on’, ‘we weren’t on the same page’ and ‘its’ not you it’s me.’ Found out the harsh details from her own sister: the sis relayed my ex hadn’t been in love with me for years, was looking for a way to get (me) out of her life, only stayed in the relationship due to her needs (sexual), was worried that I might be moving back together with her in the future (that was our plan). I eventually got my ex to admit one thing: she loved me like a family member; can’t figure that one out. Tried to get some rationale: she told me she didn’t want to see me again & said that she didn’t owe me anything/explanation. Oh, & also to leave her alone. Very odd. She is bitter at me and I can’t buy a clue as to why. Just go away, don’t look back, that’s the way she does things. Told her I’m sorry but I’m not that hard/love deeper than that. So now, 3 + months later, haven’t seen her and she says she’s moved on, it is over. Oh, and this: I had always asked her how we were doing & she’d always answered ok/in the positive. Having found out otherwise, she tells me she’d consider it a ‘lack of respect’ if I tried seeing her. Guess her lack of respect via lying to my face for years doesn’t matter; no, only her feelings.

    Well, that’s the gist.

    My story is still evolving. I was in a 20+ year relationship, living together half the time (beginning), and separately (latter) due to family & career circumstance – long distance is the term.

    My break up occurred 3 months ago & since that time my primary emotions have been variously betrayal, disbelief, sadness & anger. Also being used, manipulated, lied to and discovering how trusting too much & being blind was my fault.

    The last time I felt feelings such as these was never – my divorce years ago was painful. This current parting has left me pondering whether going to sleep and not waking up would be preferable to enduring one more moment of grief.

    What I notice when I compare these two experiences is time or moreso the former experience does NOT make it any easier the 2nd (or whatever) time around. In fact, it can hurt even more.

    The thing thats been the most difficult for me since this relationship ended is watching a dream become a nightmare, that and the loss of illusion: believing someone was sincere and discovering instead they were a snake posing as a partner.

    When I think about our break-up, the thought or thoughts that plagues me over & over is: the feeling having been calculatingly used via a ‘test’ / exit plan I alone (apparently) was unaware of, though my ex, her sister (others too?) were privy to. Discovering how much a person has changed from the one who first attracted you to is devastating: from sweet girl to bitter pill.

    I feel the pain of this loss most acutely when I am conscious… thus do I pursue sleep like a drowning man clings to shipwreck.

    What I miss most about our relationship is the meaning it gave to my life, or so I believed. What I don’t miss is the realization that what I had believed was committed love was in fact convenience.
    The thing I regret most in hindsight is ever having met her at all: almost a quarter century gone for naught; hell of a price to pay for learning experience. All the wonderful experience devalued – I now question them, each & every one in the rear view mirror. Am I now bitter? You bet. For those who embrace ‘was a learning experience’, more so was affirmation some people (based upon the evidence blog commentary herein their own treatment the hands of others) are in fact more committed than others to a relationship… rather than ‘we’ more so for them a matter of ‘I’, run amuck.

    The unforeseen benefit of this break up is: it beats me. I get to wallow in emotional despair, scarred but wiser perhaps. Lovely.

    If I could take her back right now, I would take her out back and… well, suffice to say I should not want to take her back, can’t trust her any more. I’m in love with a memory, a mirage that once was but became corrupted somehow. Trust & love can be restored, I believe: whether the effort should be made, debatable. Were I to take her back (and she I), it would only be meeting halfway upon both sets our knees as a gesture of our mutual shortcomings.

    The most important thing others need to know about healing a broken heart is all the heartfelt things other folks have already alluded to herein. I would only add this: what you gain learning experience you lose sense of innocence, no matter your age: an belief in love, trust & the like.

    Caveat emptor: is it better to have loved & lost than to never have loved/been loved at all? Caveat emptor, to each their own.

  • Posted by:  Susan

    Dave, what a story. Of course you are bitter and despairing. Who wouldn’t be? At the same time, your heart is still soft and open.

    Please proceed with gentleness and kindness toward yourself. There is no easy way to get over this, especially in three or four months. If it’s helpful, please know that you are not alone and that you will NOT always feel this way. Sending prayers and strength, Susan

  • Posted by:  J

    Thanks Susan for your kind words. I have a question, even though I know it may be a tough one to answer. I have no idea what “closure” is supposed to be in this situation. I still love him very much and that’s why I don’t want to add to his burdens. If what he wrote in his text message was 100% truth, I have reasons to believe we separated only due to circumstances and he is hurting just like I am. I have accepted that he does not want to be in a relationship, but I can’t seem to “move on”. I’m still clinging on to hopes that there might be a second chance in future, although I know to hope means I’m setting myself up for possible disappointment. I guess it’s difficult because he has said he doesn’t wish to reply, therefore there’s no way to ask if there really is no other reason for the break up.

    So my question is, how am I supposed to get closure? By the way, I have purchased your book and I will read it once I get my hands on it. Your posts on this blog have been a great help in the meantime.

    • Posted by:  J

      Today I realised my question arises from a reluctance to let go. Although mentally I have accepted the breakup, I hold on to hopes because it’s less painful that way. Now that I have realised this, I’m going to let myself feel all the hurt.

      Thank you, Susan. Your book gave me the courage to see my situation for what it is.

      • Posted by:  Susan

        J, I appreciate the struggle with the idea of closure. In my experience, “closure” comes and goes. It is there and then it is gone, especially in the early phases of the situation. (And the early phase can take quite a while…) Please don’t worry because you will move on. If you start to look, you see that you already have. And then you have not. And so on. As time goes by, the periods of having moved on will last longer and longer.

        Please keep me posted. Wishing you an easy journey, Susan

  • Posted by:  emdashem

    I actually wrote an essay on this after the experience (I’m #38, above): http://www.modernloverejects.com/?p=794#more-794. The Wisdom of a Broken Heart appears prominently! It’s been just two years since the breakup now. I thought I might never get over him, but I have. Mostly 🙂

  • Posted by:  Susan

    Loved reading it! Your humor, smarts, and courage really come through. Thanks for sending the link. xo S

    • Posted by:  emdashem

      Thank you, Susan. I can’t tell you how your book comforted and helped me. All I had come across were what you call the “You Go, Girl!” books, which were sympathetic but not all that helpful. When I first read about you standing on a street corner on trash day in bare feet, something in me relaxed and I realized this was what I needed to know.

      My ex and I’ve been broken up for over two years now! I’m dating someone else, it’s very different. But then I think, different is good. Thanks again. xox

      • Posted by:  Susan

        Glad we’re on the path together–

  • Posted by:  Jess

    1. My break up occurred almost five months ago (the day after my grandmother’s funeral – how’s that for consideration?) and since that time, my primary emotions have been jealousy, anger, and regret.
    2. The last time I felt feelings such as these was when I almost left him summer of 2010 (same problem too). What I notice when I compare these two experiences is that although we tried so hard to make it work, something would always come up that would make us fall apart. I also realized that I deserve more respect and appreciation than what he showed me. Maybe that came out sounding egotistical, but I only meant to say that I have gone through the realization that I don’t deserve a roller-coaster relationship with someone who doesn’t know what he wants and therefore deludes himself. Everyone deserves to feel secure and happy, including myself.
    3. The thing that has been the most difficult for me since this relationship ended is, oddly enough, seeing activity on Facebook (even though I de-friended him in an attempt to prevent this). We have friends in common and every once in a while I still see his activity because of this. The reason he broke off our (admittedly foolish) engagement was to ask out one of my very good friends. I eventually had to hide her from my Facebook feed, even though I still care about her, because it makes me feel upset to see them being friendly…especially when I know he asked her out less than three months after breaking up with me. She said yes, then talked to me about my feelings and canceled the date, which leaves me feeling very confused about our relationship. It sucks that I don’t know where I stand with someone who’s been my friend since sixth grade.
    4. When I think about our break-up, the thoughts that plague me over and over are, “Why did I say yes when he proposed? … I should have had a stronger spine and stayed broken up with him the summer before … I don’t think he ever cared about me as much as even HE thought he did … Maybe he always liked her better … He always knew what to say to convince me to take him back, which makes me feel deceived, because in the end, all he wanted was to be with her … Breaking up with me was probably the most sensible thought that ever crossed his mind, because marrying into this would have been a nightmare.”
    5. I feel the pain of this loss most acutely when I am reminded of his sense of humor or his smile. It also hurts when I see muscle cars from the ’70’s and hear Led Zeppelin; when I realize that certain things I say or like are because of him; and that one time last month where I almost said, “My boyfriend” at the beginning of a sentence out of habit.
    6. What I miss most about our relationship is the openness, humor, and trust we had at one time.
    7. What I don’t miss about our relationship is how I had to convince him to establish a bond with my family, the extreme insecurity of feeling that I had to compete, and the constant uncertainty and feelings of inadequacy.
    8. The thing I regret most is not realizing much sooner that I was in a pointless relationship – love makes you blind. I also very much regret losing ties with his family.
    9. The unforeseen benefit of this break up is that all of a sudden, I had a surge of self-confidence that never existed while I was with him. Instead of feeling worthless, inadequate, and apologetic just for being me, I suddenly feel like I deserve better. And someday, when I’m ready, I’ll find better.
    10. If I could take him/her back right now, I would not and here’s why: The damage done to our relationship is irreversible. While someday I may be able to forgive him, I never wish to even speak with him again. He was bad for my internal dialogue about myself.
    11. The most important thing others need to know about healing a broken heart is that it is a process. Heartbreak is hard, it’s personal, and it happens in stages. It’s basically grief. It can strike you at the weirdest times. ALWAYS keep in mind that everything will be okay. It really will. And it’s never worth it to beat yourself up over things you can’t control…in fact, don’t beat yourself up or hold grudges against yourself at all! It’s not worth the damage.

  • Posted by:  Greg

    Two years ago I met a woman through work and we quickly hit it off. She was very friendly, smart and charming; she flirted with me and I soaked it up- it’s rare for we non-Brad-Pitts to have attractive women be so obviously desiring of us. We also shared the same politics/values/musical tastes/sense of humor/just about everything and had a great time hanging out. When we finally ended up in bed I was reminded of how great lovemaking could be. We seemed to be as perfectly matched in bed as out. For me the sex was almost transcendentally pleasurable, and she too indicated she loved our lovemaking- seared into my memory is her saying I was a “10 out of 10” in bed (part of a running joke we shared, so not as cheesy as it might sound).
    However, that bright blue sky became pitch black in short order, because it turned out that as I was falling in love with her, she was falling in love with someone else. In fact, as luck would have it, a few days after our first sexual encounter she met the man she would fall head over heels for. I was dumped within a month, at what was for me not even yet the pinnacle of our blissful honeymoon period. I was devastated and remain desperately sad about it to this day. When she ended it, I couldn’t contain my hurt, and I lashed out at her (I think, mildly) for what I perceived as the insensitivity of how she did it- in a restaurant (over a meal I just started but promptly couldn’t eat another bite of) and telling me essentially she was madly in love with another man and, in a reversal of previous talks, that she and I had basically nothing anyway.
    During that month we were an ‘item’ I did find out certain unpleasant things about her: She told me, for one, she tended to fall for men who were beneath her in status – poorer, less smart/educated, unemployed/underemployed, and worse. I apparently didn’t fall into this category- which was both a modest compliment, but also a painful signal from her that she wasn’t that ‘into’ me. (No, I wasn’t proclaiming my love by any means but I guess she picked up on something.) She’s in a ‘helping’ profession and I’ve since read that some women in that field become attracted to the people they’re supposed to be helping. She in fact volunteered to me that she’d had two affairs of this sort.
    In addition to major ethical lapses, she demonstrated to me in that month, and the odd time I’ve seen her since, a host of qualities that should drive me far, far away, but don’t: narcissism, selfishness, a very bad temper, sometimes gross insensitivity (and not just to me), boastfulness, and a blithe willingness to inflict pain. More red flags include a bizarre and very bad childhood, and a series of short-term romances.
    Her new relationship didn’t last very long (just two months) because this man had issues she found she couldn’t actually tolerate (serious drug addiction, psychotic episodes). For about 15 seconds after hearing that news I was in heaven. And then she surprised me by indicating she didn’t want to rekindle anything with me. I remain surprised to this day, as she has rejected my advances twice and has never once initiated contact with me since our breakup.
    I somehow can go 3-4 months without contacting her but keep caving in around that time. I find during those periods of non-contact that the pain subsides somewhat but it is always still there, all the time. So I regularly weaken, and we’ve met a few times for conversation wherein she has demonstrated her insensitivity again by casually mentioning not only that she’s dating, but telling me about certain sexual acts she has engaged in with guys she has been seeing (no, I don’t ask about or encourage this talk). She never seems to lack for a bed companion (unlike me) and from what she’s let slip about the latest men in her life, they seem to fit the pattern of guys she can feel superior to.
    Despite all this- the apathy, the hurt she inflicts, the major personality flaws I now know she has- my heart yearns for her deeply. I know it’s crazy but I can’t seem to escape this desire. I have never before had this kind of mad longing for either a woman who is totally disinterested or for one fraught with unattractive qualities. This woman is both.
    All of her flaws have zero affect on my heart. I know they are in her, but the woman she presents (still) is insanely attractive to me: she’s pretty, charming, laughs often and smiles easily, is intelligent, seemingly caring, etc. In addition to all that, I know from experience we have amazing sexual chemistry. It’s this discrepancy that somewhat drives me mad- why can’t I see past the superficial wonderfulness of her and really understand that that is not the person she really is?
    And of course, the other thing that drives me mad is ‘Why?’ Why did she go from pursuing me, to having a great time with me, to total disinterest? If I’m not her type why did she pursue me in the first place? For me, I’ve never just one day decided I don’t like a woman anymore, without having some sort of reason (I can’t imagine what hers is and we have never talked about it- my best guess is that she was turned off by my reaction to being dumped- she’s referred a few time to something I said then, but on the other hand seems to understand I was speaking out of hurt). Anyway, I know the big “WHY?!” is ground zero for we legions of broken-hearted, and sadly, I think almost none of us get that question answered.
    Not having anyone serious in my life all this time hasn’t helped. That’s what worked for me 20 years ago when my heart was broken like this.
    Until I do meet someone who can help me forget her, any help from anyone would be much appreciated. And if you’ve got this far I appreciate just being heard by you.

    1. My break up occurred 1 year, 9 months ago and since that time, my primary emotions have been: sadness, confusion, anger (at myself, at her, at ‘fate’), and guilt for not being able to keep away from her.
    2. The last time I felt feelings such as these was 20 years before. What I notice when I compare these two experiences is that this pain has lasted much longer.
    3. The thing that has been the most difficult for me since this relationship ended is forgetting her. However, if that question means what’s been most EMOTIONALLY difficult, it would be hearing her talk about seeing other men, especially when she throws in sexual details.
    4. When I think about our break-up, the thoughts that plague me over and over are: How did she go from being very interested to very indifferent when we had had such a great time together? Why do I feel so strongly about her?- especially in the face of her apathy, and the unpleasant things I now know about her. How can someone SEEM so perfect for me (and I for her), and yet have such a dark and ugly side? I feel the pain of this loss most acutely when I recollect those small sex details she’s dropped on me.
    5. What I miss most about our relationship is sex, and great times hanging out, laughing and talking.
    6. What I don’t miss about our relationship is the occasional crazy things she said which I had to bite my tongue about because she is very sensitive (about herself).
    7. The thing I regret most is getting angry when she broke up with me, both because that may have ruined my chances for later, and because I’m sorry she saw how it affected me.
    8. The unforeseen benefit of this break up is a very serious examination of my entire life, and a movement towards Buddhism, better mental and physical health, better relationships with people.
    9. If I could take her back right now, I would and here’s why: a partial reclamation of my pride (though I know turning down any advances she might make would, if I could and was of this mindset, give me more reason to be proud. I also would because I am crazy enough about her to think it still, somehow, could work.
    10. The most important thing others need to know about healing a broken heart is: For me, I believe finding someone else is key. Before this last experience I would have said it was ‘time will heal’ but I no longer believe that. Finding someone else is what worked for me 20 years ago and as my heart hasn’t healed in almost two years, I expect that’s what I need this time too. What ‘others need to know’ I can’t say as I think there’s no one thing that will work for everyone in all the many permutations of personality, situation and relationship dynamics that come together in a broken heart.

  • Posted by:  Danielle

    My break up occurred THREE YEARS ago and since that time, my primary emotions have been anger, betrayal, sadness, and happiness.
    The last time I felt feelings such as these was when never.
    What I notice when I compare these two experiences is…there really isn’t anything to compare it to.
    The thing that has been the most difficult for me since this relationship ended is: feeling like I lost the only person that will ever make feel the way he made me feel. I lost my best friend and the person I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. Not only did our romantic relationship end but he cut me completely out of his life. I feel like a part of me has been missing since that day.
    When I think about our break-up, the thought or thoughts that plagues me over and over is/are how was he able to move on so fast? After 4 years, how do you never think of me or wonder how i’m doing? Why am I not over it three years later and think of you still almost every day?
    I feel the pain of this loss most acutely when I go out with someone else and they don’t compare.
    What I miss most about our relationship is our friendship.
    What I don’t miss about our relationship is constantly worrying that it would end.
    The thing I regret most is: taking so many things for granted.
    The unforeseen benefit of this break up is: I went to law school which was always my dream.
    If I could take him/her back right now, I would love to say I wouldn’t but I feel as though that would be a lie. He recently got married, however so it’s not really a possibility. My only hope is that I can one day find someone that made me as comfortable and as happy as I was.
    The most important thing others need to know about healing a broken heart is it can be a long dark road, filled with ups and downs but it gets better

  • Posted by:  Bill

    First of all, Greg, if you’re still reading these comments I just want to say I am right there with you. Our situations sound frighteningly identical almost to the point of wondering if it wasn’t the same woman! That said, one line that I drew for myself long ago from other failed relationships (am a serial dumpee, tbqh) is that, in no uncertain terms, when something ends or is close to ending no matter how much I love or want a person back, I refuse to allow them to tell their stories in a way that makes them mine. I have told the last few that I wouldn’t be the one for them to work out their new relationship problems or share stories of their sexual escapades with. Further, that once they were in a new relationship I would not be in their life. Now, time has proven me a liar with each of them on that last one but it empowered me to make a decision for *myself* regarding what parts of me they would be allowed access to. If they wanted whole access that they once had then they would need to work back to being what we once were (and moreso, what we could become). Otherwise, no deal. I wished them well on their paths and continued on mine alone. It was and never has been easy to do that but it was what I needed. As my most recent breakup, with someone I feel soul-connected to in a way I never have with anyone else, is still very fresh and we are both still single I have not given that talk yet. I am ready to do so if I must but I still have hope that in our time apart she will grow and achieve the peace, happiness and freedom to love life again and then be ready to embark anew, preferably with me. That said, I am going through all the emotions of the rejection as well as new additional “growing pains” from finally (FINALLY!) seeing that I have to love myself, taking steps to do so, in order to not taint my future relationships (I am certain there will be at least one) with the same fears, anxieties and doubts that have all been generated not from my heart but rather from my mind. I know I am capable, now is about reconciliation with myself and spending the time to look inward to find my own inner peace and calm.

    I developed my own mission statement. Maybe it will help others who come to it in time. “It is my mission in life to create my world through harmony and balance; with peace, compassion and love for all who enter my world, especially myself.”

    1. My break up occurred 12 days ago and since that time, my primary emotions have been sadness, anxiety, and fear.
    2. The last time I felt feelings such as these was when I last fell hard for someone. What I notice when I compare these two experiences is that I loved both of these people more than I loved myself driving me to obsessive thinking.
    3. The thing that has been the most difficult for me since this relationship ended is the thought of her with someone else because I didn’t measure up to what she wanted.
    4. When I think about our break-up, the thought or thoughts that plagues me over and over is/are that I will never be good enough for someone.
    5. I feel the pain of this loss most acutely when I am alone at night.
    6. What I miss most about our relationship is the feeling of someone being there for me.
    7. What I don’t miss about our relationship is her not communicating openly or timely, that she could run so hot and cold.
    8. The thing I regret most is that I didn’t love and honor myself more.
    9. The unforeseen benefit of this break up is that I am learning more what a selfless love is and how it benefits me in greater ways than the perceived security of a “relationship”.
    10. If I could take her back right now, I would and here’s why: I’ve learned that I can love myself as much as I love someone else even though right now that is not shining through I believe it will…with time.
    11. The most important thing others need to know about healing a broken heart is that achieving a broken heart means you have been courageous enough to let this kind of love in, just share it with yourself, not only your “partner”.

    Thank you, Susan, for your kindness, wisdom and having this forum here.

  • Posted by:  Carol Hess

    If this post makes you an asshat, Susan, then I will be delighted to join the ranks of Asshattedness! I’m so glad and proud (can you be proud of someone you don’t know?) for standing your ground and modeling what real compassion is all about. And you hit it the proverbial nail on the head when you wrote the following: “The stumbling block for many of us is that we haven’t learned how to have compassion for ourselves. The idea of extending it to others then causes resentment, anger.” Thank you for sharing your wisdom AND compassion with us.

    • Posted by:  susan

      Always good to meet a fellow asshat!!! xoxo S

  • Posted by:  Sarah Giorno

    I just signed up for Open Heart Project today! Upon looking over the website, I came across this article and read it. I want to thank you for expressing how you felt about this day and violence in general. My heart feels the same.

    When my children were small there were many times that disagreements would erupt among them. At those moments one of the most effective solutions was to simply ask them to sit together silently and there were times I could get them to hold hands and look at one another as well, but no words were allowed. I truly believe that this silence revealed to their hearts that their mutual love and humanity was more important then their differences! Usually, the entire disagreement just melted away without any further course of action! My heart has always believed that this can work for all of humanity, yet only if we first give validation and then practice!

    • Posted by:  susan

      This is so, so beautiful, Sarah.

  • Posted by:  jessica k

    Susan, I like how you say in your post to just see our enemies as human beings. It’s easy to depersonalize or objectify those when anger is strongest. I wonder if just seeing them as human is enough to take the edge of hatred. And thanks everyone else for your posts as well.

  • Posted by:  Alison

    I just came back to this post, finding it on google, as I KNEW you had written something on the difference between passive compassion and active dynamic, brave compassion. This is so helpful as this post clarifies the difference beautifully, thank you.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      You are so welcome. <3 S

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