once i had a broken heart. it was awful.September 15, 2007 | 35 Comments
This is my story. What’s yours?
Buddhism gives a unique perspective on relating to a broken heart. Of course, there are broken hearts and then there are broken hearts. No matter how much losing other relationships may have made you cry, there are some endings that transcend everything you’ve ever known about pain. If you’ve had such a heartbreak, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It crushes you. You think you may die and then you wish you would. You lose at least 10 pounds right away. You go to sleep and dream about this loss and then wake up crying about it. You buy a lot of self-help books. At least I did all these things when my heart was broken.
Derek broke my heart. I can’t even really explain why. We had broken up and gotten back together several times during the course of our five-year relationship and I had been the one doing the breaking up. Then during the last one, he started going out with someone else and, I’m not exaggerating, my world fell apart. I had a ferocious longing for his love. Really, I don’t even know why. When I thought about our relationship resuming, I still knew it would never work out and that we would just breakup all over again. But this longing wasn’t about a relationship. It was about his love. I needed it. I couldn’t breathe without it. This experience humbled me, embarrassed me, and I did things I can’t even believe. Like sending him 15 page letters comprised mostly of underlining and exclamation points. And then calling him to read them out loud. Every day. I probably filled five journals, the kind that would normally take me a few years to use up. This may sound like hyperbole, but I don’t think I drew breath for about two years without feeling this pain. I even moved to another town, from Austin to Philadelphia, which was really like shipping out with the French Foreign Legion. (Who would move from Austin to Philadelphia?) But I had to get away.
I hope I never have to go through anything like this again and I hope you don’t either. Except for one thing. It was during this time that I also experienced a deep insight, a “pointing out instruction” as the Buddhists say. It only lasted for a few seconds and I have no idea where it came from, but it contained everything I had ever needed to know and marked the beginning of the path I’m still on.
It actually happened while I was carrying the garbage down to the curb. (Hmm…) It was a very hot Texas morning and I wasn’t wearing shoes but I didn’t care if the pebbles and twigs hurt my feet, or if I got trash on myself. I hadn’t been able to sleep much the night before because every time I dozed off I dreamt up new tableaux to capture the moment my pain began. I would wake up in tears, beg for mercy, fall back asleep, and pick up the dream exactly where it left off, as if it had been bookmarked. This was more than 10 years ago, but I remember everything about it.
Walking down to the curb, of course I was thinking about him and his new girlfriend and sifting through an astonishing output of explanations for his hurtful behavior: I’m paying for his fear of commitment. I gave him the best love he ever got and he just couldn’t handle it. No, no, it was all my fault, if only I wasn’t so needy, we’d still be together. My strength and emotional honesty scared him. (This one was my favorite.) And so on. While conjuring explanations, my mind was also bouncing off other walls. It started to go faster and faster. I wonder if my friends and I will see him when we go out tonight? Well just in case, I’m going to dress really sexy and he is so going to regret his decision. His new relationship can’t last because he has no idea how to love. I shouldn’t have sent him that letter explaining this. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to eat again. He was my last chance for love. How can I ever get over this? Why is he doing this to me? How can I possibly be experiencing this much pain? Blah, blah, and more blah. All of which was unbelievably painful.
The pain was stabbing me from all directions and I couldn’t get away from it, awake or asleep. There was so much going on, it was overwhelming. But, wait. The moment I thought, “there’s so much going on,” another thought also arose, but this one was different. It almost seemed like someone else’s voice. It said, “there’s nothing going on right now.” I stopped. I looked around. It was just a street in Texas on trash day. Nothing was happening. No one was hurting me. I wasn’t in any fights. The future I was worrying about didn’t appear to be here on this curb. The past I was regretting also wasn’t present. I was just taking out the trash. Everything became very silent. Actually, that’s not accurate. The noise stopped and I noticed that I could have tuned into this silence at any moment because it had always been there. It was like when you suddenly realize that the TV has been blaring the whole time but no one’s watching it. And you just turn it off.
When this happened, I didn’t think, “Oh my, I just received a pointing out instruction on the nature of mind.” Instead, I thought, “That was weird. I’m actually not in pain right now.” But then I was again. Still, I saw something on that day that I can now never un-see: when you look closely, you see that there’s hardly anything going on, ever. I know because I’ve checked lots of times since then. If you can shut up even for one second and stop hoping for the best or fearing the worst, all is still. You can always tune your ear to silence, no matter how loud the sounds around you. You can try it anytime and it will always be true.
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