3 Ways Buddhism can help you heal a broken heart

May 5, 2014   |   20 Comments


Nothing feels worse than a broken heart, the kind you get when someone you love ends the relationship. Feelings of shame, remorse, grief, rage, and terror can overwhelm even the most stable human being. Heartbreak has the power to reframe a workable life as a disaster.

Perhaps surprisingly, Buddhism has a tremendous amount of helpful advice for working with these seemingly insurmountable emotions. It takes an approach that is quite different than what is suggested in the usual advice books, which basically fall into one of two categories:

The first category is called “You Go Girl!!” (Sorry guys, all the books are aimed at women.) This kind of book suggests that you need to up the cocktails:sobbing ratio, go out with friends who will assure  you that you were just too awesome for them, invest in more “me” time, and cry on as many shoulders as possible, your troubles will melt away.

I don’t think this is bad advice. Hey! You are awesome! t! You have great friends who remind you how to have fun! It’s great to pay attention to yourself! This is all cool. It won’t, however, do much to alleviate the pain, beyond stuffing it for a few hours.

The second category is called “There is something very, very wrong with you and you made this happen.” This is the kind of book that says you brought this heartbreak on yourself by carrying forward unhealed wounds from childhood or by thinking the wrong thoughts. I kind of hate this. Of course it’s really, really important to heal your wounds and to examine your thoughts to see if they might be sabotaging you—but when the intention for doing so is to avoid pain rather than to increase your capacity to love, it is unlikely to heal you. This kind of advice is often out to convince you that you can make love safe.

Love can never be made safe. It is the opposite of safe. The moment you try to make it safe, it ceases to be love.

Love is predicated on receptivity, on opening up again and again and again to your beloved. To do this, a continual letting go is required and when it comes to our greatest vulnerability (love), the last thing we want to do is give up the protection of our ideas about love.

Most often, the efforts to heal a broken heart center around putting it behind you and recreating the illusion of safety. Buddhism counsels something else, something best said by the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron: “Feel the feelings. Drop the story.” That is the pith advice and it means turning toward what you feel, not away. It means letting the feelings be just what they are without trying to explain them, shore your self up, or excuse or blame anyone.

This is called being a warrior. The more you allow feelings to burn clean in this way, the less confusion you create fr yourself and others.

I have three suggestions for figuring out how to accomplish this very mysterious feat of feeling without attaching a narrative as to what it might, could, should, or dare not mean.

1.    Develop a non-judgmental relationship with your mind. This is best done through the practice of meditation. When you’re under the sway of strong emotion, you come into contact with a state of being that I like to call Insane Obsessive Thinking. If only, I should have, what I really meant was, how dare they, I am a loser, you are a loser, love stinks… On and on and on. It’s really quite painful. Without addressing a mind run amuck, the chances of skillfully working with your feelings is kind of limited. So I suggest introducing a note of discipline to your everyday life, by spending some time every day, not squashing your icky thoughts and promoting your good ones, but simply watching your mind in a relaxed way—you will see that, no matter how wild it gets, you can remain steady. This is what meditation teaches you how to do.

2.    Stabilize your heart in the open state. When you regain some sense of agency in your own mind, naturally your attention will turn toward that raging, screaming, searing thing in the middle of your chest—your heart.

One way to look at heartbreak is as love unbound from an object. Freed, it careens and ricochets and crashes into walls. Your capacity and longing for love is enormous and when you lose it, this is what you discover. You had no idea you could feel this raw, vulnerable, open. It is this openness that is actually precious.

Buddhism does not counsel closing back up. Instead, in recognition that this openness is the ground of loving kindness, compassion, and the ability to connect deeply, it suggests you leave it broken and seek to stabilize it in the open state. Yes, leave it broken.

The way to do this and not walk around sobbing all the time is through the practice of Loving Kindness meditation. In this way, you begin to shift your search for love a tiny bit, away from “I want to find someone to love me” and toward “I want to find a way to give love.” With this nuanced transition, the whole world changes.

When most people say they are looking for love, what they means is they are looking for someone to love them, and then they will return it. But you can turn this equation on its head entirely and have love in your life every single day by choosing to give it. This, by the way—giving love to others—is the secret, guaranteed, no fail way to heal your broken heart. Don’t take my word for that. Try it for yourself and see.

3.   View your whole life as path. With a sense of clarity in your mind and stability in your heart, the third stage becomes something altogether different. There is no practice associated with this one. With mental clarity and emotional stability comes the ability to see your entire life as path. You have created the foundation for an entirely authentic life, one full of joy and sorrow, meetings and partings, giving and taking, and deep meaning. The dark power of heartbreak has led you there.

With this openness, you see that your life is telling a story. I have no idea what it is and you may not either. But trust me, your life has a life of its own and the violence of heartbreak has the power to shatter all illusions about who you thought you were and reintroduce you instead to who you really are. This is an extremely powerful situation.

With a broken heart, you see how vast your longing for love is and how impossible it is to make love safe. It’s just not possible. So what do you do with these two truths? This is your path. No one can tell you how to reconcile them. The place to begin is by paying attention, cultivating agenda-less awareness of yourself, others, and of the flow of life. When you do so, you start to notice that every single day, you are continuously cycling in and out of moments of falling in love and having your heart broken. Both are always present, shifting toward you and away, each one a tiny lesson on how to be fully alive.

categorized in: ,


  • Posted by:  Victoria woodward

    Hello! Have just come across your hugely timely article on heartbreak. Which is my current living hell. And lesson. I would love to join your eclass. Can I ask what time it will be as I am in uk?

    The article has helped me alot,it makes such sense. Thank you.



    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Yes, it will be from 730p ET – 9p ET. Not a great time for you! But it will all be recorded and a link sent immediately.

      I hope you can make it and I hope you feel better soon. It is a very, very painful situation, I know. Wishing you everything good.

  • Posted by:  Victoria woodward

    Thanks Susan.. I have just ordered the book to arrive tomorrow, as I am going away and wanted to take it with me. I just did your loving kindness meditation from the link on the broken heart blog and have a question….is my beloved husband who has left, but I still love deeply…can I use his face as my opening flowering heart to send the phrases to…or, is he, as he is now with another, which broke my heart, is he the enemy..for the sake of this meditation….I feel such adrenalin when I even write those words of him and a new relationship. it is torment.
    Also, I can’t join you at those times, but I can of course download, but I don’t have an mp3 or iPod, can we listen to it as a link on the mini ipad but can’t get saved? I don’t have a computer. Many thanks , Victoria

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Oh, Victoria. I can actually feel your pain.

      It is up to you how where yo place your husband. You can place him in both positions, if you like. There is a part of him that you love and a part that is tormenting you. You could picture him in both emanations.

      You will be able to listen to the class on your iPad mini.

      So glad you’re joining.

  • Posted by:  victoria woodward

    I will join your class and listen to the replays, great. Thank you for your words… its funny how you can think you feel strong and then read something, or hear something and then in a micro second the pain is so overwhelming its like knowing there is absoloutly no where to hide any more. This is it. This is the absolute horror of reality…and I feel it in every part of my body and mind. Yet, and there is a yet, the ability to witness it is also there and this has to be my guiding light. I have not got your book until tomorrow and not started your class, so there is a huge amount of support ahead of me… and I just need to trust implicitly that with a soul intention of love and no blame, of the ultimate desire to accept but also to allow the anger, the hurt, the shame, the grief… the why why why…. space without taking me over, and knowing that the pounding heart and sadness will provide some meaning for me in years to come. Coming face to face with myself has been a quest since 1995 through ashrams and meditation and every kind of spiritual tool in the book..but it wasn’t until this heart break, following close on the heels of the death of my darling mother on January 23rd this year, that my heart broke.. and maybe, just maybe, I needed that shock and terror in order to bring the light fully in and find out who I am without continual reference to both my husband and my mother as my energetic focus and rocks. I don’t know, time will tell. With much love, Victoria

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      I really, really know what you are talking about. Your description really hits home. And I am so very sad to hear about your mother’s passing. That is a lot of heartbreak in an extremely short period. I’m really glad you will sign up for the class and I hope it will provide a way for you to ride these enormous waves. You can do it. And in the meantime, remember: You will NOT always feel the way you do now. Even now, if you begin to pay attention, you’ll see that there are moments when you are okay, even if very fleeting. These moments will continue to multiply… Sending love, S

  • Posted by:  Victoria woodward

    Thank you Susan…..just got the book and shook my head in wonder at the same description…my god…it shook me to the core. I still describe to my friends, over the 14 years , our first kiss. Like you, I had been in a cloud of confusion with work….like you, indulging every aspect of spiritual searching…but…as I just read…when our lips touched for the first time, I shall never forget it as long as I live….we kissed for a long 5 minutes without moving….and pressed our hearts together and I reached an ecstatic indescribable feeling. We touched hearts regularly thereafter. After only 5 days together over a period of 3 weeks apart, he proposed and my life changed. This now brings both peace to me and shuddering cold pressing reality. He has just texted to ask something and asked how I am? He wants me to let go fully and completely but I dare not, I think it would tip me over the edge. I don’t know what to say….I have asked if we can keep in touch until I am strong enough to let go, we have the papers to sign one day too. Oh God.

  • Posted by:  Victoria woodward

    And….am not eating. Shrunk to under 7 stone and friends coaxing me to eat a smoothie. I am resonating with every line you write…and know that my heart is in a million pieces. I don’t know if its possible to be here on this blog without it having to come to an end, but for now, it helps to know you are there.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      As you now know, I totally understand. There are many others out here who do too. Although this doesn’t necessarily lessen the pain, it is somehow good to know that you’re not alone.

      And feel free to write as many comments as you like. Whatever is helpful. And in the e-course, there will be more time and space for connecting, should people wish. Stay strong and let your friends and loved ones support you…

      • Posted by:  Victoria woodward

        Thank you x. I just had an I Ching reading from the lady who sent me the link to you and my goodness it had helped. Helped to see the potential transformation out of a situation that was no longer nourishing to a radical and much needed change that will be no mistake. In fact, more than no mistake, but a source of great good fortune if I diminish contact and focus on my direction with a constancy …and not set out to bring order…which every part of me was wanting to do. Regrets……….VANISH. ………x

        • Posted by:  Susan Piver

          This is exactly what is meant by the wisdom of a broken heart. I’m so glad you’ve found some breathing room!

  • Posted by:  Victoria woodward

    Thank you susan…..so good good good to connect. And I am going on a rich retreat on Sunday with biodynamic massage, Breath work and mentoring…..it is a huge step to saying yes, I can be with this and truly grow in spite of the terror or overwhelm at certain stages of the day or unexpectedly. My heart longs to give and it longs to know and love me. If I could see energetically the harm my thoughts do to my self, I am sure it would be shocking. This is what I now grip….I will grow through this with wisdom and know I am on plant earth for a purpose. Beyond suffering. But Paul will always be deeply in my heart once it repairs.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Wishing you well!! So good you’re taking care of yourself. This is so important.

  • Posted by:  victoria woodward

    Just signed up to the eclass. Really look forward to the recordings and only sorry I won’t be there in real time. Had a good day until I imagined us not making love again. Crippling agony of loss of breath and reality. Ran to the exercise of writing 5 things around me and then 3 things more slowly. Then felt the sensations in my body. Thought I could have died with the pain. But didn’t. Dark dark night of the soul. Your book is the most accurate description of what I am experiencing it is an exact mirror. I have to speak with him on Saturday and suggest it is now time to retreat from contact….before I go on my retreat ..otherwise I have all the therapy to help address the physical holding in my body. …but then have to still face the inevitable letting go, which is what he is waiting for. And he is involved with another anyway. I must be blind. So, I have to face this on Saturday when we are planning to speak. No words left to describe this feeling.

  • Posted by:  A.

    When I read all Victoria writes here above I feel so sorry for her.Wish her much courage in this difficult period in her live.Think we perhaps all can recognize in what she shared in her story.
    We can not ride a mind acting like a wild horse.Again very touching image.To hang around and let trust come in….Can be so difficult in beginning but OOOH…believe what you are saying feels SO truth!

  • Posted by:  Susan Clark

    Susan, I am guest editing the Spring 2016 issue of GreenSpirit magazine (see website above) and am trying to get in touch to ask you to contribute a piece based on your amazing book The Wisdom of a Broken Heart which I think is brilliant. The theme of this issue is.. The Gift.. so I think your work/ethos would sit beautifully in this issue
    Can we talk? best wishes Susan Clark

  • Posted by:  elizabeth

    hi, nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. i would be join your eclass , can i ask what time it will be as i am in Tanzania ?

  • Posted by:  C Gosnell

    Thank you so much. I have been drowning for a very long time now and came across this article. It has been ages since I have felt hopeful, really anything other than pain and despair. Your article gave me the strength to see clearly, even if only for a brief moment. It is enough to prod me towards learning more and proves to me that I CAN attain peace. I look forward to this path before me. Again, thank you so much for hope.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Sending much love.

      • Posted by:  Sam

        I shared this article. I have tried so hard to achieve awareness, and will inevitably continue. You are truly an inspiration. One of my favorite books “Mandala of Being” by Richard Moss, MD and “Be Here Now” by Ram Dass, I will look into your book(s) simply from this article. Not many people understand the depth that this entails. My post I hope gives you hope that people truly appreciate others like you on the same journey to enlightenment:

        Ok, so I normally don’t post things that are “obviously” meaningful to myself but I feel like this is helpful to anyone not only dealing with certain issues but simply with suffering itself. I have a tattoo that I had gotten a long time ago that this article truly expresses. The tattoo states that the solution to the problem of ‘suffering’ is not to evade it but to become it and see what that does to us. We are not what people think of us, feel about us, nor vise versa; no blame games. We are here, we are now, and the moment at hand is only another moment among many… How we deal with such will open the doors inevitably to the next. It may be an impeccable trial, but simply looking any of it in the face is better than running from the true feelings of what you fear. Understanding that you’re going through some shit, letting yourself feel it 100%, and accepting is the door; you are YOUR key. Transcendence is accomplished through doing this and successfully keeping that stance every moment. I feel that is a lifelong journey for some; especially me. I do believe that this article easily puts exactly what I do strive for and is worth a read for anyone on the struggle. The journey is within no matter how many times you get off track, right here, right now, you can face your fear that causes so much pain in your life. Much Love <3

        "Love can never be made safe. It is the opposite of safe. The moment you try to make it safe, it ceases to be love.

        Love is predicated on receptivity, on opening up again and again and again to your beloved. To do this, a continual letting go is required and when it comes to our greatest vulnerability (love), the last thing we want to do is give up the protection of our ideas about love.

        Most often, the efforts to heal a broken heart center around putting it behind you and recreating the illusion of safety. Buddhism counsels something else, something best said by the American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron: “Feel the feelings. Drop the story.” That is the pith advice and it means turning toward what you feel, not away. It means letting the feelings be just what they are without trying to explain them, shore your self up, or excuse or blame anyone. This is called being a warrior. The more you allow feelings to burn clean in this way, the less confusion you create."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

We have so much to share with you

Get a new meditation from me every Monday morning

We have so much to share with you.

Get a free meditation from Susan every Monday morning