Transforming Betrayal and Non-Closure

March 25, 2015   |   3 Comments

I wanted to use today’s email to respond to a post (on our Facebook page) from Barba Twin regarding anger and forgiveness. In it, she describes a situation that many of you may be familiar with: a relationship that has ended with no opportunity for closure. The person seeking it is then left on his or her own to find resolution when it seems that resolution can only come mutually. What to do? How can the dharma help? Here is what I recall from my own experience in such a situation. All of the pain I felt seemed to be directed outward, to this other person. I had hundreds of thousands of conversations with him, in my own mind. I wrote countless unsent letters. The more I did these things, the more ominous the silence became, the more distraught and anxious and even panic-stricken I became. If only he would answer me, I thought, I could gain some closure. Who knows? All I do know is that it never happened. Somehow I moved on, not because of anything I did or said, but the tides of time slowly, slowly cooled the situation. If the pain was like a hand grenade my ex had tossed to me, over time, as I held it in my hands, it never exploded nor did I detonate it. It simply lost charge (although it could heat up in an instant, anytime I felt my heart exposed.) Still, there was a big scar. Writing “The Wisdom of a Broken Heart” was my healing. However, Barba does not have to write an entire book about her heart in order to set this healing in motion. There is a principle underlying the writing that anyone can employ and that is the principle of loving kindness. In writing the book, I wanted to help others with their own heartbreak. However, that was by no means my primary motivation, which was to help myself. When these two are employed simultaneously: helping yourself in order to help others or helping others in order to help yourself (it doesn’t matter which comes first), obstacles begin to dissolve. The practice of loving kindness is custom made to directly and simply connect these two motivations. The key is to remain resolutely planted in your own sorrow/rage without trying to eradicate it, resolve it, change it, or force anything upon it. Instead, make it the foundation of your loving kindness practice. Start with yourself. Think of and feel the pain of being left with a “heart full of questions, disbelief and pain.” See how difficult it is, and how confounding and implacable. Acknowledge what a burden this is, how unfair it is, and how hard you have worked on it—yet the “abyss of non-closure and disillusion” remain. (So beautifully written, Barba.) Wish for yourself healing. Keep it simple. “May I find relief from the suffering of betrayal and non-closure” or something like that. Then, move on to a loved one. Someone close to you has felt (or will) this terrible void. Wish for them, “May you find relief from the suffering of betrayal and non-closure.” Think of a stranger (someone you know but have no feelings about). Know that this person too has or will find themselves in this situation. Wish for them, “May you find relief from the suffering of betrayal and non-closure.” Then move on to an enemy (someone who has harmed you, does not have to be your ex!) and know that in their way, they too suffer from betrayal and non-closure in some area of their life. Wish, “May you find relief from the suffering of betrayal and non-closure.” Finally, bring to mind all beings that suffer from betrayal and non-closure. Some are right here with you in this Sangha, some are in your office, your neighborhood, your country, the world. This pain reverberates right now in the hearts of millions of beings. Wish for them, “May all beings find relief from the suffering of betrayal and non-closure.” To close, sit quietly for a few minutes. Notice that in all of this, forgiving the ex him- or herself is left out entirely. That is good because this practice is about you and you, not you and her/him. Best to keep it that way. I truly, deeply hope this is useful. PS Barba, you said in this post, “I know Susan has talked about this one person in her life that she still doesn’t forgive, an ex colleague, I believe. (I wonder if and how meditation has helped you at all, Susan Piver, in this area).” Yes, it was an ex-colleague and, no, I still don’t forgive her, which used to make me very upset with myself. I just keep trying to work with it. That said, I ran into her by accident a few years ago and she was very civil and even generous toward me. I knew that she had been just as angry at me, even thought she was COMPLETELY WRONG and I was COMPLETELY RIGHT 😉 so, who knows, maybe if my loving kindness practice did not soften me, it softened her. It’s a mystery, it is.

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  • Posted by:  barbara born

    Thank you so much for this elaborate and wonderful answer Susan. Not only do i feel supported, shared experiences are the best, good and bad, but youve also handed me something to work with. It’s really helpful, knowing you can actually use variations on loving kindness meditation. Keeping it simple works. Having Wallie the zen master with me also helps: Look at him!
    Your talk on Monday actually was an eye opener too: cut it out with having to understand and be kind to everyone and everything. It actually creates more room for acceptance when you relax with the hurt or anger. Funny how this works. I think i didnt realize that i pushed myself a lot to have what you call idiot compassion which actually continually ignited my pain.
    Thank you for sharing your personal stories. I know from your book too that youve been in the abyss of desillusion! How many unsent letters have been written by heartbroken souls you think?
    Going with the grenade metaphor: To me it felt like they throw a bomb over their shoulder, leaving a crater (between us) and then i expect THEM to build a bridge…hello!!
    So, enough on this subject for now. I have some obstacles to take care of.
    And yes, it is a mystery how the ‘softening’ works. However it works, you had the chance to see your excolleague as something other than the biggest bitch on earth which must have been some relief in itself. Even though you were completely right, she ‘s also just a struggler with good and bad qualities. And maybe she’s been doing some loving kindness herself, with you in mind, who knows!

    thank you for your words of wisdom,
    love, Barbara

  • Posted by:  Susan Piver

    Love always to you and zen master Wallie!

  • Posted by:  Camille

    Hi Susan,

    I wish I had a more original way to say this since I’m sure you get these comments all the time (and in fact looking at your blog, I can see that you do), but your book “wisdom of a broken heart” was the most important book I’ve read in my life.

    Not to be too mystical (I say that as a caveat but I don’t know why, I’m clearly going to get right down to being mystical) but through my own heartbreak experience- my first as an adult, or as I really think of it, my first as a real full person- I experienced the weirdly awake and raw and aware stage you describe so well in you book. In this state, without looking for anything, without really having an drop of faith at that time in anything whatsoever- God, myself, fairies, the Great Spirit, whatever- it started to seem like things were coming to me repeatedly from the universe, often to shed light on and solidify something my intuition was starting to whisper to me about.

    I was also in a situation where I didn’t have an opportunity to get closure after the person I loved abruptly broke off the relationship and all contact, and it just destroyed me. Not even wanting to hear something from him or get some question answered, I didn’t need anything from *him*, I just couldn’t stand that I’d never told him how much he mattered to me, or how sorry I was for the part I played in creating the negative spiral between us that led to the end. I never got to say goodbye to him, and that goes so deeply against my core values, it was ten times worse than the pain of losing him itself.

    It felt like a wrongness and ugliness that would hang on my life forever, because even though my heart could heal, I could love someone else, I could move on with my life, even then *this* would never be made right. It would never stop being sad and terrible that I never got to say goodbye, even when it stopped being so sad and terrible that I lost him.

    I still don’t 100% know what to do about this. I’ve gone back and forth on writing to him into that vacuum, not expecting anything in return, but just getting those things off my chest, but he’s made it very clear he doesn’t want to hear from me and part of me wants to respect that and be kind to him in that way, and part of me is afraid of how stupid and crazy I’ll look and how I can’t know how he’ll even interpret my act of reaching out. I can’t make him understand me or take it the way I intend. I’m terrified this will be something I’ll regret for the rest of my life (not saying anything more) and yet it really doesn’t feel like I have a path that feels right to me to say anything.

    So that’s the context of me reading your book. I was really struggling with “what can I do with all this love for him, all this sorry-ness I have for not loving him well when I had the chance?” It was really a burden and mystery, like, “what do I do with this?”

    I desperately wanted it to benefit him in some way, because I wanted it to have a purpose, and I wanted to make some kind of psychic amends (being as I couldn’t make any other amends). Being in this state where I had all this love for him, and just wanted him to know I understood why he left me and didn’t blame him, and was so grateful for the time we’d spent together, but having the reality of our relationship be this state of such extreme brokenness that I’m not allowed to ever speak to him again…

    Maybe I am young and idealistic, but while I know life is painful, I didn’t think things this horrible were allowed to be permanent and unfixable and just hang around casting a shadow on your heart with nothing you can do about them. It’s a thing that’s *wrong* to me, all the way down in my soul, and will never be righted, and that’s way worse than any amount of pain and suffering, which can be intense, but which as you talk about so well in the book, don’t last forever.

    Anyway, now I’ve written an essay when I meant to just say thanks for the book. And where I was going with that story was, I had been in so much confusion and stress about the burden of this love and wanting to offer it somehow, and needing to know that there was something bigger than me that could right this wrong on some level (of me having all this seismic love for him but having never given it to him and now never being able to), but being a skeptic, despairing of anything like that being possible.

    But while I agonized over that, I this weird sense sometimes, I can’t really explain it, all I can say is when I got to the part of your book about secret offerings, it was like “this is that thing I was sensing, it’s a thing, people know about it”. Right after I read about the secret offerings, sleep overtook me. I’m not being poetic, sleep literally knocked me on my face out of nowhere. I wasn’t tired, it was 10am, I’d just had some coffee earlier. It was inexplicable, but I fell immediately into the deepest, most restful sleep. When I woke up, the weight of sorrow and anxiety I’d carried around literally every moment for months was just gone. Like poof, gone.

    I still feel torn up and conflicted about this not being able to say I’m-sorry-and-you-are-a-wonderul-person-and-goodbye thing, and my heart is still broken, but something fundamentally (dare I say mystically) changed during that sleep, thanks to your book. I’m not just saying the book was helpful- this breakup catalytically changed me and my whole life (for the better) and without your book, I don’t think I would have had the conceptual framework, the tools, or the strength of heart (that came from how restorative the sense of compassion and kindness that emanated from your words was, how it made me realize that there were people out there who would understand and who would want me to be kind to myself and realize that my pain mattered) to make so much change come out of the raw materials. A million, billion thank yous.

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