A friend recently wrote me of her broken heart. She is crying every day –heart crushing sobs– and tells me that her tears have absolutely no regard for time of day or place where she might be. Earlier this summer she started trying to date other people but then stopped. She feels terrified of ever being in a relationship again: “I don’t think my heart can take it.”
What follows is my letter to my friend, who told me she’d love it if I shared it. We hope it will help another broken heart, maybe yours, maybe someone’s you know.
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My dear friend,
I feel for you. So much! What grief, whether from now or from way back when, though I imagine it’s some concentrated combination of both. How hard the cyclical experience of what you describe must be, that yearly repetition of ending and then beginning only to end again… So hard. No wonder you are feeling such pain, and, I imagine maybe even some stiff cocktail of emotions like anger, like despair, like who knows what all, for it certainly is hard to tease a whole tangle of heart-crushing and sob-inducing kinds of emotions apart.
It’s not about anyone being to blame, whether it is he for coming back and sleeping with you each fall only to break up with you again by summer, or you for going back to him each fall and being heartbroken again when he breaks up each summer. Our dear minds get some kind of momentary satisfaction from finding blame, but blame heals nothing for anyone and ultimately serves only to deflect from the thing that truly will help. The more useful and ultimately healing thing to wonder about, and the thing to bring every ounce of your energy to is this: how can I be with this now? Whatever is appearing, at any given heart-rending moment: how can I be with this now?
Maybe you close your eyes and feel and sense exactly how the whole heart-crush of it is in your body right now. Notice where it is. Maybe put your hand there and be with it in that way.
Sometimes when I have a hard time being with something —this is especially true for those very big emotion kind of things like what you are describing— I bring to mind people and beings, imagined or real (it doesn’t really matter) who would be able to be with it. These are people who would be incredibly compassionate and moved by what I am going through, though, ironically, they would also not be freaking out about it, not because they don’t care but because they have a bigger and wider perspective and probably they know something I don’t. Those are the people, in lonely and alone and heartbreaking moments, I bring to mind. Actually, I call it “channeling.” (I like to channel, among others, Tara Brach, Kuan Yin, Byron Katie, my therapist, my teacher and friend, Barbara. Sometimes, these days, I even channel an entire village-of-old wherein the elders take care of me. I do this when I don’t have it in me to take care of myself, and when the part that is upset feels so large it feels like the entirety of me.)
Related to the question “how can I be with this now?” it can also be very helpful to wonder: How would this [heart-broken part of me] like for me [or the people I am “channeling”] to be with it? And then pause and sense what kind of company it wants… Maybe it wants a very quiet kind of company. Maybe it wants a song. Maybe it wants to show you something. Maybe it wants to sit under a tree in the park.Maybe it will let you know it wants touch. Maybe it needs the metaphorical village curanderas to make a witchy brew for it. Maybe it wants to hear the beating of a thousand drums. Maybe it wants you —in your mind’s eye— to sit there right next to it where it can feel you. Maybe it wants you in the same room, nearby but not in direct sight… The point is, find out how IT would like you to be with it.
And don’t forget flesh-n-bones people, my friend. Let people help you. Let them know you need company. Let them know you need a cup of tea. Let them know you need a place to stay. And if tears come in barre class, so be it. Good for you for being at your beloved barre class. And if tears come in the grocery store, so be it. I remember once breaking down sobbing on the side of a street over yet-another-moment in something not unlike what it sounds you are going through. A woman came and asked if I was OK. She asked if there was someone she could call for me. She cared, and in that moment, I was not alone. The people who couldn’t handle it —a woman on the side of the street crying— didn’t come. The woman who could, did. Let the people who care and who can step up to help, help you, my friend. You are not alone.
It’s no wonder you are terrified of being in a relationship again. No wonder. Please know that your next relationship will come in its own good time. Not your time, not my time, but its good time. What a relief, isn’t it? Your next relationship will come when it comes, the timing of which you have no idea about now. Good about that. Its timing is simply not any of your business right now. Whew!
Of course something in you would, right now, be telling you how terrified it is about you being in a relationship again. Of course. Please know that its terror applies to now. Right now your heart can’t take even the thought of another relationship, and with good reason: look at the right now pain you are experiencing over the relationship which you are grieving right now. Try as best you can to resist extrapolating from your right now experience onto your future self. Now brings all you can handle and your only job is to take care of your now-heart right now. And when something in you now shows you pictures of your future-self not being able to handle another relationship, know that that is your now-self dressed in a future-self costume and take it as a signal to be with right-now-you. Resist the temptation to believe or disbelieve what the scared parts of you are saying, and the scary pictures of an imagined future they are projecting on the screen of your mind.
Just as right now brings all you can handle now, right now also bring all that you need right now.
Rumi comes to mind.
Every part of you has a secret language.
Your hands and your feet say what you’ve done.
And every need brings in what’s needed.
Pain bears its cure like a child.
Having nothing produces provisions.
Ask a difficult question,
and the marvelous answer appears.
Build a ship, and there’ll be water
to float it. The tender-throated
infant cries and milk drips
from the mother’s breast.
Be thirsty for the ultimate water,
and then be ready for what will
come pouring from the spring.
This is a part of Rumi’s poem “Joy at Sudden Disappointment,” translated by Coleman Barks. I found it on page 169 of my beat up and dog-eared “The Essential Rumi.”
Friend, you are much bigger than all of this. Some of the very upset parts of you are feeling difficult things so intensely that they seem extremely big, so big that it is tempting to believe that those parts ARE you. But you, my dear, are bigger, you are wider, you are older, you are wiser. How do I know? For you are noticing them. See if you can spread the biggest possible blanket for all the parts arising in you to be, to rest upon. For surely they want rest. You don’t have to fix them. You don’t have to make them go away. You don’t even have to heal them. Healing happens. Just spread the blanket and let them be there. They will surely also bring, as Rumi says, what’s needed.
And when some part or another in you expresses some great sense of urgency about needing you to do or fix or make some big decision right now? Notice and listen. Surely it wants relief and it wants you to be OK. Of course. Say, there you are, I see you, but don’t let your next movement be determined from that part, for it is limited and partial. Just be with it and listen. I say “just” not because it is necessarily easy to do, but rather because it is all you need to do. And, come to think, it is actually much easier than all the frantic kind of movement we of this age and time are used to watching transpire all around us. But we do not need to be at the beck and call of urgency.
A practical point, is there any way you can move out of his place? Even though he’s not in town for most of the year, I imagine that living in his place necessarily makes all of this —and ending the cycle you describe— much harder. It is very likely that moving out would shift things energetically. Maybe you move into somewhere temporarily, even just a month or two or three, while you take care and make space for your next place (of living) to become available… Remember that you can ask for help. Sometimes it is only in the asking, in the putting forth of our need, that the immediate next step becomes available. Asking is a powerful practice. Allow people to say yes. Remember, the ones who can’t handle the woman crying on the side of the street, won’t come. The ones who can, will. Give them, give you, that opportunity.
When can you come visit us again?
Thanks for the info on the swimming hole. Two and a half hours was, indeed, too far. The cabin we stayed in was magical. We will go back.
I send you all my love. Please let me know if I can help. If any of what I wrote did not fit or is not welcome, please just give it right back to me, for at the very least, maybe I needed to be reminded of everything I’ve told you.
Dear blog reader,
Would you like company and guidance while you listen and sense into something difficult of your own? Would you like to learn to be with yourself in the ways I describe in this letter? You can book a session HERE. I work with people in-person at my office in Cambridge, Massachusetts and remotely, via Skype, FaceTime or phone.
A few of the people I “channel” have been —not coincidentally— my most trusted teachers over the years. In particular the following three offer a powerhouse of wisdom and support:
- Tara Brach | Insight Meditation Teacher who has taught me to sit still in an intentional way (some people call this meditation) and how to be with what, then, arises. I adore her. Her podcasts are excellent, free, and always uncannily pertinent.
- Barbara McGavin and Ann Weiser Cornell at Focusing Resources | Barbara and Ann have turned Gene Gendlin’s Focusing into a very learnable process with immediate implications for how we relate to ourselves –and all our parts– as well as to the people in our world. Focusing is a process of listening to the body and being with hard things, big or little. Some of my hardest and most stuck inner places of struggle have changed as a result of listening and being with myself in this way.
- Byron Katie | When I am stressed out, there is at least one untrue thought I am assuming to be true. Before I notice that I am in the grips of a stressful thought or story, I am at its mercy. But when I meet that thought with the kindness of inquiry, it has a way of unraveling. I never know exactly what will come of asking Byron Katie’s questions, but invariably I end up in a place less stressful, at the very least, and sometimes my eyes are opened to possibilities that turn my stressworld on its head.
Until next time, take care of your dear self and remember to ask for help if you need it.