“The emotion that can break your heart is sometimes the very one that heals it…” -Nicholas Sparks
This month’s theme, focused on healing heartbreak, is deeply personal and yet, also profoundly universal. In this life dominated by relationships of all kinds- personal, familial, and professional, no matter where you fall in your level of engagement and vulnerability, no one gets out unscathed. I have long ascribed to the belief taught in many spiritual traditions that we are given our relationships as life’s most gentle and kind teachers. And yet, in the aftermath of broken relationships as we feel pummeled by betrayal, abandonment and broken promises, or conversely, drowned in the guilt and shame of cruelty and selfishness, our relationships feel like anything but teachers. Here is the thing, our suffering in relationships can only become our teacher if we are willing to get beyond the storyline of our broken heart and recognize the habits of our own unkindness. We have to dive into the heart itself.
The truth is that as a race, we humans hurt each other frequently. In the extreme, without even getting into the massive violence of war, much of the personal violent crime reported frequently happens amongst people who were previously intimate. Certainly, the most devastating sexual and emotional betrayals happen for people who were once in love. Our capacity for cruelty is somehow heightened and more acute with those we once loved deeply. We hurt others in proportion to the hurt we carry inside of us. I have been working with my own recent experiences of abandonment and betrayal and as I have slowly gotten beyond the shame and suffering of the storyline. Digging into the heart of what happened in those relationships, I have come to realize that most of the pain that we inflict on each other is not malicious in nature; rather, it is a reflection of both the intense internal suffering that most of us walk around with and the utter lack of fluency we have for our internal emotional lives.
Love is in fact a game of skill, and relationships that last are constructed of action verbs, not the ethereal feelings we confuse with falling in love that come as quickly as they go. Truly loving people is an intentional decision we make every day, and if it has any legs at all it must begin inside, with a willingness to love and forgive ourselves first. While we all born with a seed of loving capacity, more frequently than not, we lack practice at feeling and identifying our own emotions and even more, so the ability to articulate them. Without emotional literacy it is easy to lose our way. Our courage to deal with the inherent weaknesses of our partnership is the heart work of engaging with the challenges of growing a relationship.
Even with emotional fluency, I often notice how easily I recede into deep self-doubt, questioning my own lovability with even the smallest reminders of my old friendships. It doesn’t work to ignore the triggered feelings of unworthiness either. Instead, I have to be singularly focused on being my own best friend. I talk to myself on the walks where I used to speak with her; of late I have even started singing my own name, like a chant calling myself back.
Extensive research has demonstrated that the single, most important attribute in successful relating is kindness; and it couldn’t be truer than with oneself. I have come to believe that being able to be kind to ourselves is the foundation of kindness we have for anyone else. In fact, until I was forced to truly become my own friend through the absence of these women, I never fully understood how valuable my own attention and kindness was- having always been so willing to give it away. It reminds me of my all-time favorite quote from the Buddha, “You, yourself, as much as anyone in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”