The last time you had a broken heart, did you spend a lot of energy wishing it hadn’t happened? Trying to fix it?
We often view having a broken heart as being a victim, whether someone else broke up with you or you lost a loved one to cancer or you moved across the country and it ended a deep relationship. I would like to submit another angle for heartbreak:
that it’s the best medicine for knowing, accepting, and loving ourselves.
It leads us to show up more as our whole self.
Most of us have layer upon layer of walls around our hearts, hence we don’t let people see us as the full human we are. We don’t even see ourselves fully. Breaking our hearts, in whatever way that happens, can cause enough of a shift to let new parts of us be revealed.
Unlearning to Close
As I write this, I’m on a plane to Mexico where I’ll be in retreat for a number of weeks and away from my loved ones for nearly three months. While this is not a new tradition for me, my relationship with being separated from loved ones and feeling heartbreak is quite different than it used to be.
Instead of pushing away the pain, I’m giving myself plenty of space to feel it. My mom and I often talk about my late stepfather who passed unexpectedly last year, and instead of trying to avoid the tears we give them the time and space to come and go.
When my former fiancé and I broke up in 2007, I did everything I could to avoid the pain. I drank a lot. I smoked cigarettes like a chimney. I spent as little time alone as I could.
What did this do for me?
One thing it did was cause me to go into distraction mode as quickly as possible anytime I found myself alone for the next year. Back then I did have a yoga practice and I was opening to being more conscious, but this was just too much.
I’ve noticed in the last two weeks while preparing for my trip that my tendency of wanting to numb to the impending pain of saying goodbye came up. Even though I’ve lived all over the world and said goodbye a lot, I wouldn’t say I’m particularly good at it. I used to have a rule that when I was moving away, no one I was close to could take me to the airport.
It was too painful.
I’d ask a casual friend instead of a family member or a partner. Yet another avoidance of the pain of heartbreak. But when my partner dropped me off this morning, I let the tears come. And come. And come.
Most of us walk around with a closed heart, afraid of what will happen if it gets touched, hurt, or worst of all, broken. But, in fact, the mystics have long said that breaking our hearts is the best way to open.
A lot of nature is encased in a hard shell and needs to be broken open to be most enjoyed. Your favorite nut? Fruit? The flower has to violently break open the seed husk in order to blossom.
The butterfly has to release its cocoon to reveal its new form.
The same is happening to you; when you reveal that soft, warm center, you’re letting yourself relearn how to open.
Sometimes it feels like it matters who broke whose heart. Did they move away, or did you? Did you pull the trigger and leave the relationship, or did they? Did you have a chance to say goodbye or have a moment of closure?
While it may feel like these things matter, to the heart learning to open, they don’t. What matters is that we let go of control in those moments of heartbreak and let ourselves feel the pain, the separation, the longing. You can even let it lead you to love yourself deeper.
I’ve had plenty of broken hearts in the last few decades. I’ve often been the “breaker-upper,” the one who broke up first or first named the problem. I’ve been engaged to be married twice and am currently in some beautiful intimate relationships. Heartbreak has found me again and again, made me surrender control again and again, and I think that’s why I choose to love so deeply and fearlessly.
It may hurt more when someone else is in control of the heartbreak, but ultimately, you’re the only one who can let go into the pain.
Yes, into. Not let go of the pain.
Let go of the resistance to feeling it and let yourself crack wide open into the deep experience of being human.
Allow Yourself to Be Seen in Your Heartbreak
Something I’m working on right now is being seen and witnessed in the mess. I’ve given myself more and more permission in the last few years to cry when I need, to throw tantrums, and to emotionally express what’s alive for me.
When I let someone know where I am and then ask them to see me – without offering advice or fixing – I build trust in myself that I’m okay. It really has nothing to do with the other person (it doesn’t matter who they are). It’s the process of being seen by another that can allow a deeper space for being accepted by myself.
The last two years for me have been an intense period of shattering and heartbreak. I fell madly in love and was broken up with…the same month my step-father suddenly passed away. In the midst of being heartbroken from the pain of grief, I was heartbroken from the pain of the loss of a relationship.
Last year I also pulled away from a few budding relationships in the midst of my heartbreak, and I’m just now seeing how much damage that caused and starting to own my responsibility in causing that harm.
Letting myself fully feel the pain that they were going through has given me the space to be compassionate to their experience instead of judge myself. And we even have repaired that hurt by letting ourselves be seen deeply. In choosing to stay open to my primary partner in all of that mess of my heartbreak, we’ve created a nearly unbreakable foundation of trust.
Letting Yourself Love Deeper
It is possible to use our previous heartbreaks to allow us to feel deeper love. Instead of closing to the pain or fear of having a broken heart, embrace that the more you shatter and the more you let go of the mechanisms to close, the deeper your capacity to love.
Love is not a container, it’s a channel.
It’s a flow that we are constantly surrounded with. Our task is to clear away what’s in the way of experiencing it. We don’t even have to find love; we just have to allow it.
I often quote Rumi’s famous saying:
“We have to keep breaking the heart until it opens.”
Following this sage advice, we don’t need to avoid the feeling of deep pain and heartbreak. We can break open. And break open. And break open. We can keep cracking the shell until we open to the full aliveness of who we are.
It’s also possible to be heartbroken in one relationship and heartful in another, to feel shattered and joyful at once. This is the delight of being human, to feel simultaneous contrasting and complex emotions.
In my experience of polyamory in the last few years, I’ve often been in very different emotional places in different relationships. One is grounded, committed, and nourishing, another is falling apart and causing me a lot of pain. One feels rocky or sticky and other feels full of ease.
Even if you’re not in open relationships, most of us have this experience with different family members, coworkers, or friendships.
Something I find helpful is to express these emotions as much as possible. Check in with your friends and partners around what there’s space for and share the pain you’re feeling in other relationships.
Let go of comparison, embrace compersion. Let go of complicated, embrace complex. Let go of needing to have it all together, embrace the mess.