Healing A Broken Heart: The Power of Pain As A Gateway for Growth
The subject of heartbreak has been a particularly recurring theme in my life at the moment, not personally- but for people I love. A few people have asked directly, and through "IG Questions" (man, I love that new tool!), and since heartbreak is something I have experience with and have used for personal transformation and growth in the past... let's dive in.
A hard quote to swallow when you’re in the depths of heartbreak, but the Truth permeates pain. Heartbreak is painful, but all pain can be a beautifully transformative experience- if you allow it.
Kintsugi (金継ぎ or "golden joinery"), is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold- and is the most beautiful metaphor for healing a broken heart. The art of filling the void with something even more precious than before honours the pain as a part of a transformation into something new. You will never be like the person you were before heartbreak- and indeed you are always in a stage of continual Becoming. Heartbreak, albeit difficult, is the ultimate tool for self-discovery, transformation, and growth.
Before delving in, I want emphasize that I’m not suggesting that the reality of the pain associated with having your heart broken isn't real, nor telling you to suppress or dismiss emotions. The pain is real- in fact, heart break is one of the deepest kinds of pain. When you let someone into your life like that, so close to your heat- you essentially become one. Sex and intimacy is the ultimate act of vulnerability. Being in a relationship, love.. it’s beautiful- and when it ends it can feel like a part of you is missing… which is a part of the problem.
TWO WHOLE BEINGS
For a relationship to be healthy, it requires two whole beings that come together and decide to share a life together. The problem I see with so many relationships today is that people come together to fulfill a part within them that is missing. For many people that gaping hole is self-love, and when they find someone that loves them, it makes them feel whole because indeed they gain a sense of self worth. Your worth should never rely on another individual because everything in life is impermanent. Yes, inevitably everything comes to an end. Whether it be a breakup or death- nothing lasts forever, and if you have placed your worth in the hands of another, you are destined for some severe pain down the line because the end of a relationship effectively rips away your sense of Self with it.
It blows my mind that we are not taught this in school. We are taught to count, to read and write… but not to cultivate a sense of self-worth and a deep, unshakable self-love. Our society in general promotes fear and separation. We are constantly taught to fear nature (natural disasters, disease), fear one another (police, military, war, government in general).. even modern day manifestations of religion are rooted in fear (confession, penance). Where is the self-empowerment? Where is the promotion of independence and self-reliance? We shelter kids instead of teaching them how to work through and overcome hardships.
Even the most conscious of relationships are not easy. We are insensately projecting our own shit onto the other person. Romantic relationships in particular are the playing ground of growth; it's like we have this person committed to us on which we can trial out all our psychoses on. The more deeply we fall in love, the more we seem to take the other for granted. Most long term relationships reach a point of unfathomable vulnerability, comfort, and yet unleash this sense of bottomless (often subconscious) fear. That fear is often the ego, entangled with all the "what if's" ...and if you're reading this, odds are one of the what if's did indeed happen, manifested in the death of a relationship... and your heart is still reeling to a degree from heart break.
The end of a relationship is an incredible opportunity for self-reflection. How have you been lying to yourself recently? What role did you play in the break-up? It can be very difficult to self-examine when the wound is still fresh, but being “the observer” is an imperative tool to cultivate in this human life, and painful experiences (like heartbreak) is an ideal time to practice.
Who is the person conscious of your own thoughts? I introduce to you: the observer. You can have a conversation with yourself, can’t you? The observer is this idea of a higher Self; someone sitting above, not thinking- but observing the thoughts. When you are overwhelmed with anything, tap into this role, and begin to observe yourself. Watch the emotions, and try to label them. In one style of meditation all that it required is to follow your breath, and when you find yourself drifting away into thought, you say to yourself “thinking”. There is no harsh judgement associated with the straying from breath, simply labeling the pattern of behaviour and observing it. Take a step back from your pain: observe it. You’re allowed to feel hurt, betrayed, upset, sad, overwhelmed.. but take a step back and simply watch the emotions. This is very useful with anxiety in general; the ability to just step back and name the thing- as a separate entity from yourself. You aren't hurt, you are experiencing hurt... there's a difference. (Learn more on this topic in a brilliant article by a Buddhism and meditation teacher Jack Kornfield at the bottom of this article.)
Another tool is to feel where the emotion is literally manifesting itself in your body. What hurts? Is the pain in your stomach? Your heart? Your throat? Follow the pain. Feel it literally there, physically. Follow it, and with deep, calm, patient breaths try and move it. Placing your bare feet onto the earth: connect with the planet and feel Her absorbing the pain into Her core. Channeling a passage of light from the heavens down into the core of the planet can enable you to send the flow of energy out of your body. Feel supported by the cosmos throughout this process- know what there is a greater Truth than the one you are currently experiencing, and that this blimp in the scheme of the vast, infinite, universe is simply providing you with strength to become more self-aware and in tune.
GETTING CHEATED On by your partner
The pain of a breakup is undoubtably compounded when you’ve been cheated on, which seems to be ever on the rise. This is the kind of pain I have dealt with personally. When I was about 19, my then boyfriend (and at the time, the love of my life) of nearly 3 years cheated on me in a drunken one-night-stand with some random chick. Boom! Without writing you too much of a novel on the details- he was genuinely distraught, and honestly (in retrospect) his pain was much, much deeper than mine. This is important to remember: the person doing the hurting always hurts more than the person who has been “hurt”. And for a good reason- that pain is a lesson. All pain is a lesson.
Despite the perhaps seemingly easier "clean break" of getting cheated on (rather than fizzling out/ more confusing, uncertain endings)- infidelity can cause a lot of long term trauma to the subconscious. I elaborated on ways in which you can actively help your body recover from trauma later in this article, and I highly suggest you partake in those exercises. No matter how little you think a traumatic experience like that has affected you (you might be consciously "over" it), we store energy in our bodies for a long time, and this energy ripples out and begins patterns our lives and impact our future relationships if we don't allow it to truly release.
Even if you have been the one cheated on, note that it takes two to tango. It's never one persons fault alone- so don't get caught up in victim mentality. Thinking the person cheating is completely at fault is just as deluded as saying that one person completely pushed the other to cheat. I will expand later with a personal example.
CHEATING ON YOUR PARTNER
If it is your infidelity that led to the end of a relationship, may I kindly suggest you do some deep introspection, and take the opportunity to better understand your Self, your priorities, your values.
Infidelity is the ultimate act of unconscious self-sabotage. This is not the time to bask in self-delusion and think that the other person somehow triggered the situation in its entirety. The only person you can control in life is yourself, the only person whose character and values you have control over are your own. If you feel that your ex-partner brought you to this place of infidelity and that it wasn't your "fault"- take this opportunity to practice self-awareness, and the need to develop your communication skills, confidence in speaking your Truth, and setting your boundaries. What kind of way to navigate life is self-sabotage instead of engaging in conscious, mature, transformative conversations? If you are not happy in a relationship- you have the opportunity to speak your Truth, to grow, and to embody was love truly is: honesty and compassion.
This is not, however, the time to loath or hate yourself. Firstly, takes two to tango. No breakup between two beings is ever caused solely by one person. If being unfaithful has shook your perception of your Self as a person, take a step back and be the observer in the situation as well. Did you deal with the situation in the most appropriate, mature, compassionate way? Well, absolutely not. But like anything in life, errors are only errors if we fail to learn from them. How could you have done better? How can you take this opportunity to be a better lover and partner in the future?
Out of my own personal experience (being cheated on), my ex was truly... and I mean truly, devastated by his own actions. Having seen infidelity in his own parents' relationship, he had told himself that he was not this kind of person. I'm going to let you in on a secret: we are all every kind of person. There is no such thing as a good person and a bad person. Love and fear simultaneously permeate our being, we are all made from darkness and from light. Don't let a single act define you- ever. We are more than the sum of our actions, our words, and even our thoughts. Each act is an opportunity to recalibrate your Self and choose the path on which you will walk moving forward. Let infidelity or error pave the way for you to better understand your role in a relationship, and what you need to find balance within one.
PAIN IS PAIN
A relationship that ends without the cheating factor can almost be more hurtful in the long run, because it often leaves a lot of unanswered questions. No matter the circumstances that a relationship ends in, there is a lot of adjustment and change- which is not easy for most people.
A stagnant life is synonymous with disease and essentially death in ancient healing modalities like traditional Chinese medicine. Although change is painful- allow the pain to act as a gateway for personal growth and transformation. Will it be easy? Probably not. But change and growth requires death. For something to blossom, something else must decay. A butterfly must shed its previous catipillar body before it can learn to fly. A seed must shed its concept of self before it can blossom into a flower. Life does not give you more than you can handle: the most painful the situation, the more powerful the transformation.
IT TAKES TWO
I'm going to start by tearing this quote a new one because A) nobody is "yours" - ever. People don't belong to anyone but themselves; and B) the end of a relationship doesn't dismiss the truth and beauty of the past. It's important to really understand that... that even in the most terrible and heart wrenching of breakups: the good times and the love that was is no less real. Time is never wasted, and "mistakes" are never to be regretted- because we chased and lived an experience that we wanted at the time, and following your heart is what enabling you to become a greater version of yourself.
That being said- if you love someone: do set them free. For love to be "real", it take two people coming together in union, giving themselves to the other, moment to moment. Love isn't about possession of the other person, even within the confines of a marriage. If one person is no longer happy, neither should be wanting to remain in a relationship. How can you claim to "love" another person if you want to keep them in a situation against their will? Selfish love isn't real love, it's the manifestation of insecurity and pain, of loneliness and fear. What kind of lover are you?
BEGIN TO HEAL
1. Write a letter to your Self
Whether the break up was a day ago or a year ago- writing a letter to the person you were when it happened is an incredible way to heal and gain perspective on the situation. We are always transforming; with every experience (and with every breath) we are ever becoming a fuller version of ourselves. Write a letter to the person who underwent heartbreak. Speak to them, advise them, love them. Learn to treat your Self like you would your own child, speak to that version of yourself from a place of love and compassion. Advise them, guide them. Don’t overthink it, don’t plan it, just start writing.
More than anything, take the opportunity to forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for all the mistakes, the things you could gave done better, the times you could have loved stronger, been more patient, or been less of an asshole. Relationships bring out the best and the worst in us, they truly are the most incredible platforms for growth. In acknowledging the role you played in the heartbreak (no matter how evil), forgive yourself wholeheartedly for it.
2. Write a letter to your ex-partner (knowing you are never going to send it)
This exercise is deeply, deeply healing. It is very hard (nay, impossible) to be your authentic self in a relationship, because we have infinite versions of ourselves. Sometimes we are patient, sometimes frustrated, sometimes extrovert, or introvert, sad, happy.. and so on. We are cyclical, fluid beings.We get this idea that we are one thing, and yet we really aren’t. So often we try to portray this “best” version of ourselves to our partners, and don’t always communicate our inner most thoughts- out of fear they might think less of us. A great example of this is the notion that when we’re in a committed relationship, we are not attracted to anyone else. How absurd! By trying to be the “perfect” partner, we entertain these self-delusions, which often results in not being completely honest with the other person. Take this opportunity to write in absolute transparency how you felt about the relationship, about the breakup.
Let me be very honest and vulnerable about my own experience, and how this exercise helped heal me personally:
When I was in a long term relationship, and left for university (turning it into a long distance relationship)- a part of me wanted to be single. A bigger part of me didn’t, and so I was faithful, and never broached the subject of breaking up. We had been in a relationship for a long time, and being 18 or 19 (experiencing university and living away from home for the first time), I also longed for freedom. We never discussed this because I loved him, I didn’t want to hurt him, and I wasn’t self-aware or conscious enough to every truly acknowledge the power or true honesty within a relationship. So this feeling of wanting freedom slowly began to manifest itself in subtle ways. This triggered jealousy, which grew into animosity between us. I, of course, denied any part in creating this dynamic- claiming whole heartedly that I loved him (which I did), but took no ownership of the part I played in the resentment that began to build the longer we were apart.
When he cheated on me, it really shook my world. My notion of trust, and faith, and love were shaken- but part of me was also relieved. Part of me had always wanted this freedom, and although my heart ached, I also felt relief that I didn’t have to do the hurting.
Writing a letter to him and apologizing for the role I played in our break up (a letter I never sent, nor ever had the intention of sending) enabled me to really express all these things for the first time... it made them real. It set them free. It felt like I had taken a breath of fresh air for the first time in my life. Note that I wrote this letter in 2016, and we had broken up around 2010. Our relationship had not been on my mind in years, truly. I stopped having feelings for him nearly six years prior, had completely moved on, and had even been in love since. But the exercise released pain that had been stored in my body from many, many years ago. I truly believe we store pain that we are not capable of processing at the time; and we live in a society with no rituals of sacred release of deep traumatic pain. I suggest you write this letter to an ex no matter how long ago it was, and no longer how "moved on" you (think) you are. There is always some degree of subconscious healing to do.
This letter is less about playing the blame game, and more about taking ownership of your own role in the dynamic. Free yourself from the bullshit that there is a good guy and a bad guy. You surely have already expressed yourself directly to the person and told them all the ways in which they have done wrong by you, or how they could have done better- but rarely do we speak up and acknowledge the ways in which we partook in the pain. Everything you express in this letter should come from the notion of "I" (I did, I think, I feel)- you can never know the true intention of another being, projecting your own perception will do nothing but further harm the relationship.
Definitely also allow this letter to highlight the ways in which you have been hurt. I find it extremely difficult to really express my pain to another human being in the moment, face to face. Despite my somewhat decent ability to write and express myself in my own mind, I also get quite choked up when it comes to speaking from my heart directly to another human being. Writing enables you to connect to your heart without the aspect of confrontation.
One last thing goal for this letter is to forgive the person. It might sound impossible... but try. Connect to a time where you loved them, where things were good, remember that person, because that person is still in there. Remember that all people have a spark of divinity, and that the line between good and evil runs between each and every human heart. No matter how evil they were to you, forgiveness is what will set you free. By forgiving, you teach people how to love, and you teach your Self that true love is possible.
I linked to a video at the bottom of this article featuring a woman (Eva Mozes Kor) that survived not only the horrors of Auschwitz concentration camps, but also the "Twin Experiment" torture. Her story about forgiveness is one of the most beautiful things I have ever watched, and might help give perspective with forgiveness in your own life. Another video down below will guide you through a forgiveness meditation led by Buddhist Jack Kornfield.
Once you have written the letter: burn it. Turn this into a sacred ritual; find somewhere quiet, peaceful (preferably outside) and release the pain of the relationship as you watch the letter burn. Send the person love, forgive them.
3. Honesty & communication: Speak From the Heart
Now consider writing a letter to your ex-partner with the actual intention of sending it. Whether this be a long text, a Facebook inbox, an e-mail, or an actual letter- expressing yourself once the dust has settled is a great way to get closure. You need to embark in this with no expectations of a response; the healing happens truly from you conveying what you feel and know that no matter what ensues from it- the only thing you expect out of it is just to be heard. Do not try to manipulate the other person with your words, this happens so often and is detrimental to your mental wellbeing. I really believe that the Truth is the utmost important pursuit in life, because if you cannot be honest with others, how on earth do you expect your Self to trust anyone? If your own intention can’t be trusted, you will be incapable of ever trusting another. Real relationships are built on trust, and although you cannot ever control another beings actions- your own integrity is something nobody can take from you.
Like exercise no.1, you should really try to take ownership of your role in the breakup. I don’t ever believe break ups are one sided, even if the relationship ended in infidelity towards you- you likely played a role to some degree in pushing this person to a place where they no longer felt the need to be faithful (or at least a role in being absent minded enough not to notice the dynamic between the two of you). Acknowledging the role you played in the problem opens the door for an honest conversation, and if you want to heal you need to get real about the situation. Again: everything you express in this letter should come from the notion of "I" (I did, I think, I feel)- you can never know the true intention of another being, projecting your own perception will do nothing but further harm the relationship.
If you have trouble expressing yourself, or find yourself often arguing in heated situations- I highly recommend reading Marshall Rosenberg’s “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships”. In fact, everyone should read this book. More often than not we are not truly expressing our wants and needs to other people, and yet we expect them to satisfy them. Learning to properly communicate is an integral part of being human- and this book is the Bible of communication.
4. write, don't think
Journaling (writing) in general (with no specific format like a letter) has been one of the most transformative habits in my life. I do not do it regularly at the moment (although I am writing and expressing myself a lot in the public realm through this website), but it has helped me immensely in the past- and will surely again in the future.
Writing does something really special that I (ironically) can't even properly put into words. Firstly, it helps you organize your emotions, which otherwise can just free flow and manifest into sensations of overwhelm and anxiety. But writing does more than that; it offers an outlet of release. Release provides real ease. Whenever I'm going through a big transition or begin to feel overwhelmed/ am feeling off-centerer: I get back into journaling. Pen to paper triggers this flow of energy from inside the body out onto paper- it is truly magical to witness.
Another beautiful aspect of writing in a journal is the ability to look back on stages of your life. I glance back at my own journal every so often and it essentially makes me cry- I find so much love and compassion for myself as I travel through different stages of my life. Looking back on pain or hardship like that in written form really helps you be "the observer" because you can see so clearly how much you have changed, grown, transformed.
Writing is brilliant, but try not to over think the relationship in your own head. Writing is like a flow of energy that leaves the body- thinking is more of a fermenting process that tends to spiral in every which direction... and generally just amplifies the problem. Compulsive repetitive thoughts in Buddhism are known as samsara- the Sanskrit work for circular. It generally refers to the wheel of life, in which people are re-born into suffering until they break free from the shackles of their own unconscious mind. This same concept applies to you from moment to moment: we are perpetually being reborn with every thought; perspective can transform your entire existence (death, and rebirth) in the blink of an eye.
Whether you are writing (or trying not to think), never make assumptions about the other persons intentions, feelings, or beliefs. As soon as you catch yourself telling a story regarding what the other person was thinking or is thinking- stop. Stop it right in its tracks, and honestly try to laugh it off. What an absurd task to try and figure out what someone else is thinking when we barely know ourselves enough to predict our own moods, thoughts, and emotions.
The end of a relationship can shake the core of even a very conscious being- and self-worth is your ticket out of this pain. Not only that but it will also prevent you from feeling as much hurt next time something is taken from you in life. Whether it be losing a job, or the end of a relationship- knowing that your worth as a human being is independent of anything else is so important. We are more than the things we do, the things we say, or the people we spend time with. You are a soul having a human experience, and simply because something has ended, you are no less of a person.
Cultivating self-love requires practice, no different than any other skill. You cannot expect to wake up run a marathon without having learnt to walk first. In a society so rooted in fear, marketing lies, media bullshit, and the idolizing of celebrity and super models, trust me: most of us are still in the crawling stages in the marathon of self-love.
WAYS TO DEVELOP SELF-WORTH/ SELF-LOVE
Keeping social media in check
Human connection/ touch
I went in depth on these points in my recent article “Tips to Tackle Anxiety and Depression Without Medication” which you can read HERE.
I also believe nudity is one of the most powerful catalysts to cultivate self-love, read more HERE.
6. Change your routine
When we are in a relationship, it is heaps common to get in a regular routine with our partner. Simply removing a human being and continuing on with this routine can be painfully difficult... so switch things up. Take the opportunity to break free from repetitive conditioning, try something new. What aspects of yourself did you lose while in a relationship? Perhaps its time to start exercising again, pick up a new hobby, or reconnect with a friend you lost touch with... or maybe it's time to take that trip to the other side of the world you've been dreaming of. Don't run away from your problems, but definitely run towards opportunities you felt incapable of or didn't take advantage of while in a relationship.
7. Stay Single
This is a big one, and one that many many people ignore. I don't think it is healthy to be in a relationship with another person if you feel like you need to be. Jumping from one relationship to another is problematic for a few reasons. First of all, it doesn't allow you time to grieve or heal. Everyone heals in their own time (and truthfully, it can happen in a day... or in a single second), but for the most part I often see people fill the void of loneliness and heartbreak with another relationship without addressing the pain they just went through. By just replacing one relationship with another, you probably haven't cultivated this idea of wholeness as an individual either. The biggest gift of heartbreak is the opportunity to get to know your Self as an individual.
You are in a relationship your entire life: a relationship with your Self. Spend time alone, travel, bask in your loneliness. Something magic happens when you cultivate the ability to be alone, but not lonely. I truly believe that life begins when you develop this skill. By finding wholeness being alone, you are able to show up for others. You become a better child, a better parent, a better friend, a better lover. Get to know your Self, find love for this Being.
Fundamentally, pain is always a platform for growth. I truly believe that this is the single most valuable lesson in life, and cultivating the ability to really, truly understand it will set you free. It doesn't mean you will no longer feel dark emotions- it simply reframes your perspective and enables you to see the beauty of darkness, and its ability to help you grow.
When I was younger, I ran from darkness. I suppressed it or distracted myself from it. Today, I sit with it; I ask myself what lesson I am currently learning, how these conventionally "bad" feelings (like pain, heartache, sadness, overwhelm, or anxiety) are teaching me how to navigate life more clearly, with move love, and more compassion. Take this blessed gift of heartbreak and become the alchemist hero of your own story: turn the pain into love... fill the cracks with gold.
I invite you to join me, on this journey of Self discovery. It won't always be easy, but damn- will it ever be beautiful.
Here are a few added resources that inspired my own path, that you may want to explore to dive deeper.
1. Aforementioned, I think everyone should read Marshall Rosenberg’s “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships”. This book is an invaluable tool to develop yourself and will transform the way you interact not only with a partner, but all relationships in your life (friendships, colleagues, bosses, employees, everything).
2. Louise Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life” is a beautiful, short, read on the power of mantras. It is very woo-woo, but has had a profound impact on me and many people I know.
3. Abraham Hicks is a powerful tool if you resonate with the methodology. Hicks channels higher consciousness, and the information she speaks truly has blown my mind. I first discovered her when I was living in Australia, in a very transitional time in my life. The format is always Q&A- Hicks will sit on a stage and the audience asks questions, she then channels this consciousness and answers the question. You can search on YouTube "Abraham Hicks on *insert subject*"; I have found deep deep wisdom from all "her" answers. It might take you a couple of listens to understand the lingo (words like vortex, etc) but if you dig it, you will really dig it. Her particular spiel on heartbreak (which I actually only looked up for the purpose of this article) is below:
4. Reading any book on mindfulness, consciousness, equanimity, buddhist teachings of love and compassion will help you through tough times (heartbreak) and guide you in ways you can transform hardship into growth. Particular goodies are:
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
Be Love Now: The Path of the Heart by Ram Dass
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche (more advanced read)
The Bhagavad Gita as introduced and translated by Eknath Easwaran (more advanced read)
5. Here is the aforementioned video that features Eva Mozes Kor, (who along with her twin) was the subject of experiments by Dr. Joseph Mengele during the Holocaust. A powerful message on how forgiveness is freedom.