When I set out to write my latest book, Love Hurts, I knew it would be important to share more than just my personal experiences with romantic heartbreak. So I set up a slew of appointments where others could meet with me to share their stories, too. I thought I would end up hearing a lot about recent breakups, but turns out, heartache is vaster than that. When we see injustice in our society, we feel heartbroken. When we have a falling out with a friend, we feel heartbroken. And yes, when we break up with someone, go through a divorce, lose the love of our life, or simply feel disappointed by the person we’re dating, we feel heartbroken.
Heartbreak comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s a slight pain where we feel tender and vulnerable around others. Sometimes it knocks us to our knees and we sincerely believe that we will never get back up again. There are a thousand shades of grey in between, as heartbreak is a catch-all term that includes depression, loss of appetite, anger, insomnia, guilt, relief, and more.
You’re probably thinking, “Enough already! When are you getting to the cure for all this pain?!” Well, I’ve been dancing around it for a reason. You’re going to hate me for saying this, but you already know the cure. It’s summed up in the old adage, “Time heals all wounds.” In my research and in my personal experience, I’ve found that heartbreak does not subscribe to our timetable. It has no regard for our personal calendar. We can’t just clear a week, sob in our beds, then wake up exactly 168 hours later and say, “All better!”
When we have our heart broken, it’s like boarding a rollercoaster. We have moments when we’re way up high, feeling like we can conquer anything, totally able to re-enter our normal life and habits and then a moment later we’re plunging down into despair and can’t stop hitting “Next Episode” on our Netflix-binge. The thing about this rollercoaster is that we have no control of when it ends. Even if we eyeballed it and thought it would take a month, it might take 10 or it might be over in a few days.
The only thing we do have control over is how we experience the pain. Do we shut down and ignore our emotions? Do we try every distraction imaginable? Or do we actually sit in that devastating, life-changing experience and feel whatever the hell it is we’re feeling? That last one there is the quickest way to move through our heartbreak, guaranteed.
So this is the good news about the “time heals” cliché: You do actually heal. Through staying with our emotions, we realize they are more ephemeral than we might have suspected. In my book, I describe this in a chapter entitled “If You Think You’ll Never Love Again.” In it, I tell my personal story about when I felt this way and shared how a friend called me and snapped me out of it. I was wallowing about how I would never find “the one.” He pointed out that I might not. I might find one person I want to spend the rest of my life with or I might find many people who I love romantically or even as friends. “But you’ll love again,” he said. That he was able to guarantee.
Here’s the kicker: At the end of that chapter of my book, I offered my email address with the promise that if someone emailed me with the subject-line “I Will Never Love Again” and included their phone number in the body of that email that I would call them and give them a similar pep talk. Love Hurts came out in mid-December and for the few months since, I’m calling someone new almost every single day.
When I do, I simply share the good news that you will heal. The beautiful truth about impermanence is that it means that even the bad stuff changes. Our seemingly negative emotions are temporary; they morph and, ultimately, fade. We may not heal in the timeframe we had hoped. It definitely won’t look like the path we expected to take. And we may even walk away with some scars. But the wide open wounds that we felt when we’re in the bottom of the rollercoaster wallowing in heartbreak…yeah, they heal on up, and much quicker if we give our emotional states the space and attention they deserve.
Why? Because love is innate to who we are. I was raised in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition and have been teaching within it for the last 16 years now. It’s not only Buddhist philosophy, but my own experience that love is a part of us. When we get out of our messy, storyline-driven, speedy and self-aggressive mindset and relax for even a moment, we touch on love. We touch on peace. We touch on something deep within us that is calm. That is who we are. Every single one of us. It’s our birthright.
This peaceful state has been called many things, even within Buddhism. Sometimes it’s called tathagata-garba, or Buddha-nature. Sometimes it’s called basic goodness. Sometimes it’s called inherent wakefulness. From it springs limitless, boundless love and that is who we fundamentally are—not the pain and suffering swirling around in our minds sometimes.
When you put your heart on the table and someone comes by with a hammer and smashes it, you will likely scoop back in your innards, armor up, and protect your heart. But love is in there, with a Brillo pad, scrubbing away at that armor over time. It may be weeks or years, but at some point, the armor gets worn away and love shines through once more.
Heartbreak is painful. It’s so aptly named: It can feel like your heart is physically breaking. But moment-by-moment you’re experiencing the cure for it. You’re able to look at your emotional states, staying with them to the best of your ability, and you can let time do its work. While it’s great to know that you will heal, what’s better is that your love never goes anywhere. It’s just beneath the surface waiting to come out and play anew.