February 12, 2012

Tending a Broken Heart on Valentine’s Day: Lessons of Love and Compassion

Photo: soulbounce
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, instead of buying flowers and making dinner reservations, I find myself feeling the pangs of a broken relationship. But even with this heartbreak, I’ve found more love than I could imagine. And it is all because of pain.

Sometimes, pain is our most important teacher.

It takes on many forms: physical, emotional, existential, spiritual, the list goes on. Yet regardless of the different shapes it takes, pain is always the same. It eats at the core and it sinks down low. It is blue and hollow, victimized and regretful. Pain is a horrible feeling that is relaying a message to the inflicted. At the most basic level it yells “STOP!” Take your hand off the kettle, take pressure off your ankle, let go of the thumbtack. It alerts us to safety when we are in danger. In physical form, its tangibility clearly denotes the necessity of pain. But what about the less palpable pains?

What about heartbreak? What about depression? What about fear and failure? These are all forms of pain and they all hurt—sometimes more than physical pain. What are the messages of these non-material sufferings? What is pain telling me when my heart is broken?

Photo: raichinger

It is telling me the same message: “Stop!” Something in my life is causing me harm and I need to pay attention to it. This stress is taxing my energy and causing friction, so much friction that pain must speak up.

In all honesty, I am going through a lot of pain. Break ups are never easy, nor are the ones you wish didn’t happen. As easy as some make it seem, separation is always tough. However, it is nothing new and the outcome will always be positive because, as they say, life goes on. What I would rather discuss is not the details of my situation, but the process of pain.  I find that too often I speed through the painful moments in order to reach happiness. This neglect of hurt has denied me valuable lessons. Lessons that one can only receive in true moments of despair.

Compassion, humility, surrender, and self-realization are but a few of the values of pain. In these low spots, we learn how far we are able to go. In our distance, we understand our ability to live. We can surmount to anything, even the depths of our inner hells. Without pain, we would know nothing of the extent of our life. Without pain, we would never know how lucky we are to feel happiness.

Photo: kslyesmith

A great friend of mine shared with me a wonderful quote:

“Suffering shows us the depth of our compassion.”

At first I nodded along, trying to intellectualize the idea. But I quickly chalked it up to another one of those new-age axioms; a mix-match of words that looked eloquent and fitting, but meant nothing more than their individual components. How wrong was I. This simple sentence is the solution to human suffering.

In our deepest, darkest moments we learn the feeling of suffering. In this realization, we understand what others in similar positions also feel. Through this empathy, we show compassion, lending a hand to those who suffer. In our most intense moments of pain, we create our greatest capacity for compassion, for love. Without pain, the fullest extent of love would never be revealed.

So this is great and all, but what about during the process of being hurt? Well, the only advice I can give is what I am attempting to do now: bask in it. For the most part, pain is a guest that rarely frequents my home. It has surely come to its fair share of dinners, but in general, I have avoided it magnificently. Only recently has it returned knocking on my door. What’s different this time is that I have unlatched the latches, and unbolted the bolts. I am even holding the door open and setting another place at the table. The way I see it, my guest has come to teach me something and I am going to learn.

Photo: raichinger

Without a doubt, I can choose to tune out its stories, lament its lectures, and avoid its wisdom, but in the end where does this leave me? In the same position from which I began. And you know what happens when you don’t learn something the first time; you repeat it until you do. And as much as I love having guests over, I wouldn’t mind saying adieu to pain.

So this Valentine’s Day, enjoy the love you feel, whether it is with another, yourself, or your pain, for each have invaluable lessons to give and neither of them the same (like that rhyme? totally unplanned).

Happy Valentine’s Day and much love.

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