Like clock-work once a week I receive an email from someone who is going through a break up and asking for advice on how to maintain an open heart.
First off, I’m sorry to hear your relationship ended.
While any student of Buddhism may quote to you that the reality of impermanence is a bitch, it’s a whole other thing to feel the loss of a relationship. I empathize and know that pain. If you have been with someone for months, or even years, and they simply disappear from your life, it can leave an empty hole which is hard to fill.
I think my first piece of advice would be to treat yourself with incredible gentleness and take the time you need to mourn the loss of your relationship. We all have our own ways of reacting to a break up. Some people like to aggressively drink, some like to have rebound hook ups, others like to hide out in their bed and ignore the fact that their lover is no longer with them. However, at the core of these responses are the root emotions that keep us trapped in suffering: aggression, passion and ignorance.
A way to counter-act that level of perpetuating suffering is to give yourself a lot of space to simply feel what you are feeling. Emotions don’t have to be riptides we get lost in; they can wash over us like waves. If you still feel love for your ex, then let that love wash over you. If you feel anger, allow that to wash over you. If you feel guilt, let that wash over you. The more you allow the emotions you are currently feeling to rise up, without kicking and screaming against them, the more refreshed you will feel when they pass.
If the primary thing you are feeling is love for your ex, then love your ex. Explore what that means to you at this point. Be curious about your experience. Is it the same sort of love that existed when you first started dating? Is it the same love that existed when you got into that all-night fight and you crashed on the couch? The more you explore how you feel and how you have felt in the past the more you may realize that love, like all emotions, is a very fluid thing.
I am always astounded by people who have loved one another as friends for years and then end up becoming romantically involved. It’s like they had one way of relating to each other and then they just did a slide to the right, and all of a sudden, romantic love bloomed. Perhaps later on down the road they might slide further and deepen their love and get married. Or maybe they slide in a different direction and break up. That love may dissipate or change, but that does not mean that it did not exist, in a relative way, at one time, and was valuable for both of them.
In other words, you don’t have to layer concepts of how to define a relationship with another being to love them in some way. You can just practice being in love.
Without going too hippie on you, I’m a firm believer that the more we open our hearts to others—including those who have wronged us, broken our hearts or at times left us paralyzed with grief—the greater chance we have at achieving enlightenment.
To keep an open heart in a difficult time is the greatest and most rewarding challenge of all.
To keep your ex in your heart may be scary, but you have to remember that we all love love. To receive or give it, even in the midst of your own heart-ache or feeling of loss, is an incredible gift.
*This piece was adapted from one originally published on the Huffington Post.
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