When I was younger, especially in my early 20s, I didn’t know what to do with my broken heart.
In fact, it was even shocking to end up feeling hurt and rejected when all I wanted—and expected—was happiness.
It is true that the older we grow, the wiser we become. When we’re kids, we’re likely to be naive and a little bit too hopeful—especially when it comes to matters of the heart. However, with years and wrinkles, we tend to lean more toward hopelessness.
We miss the naivety we had, the innocent ignorance, and the days when we thought our hearts could never break—because the people we love would never disappoint us. We miss hope because whether we like to admit it or not, despair lives at the core of everyone’s heart.
We search for hope like a little child looking for their mother. Especially when we’re brokenhearted, dejection sets up a tent in our veins—the same veins that have loved people…and lost them.
Heartbreak is ugly. Just like grief, it never really goes away. Even when a smile appears on our face, even when we’ve moved on and started a whole new life, even if we reassure everyone we’re okay, deep within our souls, you’ll find a bruise that will always be slightly bleeding.
What I have repeatedly loved and respected about Buddhism is the recognition of wounds. When I was first introduced to Buddhism, it felt as if someone was being completely honest with me—for the first time ever. “Look, Elyane, we’re all going to die, we’re all going to get sick, we’re all going to grow old…and we’re all going to get hurt.”
Ha! At last (and thanks to Buddhism), I have opened my eyes. I realized that suffering is an integral part of life, that pain is indeed inescapable, and that some wounds may, in fact, never close. But, is that it? Did the Buddha merely tell us we’re going to suffer and then disappear off the face of the earth without giving us any solutions?
Luckily, he didn’t. He meditated for years and years, and through his teachings, he reassured his disciples (and us—today and every day) that there’s always a way.
Needless to say, we can’t see that “way” when we’re in the midst of pain. Despair sinks deeper into our hearts, and all we can focus on is our object of hurt. But the Buddha, thankfully, realized that everything changes.
“Things might last for the duration of your experience of this existence, or even into the next generation; but then again, they may dissolve sooner than you expect. Either way, eventual change is inevitable. There is no degree of probability or chance involved. If you feel hopeless, remember this and you will no longer have a reason to be hopeless, because whatever is causing you to despair will also change. Everything must change.” ~ Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
“There is no degree of probability or chance involved.” Regardless of our current, intense emotions, eventually, they will subside, and one day, they will disappear. The wound, however, might never go away, and this is something that the Buddha has also acknowledged.
Buddhism acknowledges the presence of suffering and the fact that we might never be able to escape it. Just like we can’t escape death, we can’t escape our wounds. However, we can learn to cope with them, accept them, breathe into them, and realize that they can’t stop us from living our best lives.
The Buddha taught that in order to live our best lives, to not be dragged by hatred, jealousy, and animosity, we have to keep an open heart. And I believe this is the most difficult part when it comes to healing a heartbreak: forgiveness.
In Buddhism, they call the person with an open, forgiving heart a Bodhisattva. One of the ways to attain inner peace, happiness, nirvana, and freedom is through compassion and awareness—two things we struggle with when we’re heartbroken. We find it difficult to be compassionate toward those who have hurt us and we can hardly be aware that worldly attachments make us suffer even more.
The Buddha promised us that if we walk this life with compassion (read: maitri), we can better deal with whatever comes up in our life. We can better deal with hurt, pain, and loss. We can move on knowing that the person who has caused us pain is also dealing with their own pain, that they don’t know better, that, deep inside, they’re inherently good, and that holding a grudge or wishing them ill can never solve anything.
This is how to deal with a heartbreak. Through letting our emotions come and go, through acknowledging our pain, through considering the impermanent nature of our painful feelings, and through wishing the other person well, we can let our heartbreak be.
“A beautiful girl in the village was pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who was the father. At first resistant to confess, the anxious and embarrassed girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master whom everyone previously revered for living such a pure life. When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter’s accusation, he simply replied ‘Is that so?’
When the child was born, the parents brought it to the Hakuin, who now was viewed as a pariah by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility. ‘Is that so?’ Hakuin said calmly as he accepted the child.
For many months he took very good care of the child until the daughter could no longer withstand the lie she had told. She confessed that the real father was a young man in the village whom she had tried to protect. The parents immediately went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby. With profuse apologies they explained what had happened. ‘Is that so?’ Hakuin said as he handed them the child.”
Like Master Hakuin, we should learn to live with what comes up without letting painful situations take a toll. Give them the time and space to grow, fluctuate, disappear, reappear, vanish. And the next time you’re heartbroken, remember this mantra, “Is that so?”