The Zen master Suzuki Roshi was once asked by a student to summarise all of Buddhism in one phrase. He looked up and bluntly said, “Everything changes.” Then he moved on to the next question.
This pain you feel? It’s not always going to be like it is right now. I promise you. It will shift and change and likely dull in a big way. While writing my book Love Hurts, I met with a woman who spoke about her heartbreak over the death of her father. “The pain will change I know,” she said. “Time and talking. Those are the two things that help.” We all have heard this though, right? That time heals all wounds? I’m not going to say that to you.
Here is what I have found, particularly having lost major loves of my life, familial, romantic, and otherwise: time changes our wounds. Some may heal entirely. Others we may continue to reflect on daily or weekly and wish they would effing heal already, but don’t. They remain, but we don’t become as devastated by them each time we reflect. Eventually we may notice that wound and think, “Oh, that old scar? I got it in my divorce/the death of my dad/the first time I was cheated on” and almost smile. Almost.
Another thing Suzuki Roshi once said was, “Life is like stepping into a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink.” All aspects of our life, including our relationships, are like that, and for that I am sorry. Me saying that Buddhists believe that everything is impermanent is a bit like me saying Buddhists believe that water is wet. It is simply the truth. If you disagree, I invite you to go out and find one thing (one thing!) that does not change in any way. The seasons change. Our work changes. Our bodies change. In fact, it’s said that all of the cells in our bodies die and are replaced gradually over seven-year cycles so that every seven years we’re a whole new being.
Day in, day out, you know you change. You know more than you did a few years ago. You’ve had different experiences. You have new weird eccentricities you didn’t have before. To think that you are this one, unchanging being would be a fallacy. Here’s the messed up thing: most of us take our ever-changing self and partner it to another ever-changing being, entering into an ever-changing romantic relationship, and think that all three of those things are supposed to come together in a way that is permanent and stable. It’s like multiplying impermanence times three and thinking we’re going to find everlasting happiness. In some sense, it’s foolish of us to think that we will go out and meet “the one” and will live happily ever after, based on how much everything morphs over time.
Here are the three main ways relationships end: breakups, divorce (that is, advanced-level breakup), and death (that is, master-level breakup). This impermanence isn’t just a romantic thing - this can be mapped to friends, family members, cherished pets, and more. As soon as we enter into a relationship with another being we are boarding a ship that will, eventually, sink. Again, I’m sorry.
Knowing how painful these endings can be, here is what I wish for you: you enter into a large number of beautiful relationships that you cherish for years. I wish that they only end when you all are separately on planes with no mobile service and suffer very quick and painless deaths not knowing that your loved ones are also dying at the same time. That way you don’t know that they are dying and you are spared that pain, while they too are spared the pain of knowing you died. This is as good as I can hope for you, but given our options it’s not too bad. Did I mention I’m sorry?
4 questions to ask yourself
When people met with me for heartbreak appointments, I would sit with them but only ask four questions. Sometimes I would only ask the first one and that would take the full 20 minutes we had together. Often I only got to ask the first two. That was still enough for the person I was sitting with in terms of them moving past the intellectual understanding of heartbreak and getting to the core of what they were experiencing, which thankfully can be cathartic. When given the opportunity to speak and know that they would be fully seen and heard, people didn’t need much encouragement; they could go on at length, ultimately moving into their own wisdom around their experience of heartbreak.
I encourage you to go on at length with these same four questions. Start by grabbing a pen and paper, opening up your computer, or (if you prefer) just speaking the answers to these questions aloud. You can focus on the answer to the first question for longer than the others. Tell your full story, or stories, as much as you would like. It is helpful to declare and thus own our stories. No one else needs to see your answer. In fact, I recommend not showing it to anyone. That way you are writing (or speaking) just for your benefit, without the concern of wondering whether it will sound good to anyone else.
After the first question, put the pen down, close the laptop, or just stop speaking. Sit up straight. Raise your gaze to the horizon. Rest your mind for a moment. Then engage the second question. Repeat this process for the final two questions as well.
1. What is your experience of heartbreak?
2. How are you feeling … right now?
3. What can you do to take care of yourself in the midst of heartbreak?
4. What is one thing you can do today to take care of yourself?
From Love Hurts, © 2016 by Lodro Rinzler. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. www.shambhala.com