He told me I was the first person in years he had opened his heart to, that he fully accepted me as I was, and that he would always love me. We both agreed my hesitation was due to my past wounding, that I shut down out of fear, and that we would heal together through honesty, forgiveness, and staying friends no matter what. As the pain of little moments of neglect, small words of insensitivity, and superficial incompatibilities mounted, walking away felt to me like self-preservation. It also felt like a betrayal – of the friendship we had promised each other, of his unrequited unconditional love, and of my own opportunity for a heart-centered partnership.
As the dust settled, I was left with an incoherent pile of rubble and I felt the twisting sensation in my heart that is undeniably grief. Something had clearly been demolished, but I struggled to understand exactly what had been lost. I replayed conversations in my mind over and over, I asked others for their impressions, I dreamed of being reunited, I shouted in rage, and I wept in heart-break and self-hatred. I scavenged, aimless and frantic, feeling as though my sense of self depended on something I could take with me, a story I could tell that was both true and hopeful. Had I been cold-hearted or was his love more conditional than either one of us realized? Did my concerns create unnecessary barriers or did they validate my fundamental sense of being unsafe? Was my unwillingness to remain friends my failure of compassion or my courage in admitting our mutual lack of compatibility?
In “Rising Strong”, Brene Brown defines heart-break as a loss, physically or conceptually, or something unique in a person, place, thing, or idea that we have given our hearts to. It differs from general grief in that it is about love and belonging. We spend so much time denying our loss because to acknowledge heart-break is to admit that grief is inevitable, and grief is the feeling we fear most – one we are least equipped to deal with personally and culturally. Understanding three main components of grief can help face the journey through it.
- Loss: Our loss may be of a physical place or person, or an idea related to what could have been or what we thought we understood about something or someone.
- Longing: Our involuntary yearning for wholeness, to touch what we’ve lost, which we often hide from others due to fear of being misunderstood or perceived as lacking resilience or fortitude.
- Feeling Lost: Our disorientation physically, emotionally, and socially as we work, often through story, to bring ourselves back together.
My loss was not of who he was. A deep knowing in me had always recognized our limitations as partners. My loss was of those moments when I really believed we might make it, when he expressed kindnesses that reached deep as balm into old wounds, when we shared moments of play and laughter that lit up an especially challenging time in my life. In walking away from our relationship, I lost the precious belief that a soul connection is all real love needs in order to survive. I lost my belief that your bond gets stronger the more you suffer and the more times you forgive. I lost my belief that I can love someone body and soul without condition. And I finally lost the belief that was hanging on by just a thread that if someone believes they love you, they’ll be able to do what it takes to show it and that will be enough.
My longing for wholeness, my shame at returning to what I lost despite knowing it was right to leave, and my sense of disorientation was exacerbated by losing my community at the same time. There was so much that was said by our leaders that I wanted to believe so badly, because on the best days, just like my relationship, it was the best I’d ever had. I felt radiantly at peace, in flow with my life purpose, and a powerful sense of possibility and fortitude. But when it was bad, I felt more desperate, isolated, and vulnerable than I had ever felt before.
When grief makes itself known – the twisting, gut-wrenched, chest-crushing sobbing – there is no denying that something has died. Once the storm quiets, there comes the sense of being lost at sea with no way of knowing where you have come from, where you are going, or how to stay afloat. And as the wreckage begins to surface, the task becomes one of deciphering what exactly has died and reclaiming what holds the deepest truth and value for us in order to recreate a story we can follow back into ourselves and towards our future.
I came to the conclusion that my losses were not due to a failure in my own fortitude, surrender, or faith as I had been encouraged to believe by both the community and this relationship, but due to fundamental hypocracies in our way of life. What had appeared at first glance was enough to fuel my commitment to what was possible, but as deeper truths emerged, I had to distance myself from my own knowing in order to defend the life I refused to lose. You cannot follow both your own inner truth and one channeled to you by someone else. You cannot feed a relationship when your personalities have few hobbies or aspirations in common. You cannot run an effective business through faith without fundamental structure, tools, and accountability. And you have not built a relationship or community based on love and friendship when dissent and dissatisfaction are contradicted and shamed. I had to choose whether to believe I was fragile in comparison to those around me, or to believe true strength and loyalty arises naturally when we are really loved and supported.
To allow the belief that I am as strong and as loveable as anyone else to live, I had to allow another fundamentally precious belief to die: that both the community and this man really loved me as I was and supported what was in my best interest. Some other beliefs I discovered and fortified are:
- If anyone implies you need them or what they have to offer in order to be strong, look for reasons they might need you to be weak or dependent. Do they need followers, are they afraid to be alone, does their sense of self depend on their role as a healer? If someone’s simple presence doesn’t make you feel more confident, whole, and grounded in yourself, they are probably not an ally.
- Fail fast. Every commitment takes effort, but if your core needs aren’t met, and if your core gifts aren’t being shared, don’t waste time trying to change yourself. Walk away. Pain in your solar plexus will tell you your power is blocked. Eruptions of anger are not signs of moral failure, but markers that a boundary is being violated, that something precious to you is being disrespected or ignored.
- Just because you grieve doesn’t mean you are wrong to walk away. Sometimes we don’t admit to ourselves something precious has died because we don’t want to let it go. The pain in your heart will tell you something is lost. Inquire into what it was. Admit your world has changed. And decide what you need to do to ensure you don’t lose the things that are truly most precious.
- The core of what you grieve in your past is your deepest, purest longing for your future. The deeper the loss, the clearer you are about what truly matters to you. There are thousands of vehicles for that to find its way back into your life. Hold the feeling of what it would be like to fulfill that longing in your heart as both your solace and your compass.
Deep pain lingers over losing a way of life I loved dearly. I have had to accept that I may never again be immersed in such a flow of meditation, service, learning, and celebration. The sense of vulnerability I feel being uprooted from that rhythm is at times nearly suffocating. But I also know that the fundamental human need for belonging bonds me in my moments of despair to everyone who has ever lived. I may never again live and serve each day alongside someone with such courage to grow spiritually and personally. I may never again have regular opportunities to develop classes, teach meditation, or support others with their spiritual explorations. But I can take the core of what this experience revealed to me that I love most tenderly and find ways to weave them into my future. That shifts the power of longing from pining over a lost past to fueling a waiting future.
The next time the depth of your precious love breaks your heart, affirm what has died and what has lived through the story you tell. Trust that with time and attention all the vulnerable, achy, and desperate feelings of loss, longing, and being lost will purify and reassemble a deeper and clearer “you” than you have ever been before.
“We belong not to our past, but our future.” – General Leia Organa, The Last Jedi