Before you read this article, I want you to know that all of us struggle with breakups. No one separates from another without feeling loss and pain. I write to remind myself what love is and is not because it’s so easy to get caught up in the me-me-me of relating and the pain of losing someone.
I also want you to know that although the article begins with breaking up, the topic really is about love. Ready?
When you tell a friend that the relationship you’ve had with your partner of three months or three decades just ended, and your friend is a friend in the truest sense of the word, she or he listens…she empathizes…she offers perspective. You hope that by telling your friend that your relationship has ended, by sharing your story with her, in some way, her listening will clear away the pain you feel. By talking, you feel less alone. You believe that everything is going to be alright. Not.
Talking doesn’t always help.
I like to use the metaphor of being in ICU after being run over by a truck. You can’t think clearly. Sometimes, you can’t even move. A friend or therapist or other guide can remind you that this is not your normal state of being and that with time you will heal. But ultimately, you are alone with your loss and pain.
In the past, it seemed to me that there was no way around the pain, that the grieving process had to run its course. That there were no shortcuts; no magic wand to make the pain go away any sooner than it wants to. Now, I’m not so sure.
“Love is not effortless. To the contrary, love is effortful.” — M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled, p. 83.
Love is the shortcut.
Sounds implausible, doesn’t it? Especially in the throes of sadness and anger. But this is the way out.
What is love, really?
When you truly love another person, according to many wise authors and speakers and thinkers and teachers, you let go of your wants and needs and wish the other person well. You wish the other person the freedom to grow. You wish the other person whatever he or she wants. You wish her or him joy and happiness in abundance.
I can hear the objections from myself and maybe you too. This flies in the face of the desire to have that person in your life. Right? A future with that person equals happiness. A future without her or him…well…not so happy.
According to the wise authors and teachers, when you truly love another person, if you are honest with yourself and you know that the relationship had to end, you know that by ending, both you and he or she have an opportunity to learn and grow. Of course, the argument could be made that if both of you really love each other, you wouldn’t break up, but let’s assume that you thought you loved him or her, but really, you were more interested in satisfying your needs and wants than tapping in to reality. Of course, that’s human nature.
After a breakup, regardless of who’s decision it was to move on, most of us get caught up in or entangled by the details. Who left who, who did what to cause the breakup, who said this or that…the events that led to the end. In divorce, money and legal negotiations monopolize conversations. There are inconveniences, too. You or your partner may have to move. You might have to find a new job and another way to socialize. When children are involved, the process becomes all the more complicated.
The breakup, this tiny snippet of time, a conversation, a word, a look, and the intense emotions that come from not having the other person in your life, blinds you to the real question.
Mindfulness and love
Wisdom comes from many sources. This bit comes through Nikki Mirghafori‘s talk The Way to Love in which she interprets Anthony de Mello’s last book, The Way to Love from a Buddhist / mindfulness perspective. Anthony de Mello was an Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist. He writes and she begins with saying what love is not.
Love is not good feelings about others, benevolence toward others, or even service that benefits others.
M. Scott Peck writes that being in love is not love and that being in love is tied to sexual attraction. Hmmmm. If that is what love is not, then what is love?
As you continue reading, keep in mind kindness, patience, and gentleness with yourself. This is difficult work.
Awareness and love
According to these wise people, loving another means first seeing the person as he or she truly is. That means separating your wants and needs, your projections and expectations, your hopes and dreams from his or hers. This can prove difficult even to the most skilled among us. If you can, after talking with your friend(s), you will probably do best spending time alone doing what another teacher calls marinating. Marinate in the experience, he says.
Ask yourself who is this person you want in your life? What does he or she want? What does he or she feel, think? How does he or she experience reality? What are his/her strengths and more important, his or her limitations? See if you can allow yourself to be open to whatever comes up.
You may have heard people refer to red flags early in a relationship. I believe that pondering red flags will keep you bound to the pain and suffering and distract you from the real issue: how did you overlook that person’s reality? What did you want from that person and how did that interfere with your seeing them and their place in their life?
[Pause], I remind myself and you to do this in a kind and gentle way. Of course you want something from that person. Of course you projected your dreams and imagination onto her or him. Of course. It’s human to do that.
Awareness means you are not clinging to memories or ideas and you are not forecasting the future that you want or hope for onto someone else. You are present with the realness of who the other person is, who you are, and what you want from her or him. What you discover about your motives may not be pleasant or easy to look at. Just remember, we all do this. This thing we call love is complicated.
Attention and love
Not to be underestimated, the emotions and stories your mind conjures up will prove to be formidable competition for the equanimity, clarity, and expansiveness that’s needed to get to awareness and to love. The mind will gravitate toward anger, resentment, loss, grieving, sadness. Of course you feel all of that. Of course. When mind tosses you around like socks in a dryer, or entangles you with its exhilarating ideas, see if you can gently turn your attention to a breath. One neutral breath. Or playing one chord on your guitar. Or planting one seed in your garden. Or taking a hike.
It’s best that I take a small break here. Writing the words that describe this process is so very easy. Awareness in any shape or form for any amount of time is a challenge and an ongoing practice. I don’t know about you, but I practice every day in formal sitting meditation and in relationship with others. And breakups still hurt.
Equanimity and love
Equanimity is the last of the three mindfulness basics. It is by no means the least important. In some ways, the other two, awareness and attention are not possible without equanimity. Imagine yourself in a state of inner peace, calm, equanimity. Imagine stillness in your body and your mind. Imagine that you can see yourself and the world exactly as it is.
If I had one wish, I would wish equanimity for you. I wish it even more than I wish happiness in the lovingkindness meditation. May you be calm. May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you love [really love] and feel loved.
If the word awareness replaces the word love in that last statement, it might sound something like this: May you feel seen. May you feel heard. May you feel understood. May you feel held in another’s presence. With equanimity, we can attend to the other in ways that puts our wants and needs in the background. Supposedly, that is Real Love. Difficult, I know.
Don’t believe me though. Try it for yourself. If you can just for a moment let go of you and take a look at what the relationship really is and isn’t. Because I don’t always know what’s right for me and I certainly don’t know what’s right for you. And, all of the much wiser authors, speakers, and teachers who write about this could be wrong as well.