Thursday, December 29, 2016

Impermanence, Karma, And The Zen Of A Broken Heart

I broke up with my girlfriend this week.  Or maybe she broke up with me.  Honestly, I'm not sure what you call it when two people who say, "I love you" every day mutually decide that things aren't working out.

I just know that I started this holiday season with a significant other, and I'm going to end it all alone.  What's confusing the hell out of me, however, is that she's a good person.  And I'm a good person... I think.

So what does it mean when two good people can't make a relationship work?  This is the question that I've been pondering the past few days as I power through the five stages of grief, and the word that keeps popping into my head is, "impermanence".

 Buddha tells us that everything arises and everything passes away. In other words, impermanence is a permanent part of life (see what I did there).  Furthermore, it's our desire to keep things from changing that causes suffering.

That makes sense when we're discussing the weather.  But how do relationships play into that?  No one says, "I love you... Until circumstances change and I no longer have the same feelings."  In fact, romantic relationship hinges on the idea that your feelings won't change.  It's like a shared delusion where two people convince themselves that, "love conquers all."

My ex-girlfriend and I gave up weekends, birthdays, and time with friends to be with one another because in a universe where mountains crumble to dust and stars explode in the sky we thought our feelings would never change.  In short, we created a fantasy world where our love would last forever... until it didn't.

And that's where I'm standing right now.  I'm in the place right after love stops lasting forever, and I'm trying to find a way to move forward.  Intellectually, I understand the teaching of impermanence.  I get that everything changes.  I understand that relationships are no exception to the rule.  But that understanding isn't helping me right now.  Because there's a hole in my chest where my heart used to be, and it feels like I'm going to die.

I observe this feeling when I meditate.  It comes and goes in waves as different memories play in my mind.  Sometimes it feels like a dull ache in my chest, and I barely know it's there.  Other times it feels like an anvil, and I can barely breathe.  

I try to not take it personally.  I remind myself that this is karma manifesting itself as physical sensations in my body.  Just as a room goes dark when you turn out the lights, a heart aches when it's broken.  All I need to do is maintain calm-abiding, and let the feeling run its course.  Thinking in this way lessens the pain.  It gives me a way to move forward.

What I'm experiencing right now is the dark side of impermanence.  It's easy to accept that life is constantly changing.  But it's hard to accept that the karma associated with those changes can be unpleasant.  I think the key thing to remember, however, is that karma is impersonal.  It doesn't manifest itself based on what we do or do not deserve.  

It just manifests... and we must find the skillful means to cope with what it gives us. So now I'm in a situation where my relationship has ended, and my karma demands that I be in emotional pain for a while.  What to do?  I think I'll call my parents and tell them, "I love you."  Then I'll take the dog on a walk.  

If I have to endure suffering,  I'll balance it out by bringing joy to others.  In the face of impermanence, that seems like the logical choice.

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Impermanence, Karma, and The Zen of a Broken Heart


  1. On thing that you have to remember is that your whole body is in shock too. Your nervous system is in shock because her vibe is not around you. Your ears are in shock because you are not hearing her sounds. Your heart is hurting because it has taken a beating without warning. Your eyes hurt because you don't see the delight object you are used to. Your skin hurts because it is not being touched and touching. Like death, a part of you is suddenly ripped away and you have to let yourself be sick for awhile and recuperate slowly, slowly. You don't stop loving because a long term relationship is not going to happen now. You still keep loving as friends who know each other well. Forget impermanence, it won't help, try Metta to her and to yourself: May you be well, may you be safe, may you be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be happy. and sit with that. Find the Metta Sutta and read it everyday, including her. She is still part of you, just not there.

  2. Metta to you. May be you come out of your sufferring.

  3. Overall, this article is representative that you are handling the upset and doing so better than many. This is always worth a shoutout as "Well done!" It does not satisfy a person at the inner level of who they think they are. One can not be satisfied at the level of suffering for the idea of self, not real is held to be wounded. Resolve the self, the self that clings to the loving and caring notion of self that there is no reason as to why anyone would break with that about the self, a high held. Would you dare asy yourself, "Well why the hell would anyone stay with me a
    __________________________ (fill in your own they you fear you might be that it is okay even for you to walk away from).

  4. I understand where this person is coming from. The greatest love I've ever felt for a man ended almost a year ago. I'm having trouble moving on. I try and stay positive and I feel good when I'm able to give someone a smile or do something kind for someone but when I'm alone... Memories and emotions feel like they are eating me alive