November 15, 2010

The Power of a Broken Heart

Savor this day, this moment, and all of the loving connections you have in the course of the day. Life is ever so impermanent and death can come without warning.

Imagine that you go to your cousin’s Facebook page and discover an outpouring of grief for her passing. You had corresponded with her on Facebook in the week before. And then suddenly it seems from others’ posts that she is dead and there is no explanation for what has happened to her.

Shock does not even begin to describe what I experienced last week when I first learned of my cousin’s death. She was beautiful, sassy, brilliant and big-hearted. She radiated loving-kindness to everyone she met. The news of her death on Facebook was perplexing and disturbing.

At first I sat in disbelief: “She could not have really died. No, there must be a mistake,” I thought.

I sat with my confusion for hours as I waited to hear back from family members: “What happened? Is it really true?”

I sat with my regret as I meditated. My mind spewed the same lines again and again: “I should have reached out to her more often before she died. I wish we had had more contact outside of Facebook in the last few years.”

And then heartache, raw anguish and sorrow all shook their way through my body and mind. I felt tremendous sympathetic sorrow for her family combined with grief for my own sense of loss.

Breathing in the sheer tumultuous grief that roared through my consciousness
Breathing out an ocean of compassion, which gently rolled upon the shores of grief throughout the world

This broken-heartedness has broken open a door that was locked within my consciousness. I had somehow locked it to get on with my days, thinking I could ignore the tenderness of deep suffering. Behind the door, I found a mirror.

“Did you think that was who you really were?” The reflection called to me. “Did you think you could be so driven by your habits, the workings of your jumpy mind and your projects? Look now!”

I saw the vulnerability of my whole being, fragile and distraught.

“Look again!” Even though I looked like I was on the verge of falling apart, there was something that was paradoxically making me feel whole. It was the deep attention I had to everything that was happening in my whole being. No longer was I largely disconnected from my body.

My exhaustion, my sadness, my belly rejecting even the thought of food, the tears streaming from my eyes…these symptoms of grief took me back home to my body, and there I really felt the tender aching of my heart.

My broken heart has woken me up to the fullness of each lived experience. Here. Now. The power of my emotions shatters me and heals me by reconnecting me with my humanity.

Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion.

~ Pema Chödrön

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