Late one night, my friend Brett called me on his way to the airport. He works for the U.S. State Department and, as a result, is often assigned to diplomatic posts around the world for a few years at a time. I have known Brett for over a decade and we are quite close. I had just gotten attached to the idea of having him back stateside, where I can see him every month or so.
“I am on my way to the flight,” he said. I realized what day it was and that this was the “goodbye, I am flying to go live in Dubai for three years” call. We chatted for twenty minutes, ending with straightforward and manly “I’ll miss you” and “I love you”s. When I hung up the phone I felt a twinge of heartbreak over not being able to see one of my best friends for a long, long time.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼And I sat with it. I let it exist. I didn’t fight it. And I’m okay.
I was slated to go out to dinner with my partner, and I told her what had happened. I talked it through honestly and gave voice to the heartbreak, without perpetuating a lot of the story line around it. I didn’t say, “He’ll make lots of new friends and never care if he sees me again” or “Our friendship is doomed” or any of those weird doubt-filled thoughts that flitted across my mind.
I stayed with my heartbreak all night, giving it the space it needed. I ate well. I slept longer than I usually do. I took a long walk the next morning. And I can say that by taking care of myself this little heartbreak has passed through my system. I will miss my friend, but also I will be okay. The love I feel remains.
We can train for the big heartbreaks in our life by being with all of the little heartbreaks that come up. By giving these little heartbreaks the attention they need instead of squashing them down or running from them, we see our way through them. That builds confidence that we can, indeed, see our way through to healing heartbreak in general.
The next time someone close to me dies (as I know they will) or a breakup occurs (as I fear it might) or I get knocked on my ass by some other form of heartbreak (as is the nature of life) I will ￼￼￼have trained to open my heart and give myself the space and care needed to accommodate this loss. But that will happen only if I stick to the training of really caring for each smaller heartbreak that comes my way.
Our whole life is a training in heartbreak, whether we acknowledge it or not. By showing up for it, day in and day out, we learn to make it a part of our spiritual path as opposed to something we have to hide from. Thus, we show up for our life more authentically and offer our love that much more deeply. Heartbreak becomes not a horrific thing we have to run from, but the very path to transforming our life into one marked by love.
Lodro Rinzler is a meditation teacher, the founder of M N D F L, and the author of Love Hurts: Buddhist Advice for the Heartbroken, from which this article is excerpted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.