Yoga for Heartbrokenness
Originally posted on the blog "Yoga, for the Moment" (RIP) on 6/4/2011.
You guys know my love life is like something out of a Pedro Almodovar film, right? I don't tell y'all about it for reasons anyone can guess, but suffice to say that if the heart is a muscle, I'm a heavyweight champion. I am also an idiot.
Love drama doesn't get enough discussion by spiritual teachers IMO. I remember reading in the first few pages of Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart, I think, that her spiritual path was catapulted into being when her husband told her, as she was sitting on a lawn chair having a lemonade or something, that he'd been having an affair. If I remember correctly, she said she took a pause, threw a rock at him and then got a divorce. Shortly after, she became a Buddhist nun (and one of the most influential spiritual teachers of the common era). When I read that, I thought, "You threw a rock at him? And then left? And that was then end of it?" I concluded that if Pema were able to behave so damned appropriately, she could not have possibly had the kind of intensity of feeling that I do, and therefore nothing valuable to offer me regarding passionate, devastating grief.
The part I missed was that, yes, she threw a rock at him and left, but then SHE BECAME A BUDDHIST NUN. Pema's response to her heartbreak was more dramatic and extreme than anything I have ever done in the name of love, which is a long and torrid list of hilariously tragic dramas that, if captured on video, would go so goddamned viral, I'd be having appletinis with Pooky by next Tuesday. Most days I assume this isn't the kind of thing anyone would find helpful. Today, however - at last - a reader asked, "Hey Karen, is there any yoga good for heartbrokenness?" And do I ever have an answer for you.
No. There is no yoga good for heartbrokenness. You mean real life and mind shattering shit, right? Where you don't eat or sleep for weeks? And if you take a deep breath you end up sobbing violently? And you can't think or talk about anything but your memories? Yeah, no. There is no yoga for that. That's in the food poisoning category. Which is to say, if you get food poisoning, you should not try to do yoga for digestion. You need to just throw up for as long as it takes and then hydrate carefully. Time and water. Some things have no other cure. Those things, let's call them "emergencies," are not remedied by immediate practice, no matter how customized. You know why? Because they are the things we are practicing for.
Yoga and meditation are best employed as preventative medicine, and then, after the shit hits the fan anyway, because it is going to, they become our recovery plan. In the moment, though, whether heart, mind or body related - those moments are not such that one can typically strike a pose, or hit some pranayama. The resilience and grace we need to pull us through the wreckage is what we get when we practice during non-emergency hours, when we have our wits about us to lift our little emo barbells with our little emo muscles.
Even so, to the persons out there who are feeling it right now, and I know you are out there, because I am one of you, I'm not about to leave you alone with time and water. Take heart.
The benefit of spiritual practice is not something that is given to you, it is something that comes from you. Which means the bad news is, you can't pay extra to have it over-nighted. The good news is that you already have it, all of it, right there, I don't know, somewhere, under all that junk. There is, right this minute, a part of you that is not hurting. If you are in the shit, that might be hard to believe. It may seem as though every single atom is damaged, that every particle of your heart matter has been bruised and bloodied beyond repair, that there is nothing to salvage... (I mean, I warned you. I get dramatic.) So I think about this Buddhist thing I read once upon a time:
"Padmasambhava describes the luminosity: This self-originated clear light, which from the very beginning was never born, is the child of Rigpa,
which is itself without any parents – how amazing!
The self-originated wisdom has not been created by anyone – how amazing!
It has never experienced birth and has nothing in it that could cause it to die – how amazing!
Although it is evidently visible, there is no one there who sees it – how amazing!
Although it has wandered through samsara, no harm has come to it – how amazing!
Although it has seen buddhahood itself, no good has come to it – how amazing!
Although it exists in everyone everywhere, it has gone unrecognized – how amazing!
And yet you go on hoping to attain some other fruit than this elsewhere – how amazing!
Even though it is the thing that is most essentially yours, you seek for it elsewhere – how amazing!"
(The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche)
What it means to me is that there is a part of me, the most essential part of me maybe, that is perfect. (Yeah. Perfect.) This morning, my dear friend Jose asked, "are you sure you have a spirit? Are you really sure? How do you know it is there?"
I stopped him before he could crush my world, but I want to address this gigantic question, because if you are in the throes of devastating grief, illness or injury, and I am telling you to seek out the infinite source of luminosity within yourself, I had better be sure it is there.
Well, I am not sure it is there. Not at all. I have no proof. I don't even feel is it there - I can't even tell you that I can sense it within myself most of the time. You'd think that a lifetime of faith fail would have taught me not to trust what can't be photographed, fingerprinted and notarized, but I promise guys, this time it's different. This time it isn't a matter of true or untrue, real or unreal, it is a matter of helpful or unhelpful. When I imagine that there may in fact be an unwounded part of me, a source of wellness and infinite non-suffering, I actually get better. It helps me to act as if I am whole underneath my tangled mix of parts. I have been doing this for about 6 years now, believing I am not completely screwed up, and my experience in the world has become not only much less painful for me, but less painful for the people who have to deal with me.
To the woman with a broken heart, I say, don't try to practice right now. It's showtime. You have spent plenty of time training yourself to connect with your strength and compassion, the wisdom and peace that is found at that clear, luminous core. Now is the time to cash in on that connection. IRL this might look like you biking the length of Lake Shore Drive in a snot-faced trance. It may look like smashing every dish you can buy at the thrift. I don't know where your inner wisdom will take you. But your inner wisdom knows. Once the storm has passed, I highly recommend gentle asana practice coupled with lengthy pranayama sessions. (This won't work if you are still crying every time you inhale, clearly.) Also really good, for me at least, is a variation of a compassion meditation where you mourn with and for every woman who has every hurt the way you hurt right now, and then every man, too, and then you mourn for those who have never loved deeply enough to hurt the way you do, and then for those who have been so wounded they have hurt others, and then with those who inflict pain with no remorse. But you can start with crying for all the broken hearts.
For anyone out there who is living the nightmare of finding themselves on the grief stage without having practiced at all, ever, even once, please know that I feel for you. If you don't have anyone to listen to you barf all your guts about it, you can write me an email and I will write you back. After years of barfing my guts to anyone who would sit close enough to hear me, it is not only my pleasure, but my karmic duty. So go right ahead. In the meantime, time and water be thy companions.