I ended up giving up on this tactic and decided to just listen to music. To whatever I wanted. I tried to find new stuff but I found myself craving the old stuff. Friends made me mixes. Sometimes I would listen to the stuff that reminded me of the now-over relationship and it would make my stomach churn. I would shudder and have to turn it off. Other songs would make me mad and resentful. Some jams would make me weep -- like the music we recorded together. (That stuff, along with his records, aren’t in my library anymore -- you gotta let some stuff go.)
My friends would ask me why I tortured myself like that. I didn’t know. I wanted to work through it, I guess. Something felt really good about feeling so terrible (sick, right?). I was never able to explain this tendency toward experiencing pain. Until today, when I found this quote on Elena Brower’s Facebook page:
The only way to ease our pain is to experience it fully. Learn to stay in the uneasiness, learn to stay with the tightening, so that the habitual chain reaction doesn’t continue to rule your life. – Pema ChodronWhen I read that, it hit me like a ton of bricks. There is a very big difference between allowing yourself to experience pain and wallowing in self-pity for so long that you get stuck. Hurt is a part of growth. If you don’t live in that place for a little bit and lick your wounds (versus staring at the wound and watching it gush blood or totally ignoring it), you’ll keep returning to that space. There’s a reason I was hurting. This wasn’t an unfamiliar ache (I'd had my heart broken a few times before), but it was one of the most significant I’ve ever experienced. I wanted to explore the shattered pieces, the panicky place, the sadness, the fear. I thought, “If I just feel everything that comes up, knowing that it will pass and change, it will do just that: pass and change.” And it did.
Almost a year later, I find that I can listen to music that used to make me gag. Instead of feeling sick or sad or hurt, I either feel nothing, or, every now and then, a memory pops up. The memory of that really great time we had when we were in the car together, singing harmonies and laughing. The wind whipping into the vehicle, the dog perching her head on our shoulders, and licking our ears and necks. Up until recently, I used to resent that moment or memory. I would find myself smiling and I would grow upset. "No, I thought. Screw that guy. He's a jerk."
Two weeks ago, I was in New York City at the Yoga Journal Conference. During two different classes, one with Sarah Powers -- focused on compassion -- and the other with Elena Brower -- focused on inviting grace -- we were asked to hold our hands over hearts and focus on love. While I was feeling all warm and nurturing and safe, both teachers asked us (unbeknownst to each other, I'm sure), to think of someone that is really hard to think about positively. Just let that person pop in. It could have been anyone. We all know who popped into my head. Then, both teachers asked us to invite this person into that loving, warm space and hold them there, and send them love.
Initially, I wanted to stand up and yell, "HOW DARE YOU!? WHY WOULD YOU ASK ME TO DO THIS?! I'VE WORKED SO HARD TO GET HIM OUT OF THERE, WHY WOULD I LET HIM BACK IN?!"
I think they both heard my mental anguish and disgust because they both said, "If you want compassion and grace, you have to be able to give it to others and see others for who they are right now, without judgement."
Oh, I thought. Damnit. Well in that case, fine. Come on in, bro.
I have no sufficient words to describe what it felt like to follow those instructions. Twice. In one day. I just don't. There were colors and smells and memories and it was like I made peace with something that had been riding around inside me for a very long time. But the peace was scary, because it was quiet. And I like my noise. It's like my music.
Now,when that song shuffles through my iPhone and the memory pops up of us impulsively getting out of his car and dancing in the middle of a country road on a hot summer night, I smile and I let myself hold that space. I tip my hat to it, thankful that, even though my heart was broken for a bit, that I did, at one point, experience love and happiness with another person. And that’s what’s great about us as humans – we have the ability to perceive life in that way. It’s not easy, but it’s available to you if you care to tap into it.