The Spiritual Opportunity of a Broken Heart

By Dimitri Ehrlich

He who binds to himself a joy Does the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in eternity's sun rise. —William Blake

Looking back on it now, when I recall times in my life when I felt heartbroken over the end of some relationship, I can see that what I thought then was all about "losing" another person was really a reflection of my own confusion. That feeling of obsessive focus on the beloved was a heightened way of projecting outward the force of my own inner fear.  At the time, the emotional tempest was too intense for me to make much use of it. But now I can look back and remember that tightness in my heart and recognize it for what it really was.

According to Buddha, that feeling is called the "object of negation," because it is something which does not really exist--but we feel so strongly we must defend at all costs. It is the confusion about what the word "I" or "me" really refers to. That is what finally gets negated by the wisdom of emptiness. The goal is not to negate oneself but that bear trap that gripped my heart from within so painfully at those times, whispering day and night that I would never get enough love, could not get enough. That was (and remains) the object of negation. 

In retrospect I can see now how silly and pointless that struggle was. What a ridiculous waste of time! But more important than just wasting time, I can also see the opportunity I wasted. Because that furious molten ball of lead in my heart was the ideal object of meditation.  

In order to gain freedom from ego, of course first one has to see what the target is. And there it was, raging and enflamed within me. In the middle of my heartbreak I was too desperate to get away from the pain to recognize the opportunity it presented and to work with it skillfully on the spot.  But now I can calmly conjure memories of those times and realize that inside that inferno of confusion, I was facing and being tormented by my worst enemy. My lifelong inner sadist. The devil of ego, confusion and fear was whooping it up and providing what the military would call "a target rich environment." 

Entering spiritual battle is similar to conventional warfare in that when the bad guy pops up, you have to stay calm, take aim and fire. In meditation, the best weapon is insight into the true nature of reality. Seeing that all things are infinitely interdependent, that we are each fluidly woven parts of an ever-changing whole, dissolves the tightness and melodrama that comes from centralizing onto oneself.  This takes time and focus but the first step is finding the target. And the target is shooting at us too, which is why so often we spend our lives ducking, running and hiding. 

Instead of rigid and unrealistic attempts to fix the world through fixation, the wisdom of emptiness reminds us of the absurdity of being overly protective of our own turf. We so be our lives grasping at what we think will make us happy but it's all like the reflection of a moon in clear water. And not only is the object we seek to hold dreamlike in its infinite relativity--so are we. The one who reaches out to hold onto and solidify some fleeting joy, is also like the reflection of moonlight, dependently arising, and so very, very temporary. 

To paraphrase William Blake, by trying to bind ourselves to, tie down, or own some parcel of a world that is in a state of constant movement and change, we destroy the chance to really soar or at least enjoy the ride. 

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