There's no getting around pain in this life. If you're human, you're vulnerable. You're given this body and this heart, and all of your experiences, but you're also given an unknown expiration date.
And so are all the people you love. Vulnerability is built into the deal.
Sometimes we lose people because their time is up, with warning, or without it. That's brutal to accept if the time they had was woefully short, and if you weren't even nearly done loving them.
The thing is, even if those we love are taken from us, the love doesn't die, it lives in your heart. That's not the same as being able to hold them, to hug them, to hear their voice or see their smile light up a room, I fully realize that.
But there is something beautiful about having loved so deeply, there is something to be grateful for in that. If you've lost a child, my heart so so goes out to you. A close family member lost his six-year-old son many years ago, and I can tell you honestly, I'll never be over it. And he wasn't even mine.
Some things will never be okay. And I think it's important to understand that. Accepting that there are certain, knifing things that are going to be with you for the rest of your life is often the key to seeing any way forward. It's just something you're going to carry.
Sometimes we lose people because they choose to leave us. Rejection is one of the most painful experiences we go through. The feeling that you gave someone your heart—and in some cases, years of your time and your care and your energy—and they've decided they'd rather move forward without you, can be so devastating. If betrayal is involved, it's even more painful.
But here's the thing. If someone couldn't see you anymore, if they couldn't recognize the gift that you are in all your uniqueness, then it's good that they freed you. If they did it in an awful way, that's part of their journey, and a reflection of where they're at in their own development. It is not a reflection on you, or your worthiness to be loved. Hurt people, hurt people as the saying goes.
Not everyone communicates well, and some people let their fear and rage and resentment boil up until one day they explode. The explosion can look like turning to someone else, or taking off, or any number of things. And don't get me wrong here, it's never one person's fault when a relationship ends.
You always have to take a look at your own participation. Maybe you bent over backwards trying to make things work. Maybe you accepted poor treatment for too long. Maybe you tried to sell yourself and the other person on how amazing you are, and how great things were. But that isn't love. That's manipulation, as painful as it may be to own that.
When we try to convince or manage or control, we're refusing to accept reality as it is; we're refusing to deal with the truth of the other person. Don't ever sell yourself. You're priceless. One-of-a-kind in seven billion people. If someone can't recognize the miracle you are, truly, release yourself. We all deserve to be seen and understood and cherished. You may need to learn to do those things for yourself, first.
Sometimes our hearts are broken because our plan gets turned upside down, or because we feel trapped by the picture we had in our heads of "how things should be". I have this blog and I do streaming yoga videos that are used around the world, so people write in every day, and not long ago this man wrote to me in agony.
He was in his sixth year of medical school. His parents' dream had always been that he'd grow up and become a doctor. His parents stayed up countless nights, helping him with his homework, and pursuing every advantage they could for him. They didn't have much, but whatever they had, they gave it to him. His dad worked two jobs his whole life, sometimes three. His mother was home with him until he was old enough to be on his own in the afternoons, and then she started cleaning houses. Every penny went toward his education fund.
And he did it. he worked and worked and eventually got into a great college, and then medical school. His parents took out a second mortgage on their home. Never vacationed, never treated themselves to anything, and have never complained, not once. He's their pride and joy. But he doesn't want to be a doctor. He's been in medical school long enough to realize this isn't his dream. And he feels trapped, and angry with himself for not speaking up sooner, and angry with his parents for putting him under this pressure. He feels guilty and ashamed about the feelings he has. He loves his parents, he wants to make them proud. He can't imagine disappointing them after all they've done.
Wise people have been writing about the nature of life and the incredible ability of the heart to both break and open for centuries. Rumi has a beautiful quote, "The wound is the place where the light enters you." Or, as Leonard Cohen once said, "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in." And one more from Rose Kennedy, "It has been said, 'Time heals all wounds.' I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone."
I'm with Rose. I think the scars mark the places where you were forced to understand with searing heat the reality that you are not in control. You can't save people, or manage their paths, or use your will to make everything okay. All you can do is love people, with your whole heart, for as long as they're with you.
It's crucial to understand when your heart is broken, you can let the experience harden you, or soften you. There's great power in recognizing your own vulnerability, in surrendering to it. Because you'll never take anyone for granted, nor will you lose sight of the gift of each day, of each breath, of each opportunity you have to tell and to show the people you love, how you feel.
In the meantime, if you're grieving the loss of someone you don't think you can live without, or the ending of a relationship, or the plan you've been working for so long, the only way through it is through it. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, all of them.
If you're enraged, that's how it is right now. If you're in despair, open to it and allow it. No one can tell you how long you need to grieve, that's a journey only you can take, and no one can tell you how to do it. But denial is pointless, and so is numbing out.
If you look back on your life, you'll realize the most painful times have also been the ones that taught you the most. There are some lessons we don't want to learn, some we'd do anything to give back. But we don't get to choose. Our power lies in our response to what it is that we're given.
Give yourself whatever time and space you need, but also be willing to ask for help. If you're trying to help someone who's grieving, advice isn't it. Make them a meal, help them get in the shower, open up their curtains and let in some light. We all need each other, after all. Sending love and healing to you and your beautiful heart. May it open and open and open.
Try Ally's 6-minute yoga sequence to open and heal your heart:
Photo Credit: Michael Segal