top of page

Every broken heart is sacred

Updated: Apr 30, 2022

The final blog in my series of seven from 2013 is perhaps the juiciest of them all. I was all tender from a very intense, heart-breaking love affair when I wrote it. Its probing of the meaning of such heartbreak is spot on.

How do we make sense of love and loss within the frame of enlightenment?

The heart overcomes suffering by becoming bigger than it. Not by getting rid of it.

This is the final thought that I garnered from Ajahn Sucitto’s talk in Lisbon at the end of last month.

And I’ve had to have a few weeks to understand the significance of this – for me.

Teaching mindfulness over many years, I have circled the idea a lot. Rather than ‘getting rid’ of emotions or painful memories, I have trained myself (and encouraged others) to open up to them and sit with them. To create a safe space in our meditation practice where it’s OK to feel a strong emotion. And clock the fact that strong emotion passes.

When we try and hurry experience out of our life too quickly, it has a habit of returning and returning.

I have been conscious of subtle (and not so subtle) levels of ‘getting rid of’ in my psyche.

I recently fell in love and then had to wave goodbye

When we try and hurry experience out of our life too quickly, it has a habit of returning and returning.

I have been conscious of subtle (and not so subtle) levels of ‘getting rid of’ in my psyche. I recently fell in love and then had to wave goodbye. Both the intensity of my falling and the intensity of the losing bowled me over. I had to protect myself by ‘letting go’ in quite a disciplined way.

The Theravada school (of which Sucitto is a part) sees desire as a cause of suffering. When we fall in love, when we pine and long. This is a big tug out of the peace and ease of the present moment.

But the later schools, particularly the Tibetan schools, make a very radical change. The teacher Reggie Ray vividly makes this point in his Dharma Ocean talk on the tantric Siddhas: They see that wanting is the characteristic mark of the human realm. We want: our cells want nutrients. Our lungs want air, and our heart wants blood. Our minds want information; we want a lover. And rather than try and forcibly deny this central quality of being human, the tantric teachers put desire in the middle of their practice and see desire as the actual form of enlightenment.

If enlightenment is to be found in our life then seek it in the firestorm of human experiences that desire brings up

Ray explains it very beautifully, but I paraphrase it here. If enlightenment is to be found in our life here-and-now, then what better framework to seek it than in the firestorm of human experiences that desire brings up: longing, sexuality, fear, hope, sadness, elation, ecstasy, depression. No other experience activates so many human bases. And if we can be at peace and open to all of that, we are truly alive and ‘awake’ to our condition.

But what of my broken heart and the real suffering that it occasions?

Well, I think Sucitto and Ray, from different ends of the Buddhist spectrum, are not that far apart.

It’s not a question of me getting rid of my suffering heart but more about creating a framework that sanctifies that suffering. A space that opens up the field and makes it – not only OK – but also sacred.

By really touching my suffering, several things happen:

  1. I am more in tune with the humanity of it all – which is the basis of real compassion. I suffer just as other people suffer and there is a bitter-sweet quality to a shared human experience

  2. By creating a sacred framework around my experiences then it’s much easier for them to deliver their message. When I really sit in a sacred relationship to my heart-ache and longing then I also see qualities and resonances in it. I’m blind to these when I’m rushing to ‘get rid of it’. I see echoes of my teenage self. Pure streams of spiritual longing. I see my desire for connection and aliveness.

  3. By creating a bigger heart to hold these vivid emotions and thoughts, I also create some wisdom around what they’re actually about. The Jungian psychologist James Hillman calls all emotions visitations from the Gods. They are influxes of archetypal energy, that flush new and lively energy into our systems. Even if it feels terrifying and raw. Like Rumi and his Guesthouse, it behoves us to welcome them in and let them clear the house of what we don’t need.

  4. Finally, there is the element of Nibbana or liberation. The tantric teachers in the Tibetan tradition see the actual state of enlightenment as one of pure unattached desire. It is desire without an object. The whole field of being-in-the-world becomes bright and warm and passionate. No matter what passes through it: people, events, experiences, thoughts, emotions. All phenomena are received and held in this rapturous, loving state. Desire becomes enlightenment.

The widening of the heart transforms it’s suffering into something else

This extreme elevation of desire is, I believe, the same space that Sucitto talks of in the heart of love: the heart space (or Citta, in Pali) that is big enough to hold all suffering. And that is an enlightenment experience that makes sense to me. Not the eradication of all the sources of suffering – which would be a Sisyphean task. But the gradual widening of the heart to take everything in and transform its suffering into something else. Something as-yet-unknown and wonderful.

I hope that these thoughts have been of benefit. Please take it and run with it if there’s anything of use. If there’s anything that is not useful, please leave it behind!

I’d love to know your thoughts about heartbreak. Drop me a message with any thoughts, comments, questions, queries or insights that pop up while reading the blog. I’d love to hear from you!

Click here to sign up for Alistair’s newsletter. Find out more about The Mindsprings School, a series of courses created by Alistair to help you live a happier life.

244 views2 comments

Related Posts

See All

2 komentarze

Gill Jewell
Gill Jewell
31 sty 2023

Love this. Our hearts break in so many ways & these reflections are so in tune with healing the heart ; thank you.


what lovely words

they hit like a rock and touch like a summer breeze

my heart already knew them before my mind read your blog

it’s not just waving love goodbye, but all existential heart experiences, all forms of love

it’s often heartbreakingly lonely to sit with heartbreak, which makes it even worse

wishing I knew someone who would want to sit with me, next to me, for just a little while just sit


bottom of page