Heartbreak may be triggered by a new outer event, but it activates old, preexisting internal patterns. Someone you like or love does not feel the same way. This is the outer event. In response to this, you feel unwanted, unloved, or even worthless. These are the preexisting internal patterns. The event did not create these feelings in you. These feelings and their corresponding beliefs were already there. The rejection from the one you love is just the force that reactivated them.
So why does heartbreak happen?
When I am in a relationship with a lover, I will feel love and joy like I never knew before! At least, that is the fantasy I sometimes entertain. Realistically, I don’t expect that I’d be swimming in joy and love all the time, but part of me imagines that being in a romantic relationship would help me to visit those states more often. However, if I have unconscious beliefs that I am not loveable, then those beliefs will eventually resurface, even if I’m in an amazing relationship with someone who truly loves me.
Why do those feelings come back? What can we do with them?
Those deep-seeded patterns of pain come up to ask for our attention. They are symptoms of something inside of ourselves that remains unresolved. They revisit our conscious mind so that we may acknowledge them and, if we so desire, begin to change our relation to them.
We all have different obstacles that challenge our ability to feel love. One example with which I’ve had the pleasure of experimenting is being turned down by someone I have feelings for. I say, “I like you.” They kindly say, “I don’t feel that way.” As a consequence, I sink into a spiral of irrational but seemingly insurmountable self-loathing. The voices inside tell me I will never be loved as I’d like to be. I can rationally analyze it and explain to myself all the reasons that it’s not true, but the feeling sticks nonetheless.
These instances of rejection reactivate a sense that I am not worthy of love. It may be triggered by someone turning me down, but the internal effect is an old pattern that comes back again and again. It might initially seem like the feeling of rejection is exclusively caused by the outer event, but really, it is something already within me. I can search for someone or something (booze, eating, excessive busyness, etc.) to obscure or avoid that internal pattern when it comes up, but if I don’t change myself, then the pattern and its pain will always return.
I have no obligation to address it or not address it. There is no should or shouldn’t. But it’s a source of pain and perhaps I could benefit from taking a look at it if I feel it’s time for a change.
The pain I experience comes from a belief that I am deprived of love, a belief that I cannot experience love because of something that has happened. If I want to change my experience, I can begin to change this belief. The voice of the pain says, Love is far away and not for you. This is the pattern that I can reverse--not by looking for love outside of myself, but by generating love within myself.
How do you generate love?
First, discern: What does love feel like to you?
For me, love is a feeling of compassion and affection for another person exactly as they are in that moment. If I feel love for someone, be it a stranger on the street or a lover in bed, it is easy, even automatic to see beauty in them. To look into their eyes, see their pain, their strength, their passion, their dreams, and to feel warmth and appreciation for them and all that they are. There are many different shapes and manifestations of love, but this is the essence of the love I wish to have more of in my life.
So, if I want to generate love in myself, I can shift my attention and do things that help me to find beauty and feel compassion for others and for myself. There are many ways to do this and we each find love in different ways. Here are a few of the methods that help me:
Intentionally imagining the feeling of love. Using my imagination to conjure the feeling into being.
Saying “I am love” 10 or more times with enthusiasm. It's not necessary to believe it. Just pretend it's true and say it with emotion. If it doesn’t seem true or even possible at first, that will change as I continue. If you pretend something for long enough, it can become real.
Saying “I love you” to strangers. I tried this yesterday after someone brushed past me on the subway and my initial internal response was anger, some words that were... less than friendly. Normally, if I do this I whisper it or say it in my head. But if I am giving myself the permission to appear absurd as I do when I do street performance, I may say it out loud directly to another person on the street.
Calling to mind or visualizing the people I love and for whom I am thankful. Even imagining that I am hugging them while feeling thanks for the beauty they bring to my life.
Looking into the mirror and saying with vigor, I LOVE YOU. This method was sparked by a night of drinking. I came home in a cloud of self-pity and was bawling alone in my room, feeling sorry for my perceived state of relentless loneliness. I saw what I was doing and realized this was not the feeling that I wanted to perpetuate in my life. I got up and stood in front of the bathroom mirror, stark naked at 3 a.m., looked myself in the eyes and said again and again, “I love you. I love you. I love you!” For the first few minutes, it felt stupid and unreal but I continued repeating the words, while trying to say them with the feeling I would have if I actually believed myself. Gradually, the words started to seem more plausible. I still felt totally ridiculous, but after five or ten minutes of this, that feeling of love which had seemed so far had become tangible. Being excessively drunk while performing this is not necessary or recommended. Being naked might be helpful.
Discerning the reactive tendencies I have which prevent me from feeling love. This can be anger, impatience, frustration with people in daily life, grief, self-pity, or self-loathing. All of those fun emotive companions. I try to notice them when they arise. If I can gently steer myself in a different direction, if I can try to feel some warmth toward someone that is aggravating me, I do that. If the feeling seems too intense to change in that moment, then I simply try to notice it and see if I can avoid acting on it. Simple, but not always easy. The other methods above this one are a bit like experimental exercises, but this method is the one that seems to have the biggest effect on my daily life. It is also probably the most difficult.
Some of these methods might seem absurd. I often feel ridiculous or foolish while doing them.
That is the point!
They seem absurd because they stand in such stark contrast to the pain they aim to diminish. Behaving with silliness helps to withdraw my attention from the reactive pattern that perpetuates my pain. Silliness can help free us from the perception of being stuck. It then becomes easier to redirect my focus as I would prefer. In this case, that focus would be love.
This practice of pattern-changing isn't necessarily meant to make huge, overnight changes. It's an ongoing practice that helps to make small gradual changes that grow easier and more natural over time.
I play with this practice not because I am always lovey-dovey, floating in the clouds and oozing compassion out of my eyeballs for everyone. I attempt to generate more love in my life precisely because I don’t feel it the majority of the time.
Sometimes it comes easily. Often times, it's hard. Sometimes it seems so impossible that I don't even bother. On the whole, I try to find little ways to generate more and more love in my life, simply because it feels good. With physical exercise, the muscles get stronger over time. Practicing the capacity to activate love is the same. It may feel awkward, stiff, or impossible at first, but through persistence, the motion becomes easier to perform.
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