David Whyte on heartbreak
I've missed you all. I have not been able to post in quite some time. As some of you know, I have begun work on a masters degree in education through the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, and the time I've had to put into my two courses this fall, along with everything else I do regarding work and family and maintaining my health, has made it difficult to prioritize my own writing.
I have been wanting to begin work toward this goal for five years or more. When my brother died, however, grad school fell completely out of my mind. It reappeared a year ago or so along with a sense of urgency, and since I'm working on listening to my intuition, I heard the message (something along the lines of "START THIS NOW BECAUSE AS YOU KNOW ALL TOO WELL, YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TOMORROW BRINGS") and applied and got everything going. It's a lot. But it's an important gift and challenge to myself.
Today I feel compelled to share words other than my own. A dear friend sent me a book a while back entitled Consolations, by David Whyte, a poet who has a real gift for shining a light on meanings and understandings I never imagined were there. The book consists of a series of essays, each on a single word, and each a world within itself. The one I've read most recently, and the one I'm thinking about all the time, is "Heartbreak." Here it is for you. I hope you find something to think about in it. Wishing you peace, love, and strength to continue on and look for hope.
Heartbreak is unpreventable; the natural outcome of caring for people and things over which we have no control, of holding in our affections those who inevitably move beyond our line of sight.
Heartbreak begins the moment we are asked to let go but cannot, in other words, it colors and inhabits and magnifies each and every day; heartbreak is not a visitation, but a path that human beings follow through even the most average life. Heartbreak is an indication of our sincerity: in a love relationship, in a life's work, in trying to learn a musical instrument, in the attempt to shape a better more generous self. Heartbreak is the beautifully helpless side of love and affection and is just as much an essence and emblem of care as the spiritual athlete's quick but abstract ability to let go. Heartbreak has its own way of inhabiting time and its own beautiful and trying patience in coming and going.
Heartbreak is how we mature; yet we use the word heartbreak as if it only occurs when things have gone wrong: an unrequited love, a shattered dream, a child lost before their time. Heartbreak, we hope, is something we hope we can avoid; something to guard against, a chasm to be carefully looked for and then walked around; the hope is to find a way to place our feet where the elemental forces of life will keep us in the manner to which we want to be accustomed and which will keep us from the losses that all other human beings have experienced without exception since the beginning of conscious time. But heartbreak may be the very essence of being human, of being on the journey from here to there, and of coming to care deeply for what we find along the way.
Our hope to circumvent heartbreak in adulthood is beautifully and ironically child-like; heartbreak is as inescapable and inevitable as breathing, a part and a parcel of every path, asking for its due in every sincere course an individual takes, it may be that there may be not only no real life without the raw revelation of heartbreak, but no single path we can take within a life that will allow us to escape without having that imaginative organ we call the heart broken by what it holds and then has to let go.
In a sobering physical sense, every heart does eventually break, as the precipitating reason for death or because the rest of the body has given up before it and can no longer sustain its steady beat, but hearts also break in an imaginative and psychological sense: there is almost no path a human being can follow that does not lead to heartbreak. A marriage, a committed vow to another, even in the most settled, loving relationship, will always break our hearts at one time or another; a successful marriage has often had its heart broken many times just in order for the couple to stay together; parenthood, no matter the sincerity of our love for a child, will always break the mold of our motherly or fatherly hopes, a good work seriously taken will often take everything we have and still leave us wanting; and finally even the most self compassionate, self examination should, if we are sincere, lead eventually to existential disappointment.
Realizing its inescapable nature, we can see heartbreak not as the end of the road or the cessation of hope but as the close embrace of the essence of what we have wanted or are about to lose. It is the hidden DNA of our relationship with life, outlining outer forms even when we do not feel it by the intimate physical experience generated by its absence; it can also ground us truly in whatever grief we are experiencing, set us to planting a seed with what we have left or appreciate what we have built even as we stand in its ruins.
If heartbreak is inevitable and inescapable, it might be asking us to look for it and make friends with it, to see it as our constant and instructive companion, and perhaps, in the depth of its impact as well as in its hindsight, and even, its own reward. Heartbreak asks us not to look for an alternative path, because there is no alternative path. It is an introduction to what we love and have loved, an inescapable and often beautiful question, something and someone that has been with us all along, asking us to be ready for the ultimate letting go.
-David Whyte, Consolations