Recently, I’ve been going through the toughest breakup of my life. My partnership was the most serious relationship I’d ever been in, and the first one where I let myself be fully vulnerable. When you really give your heart over to someone, breaking up — even if it’s mutual, or you initiate it — puts you face to face with true heartbreak. And while that’s been more than difficult, it’s also been surprisingly fruitful: I feel a sense of clarity, creativity, and compassion I’ve never felt from a breakup before. It seems that the greater the risk to your heart, the greater potential reward.
One of the most useful things I did — on the day of my breakup — was to buy meditation teacher and writer Susan Piver’s book “The Wisdom of a Broken Heart: An Uncommon Guide to Healing, Insight, and Love.” Her guide is all about learning to sit with the sadness of a breakup, and it helps give you techniques for turning it into something maybe even beautiful. I spoke with Piver to summarize some of the main takeaways from her book, and to add a little of my own experience when it comes to making the most of no one’s favorite predicament.
1. Use a broken heart as a way to open yourself to a more compassionate existence.
You know how everything you see and hear around you is a little heartbreakingly beautiful after a breakup (emphasis on heartbreaking)? Well, that’s actually not so different from what happens when you start meditating a lot and your heart becomes more open and raw.
“You could look at heartbreak as love unbound from an object,” Piver tells me. “And though it’s painful, you feel everything when your heart is broken. That ability to feel so much is the gateway to true compassion.” A broken heart — or really, any form of raw sadness — could be looked at as an opportunity to open yourself to a more empathetic experience of the world.
2. Develop a daily meditation practice tailored to your breakup.
Speaking from my personal experience, a regular meditation practice can be really useful when it comes to sitting with your broken heart. That said, Piver cautions that if you just can’t stop sobbing and are completely grief-stricken to the point where you can’t do anything else, it may not be a good idea to meditate right away, since it amplifies what you feel.
“But at some point, it’s helpful to introduce something that helps you deal with your runaway mind, which, when your heart is broken, it’s constantly ruminating: ‘Why did I do this? What does this mean? I’ll never love again. Why did I say that thing? He’s an ass. I’m an ass,’” Piver says. “It’s like your own mind is attacking you.”
While it won’t necessarily make you feel “all better,” meditation can introduce you to a way of working with your thoughts that’s empowering and puts you in control.
Not sure how to meditate? Find some easy instructions here. I also highly suggest seeking out a local meditation group in your area. The support and community can be a source of solace, minus religious dogma.
3. Treat yourself in unusual ways.
Yes, self-care might mean zoning out to ’90s movies or eating the whole damn supersize bag of pretzels. “Sometimes escapism is called for, and it’s not always a bad thing,” Piver says. “Sometimes that is all you can do.”
That said, you might find other forms of treating yourself — ones that don’t numb so much as soothe and make you respect yourself — even more useful. That can look like taking a bath to relaxing music, masturbating by candlelight, or writing down five things every night that were good about the day, no matter how small. If these practices make you cry, that’s more than OK. Whatever makes you feel both pampered and like your most evolved self will be especially empowering in the long run.
4. Don’t pressure yourself to “just get over it.”
Our culture will try to tell you otherwise, but there are no shortcuts for healing.
“When your heart is broken, not only do you feel like love has turned on you, but it’s like you’ve turned on yourself — that’s so painful. If you can find some way of being gentle with yourself, not necessarily by telling yourself you’re awesome, but by letting yourself feel and cry and not ‘get over it,’ just allow that,” Piver says. “I think all of the advice in our world is urging you to move on, to feel less. Sure, at some point, do that, but to give yourself over to these feelings seems to be a quicker way to metabolize the situation than just trying to get away from what you feel.” There is no way but through, so you might as well be patient with yourself.
5. Prove you can change a habit you developed while you were with your ex.
Leading up to my breakup and in its immediate aftermath, I was falling into all my comfort habits: eating huge bowls of popcorn for dinner, smoking weed, and watching all nine seasons of “Shameless” in about two weeks. That got old quickly, though — like putting on a soggy Band-Aid that kept peeling off.
Now, I’ve used the breakup as motivation to change habits I adopted when I was unhappy in my relationship. I’ve decided not to smoke again until I feel like it’s not about numbing myself, and I’ve started cooking almost every day — something I never did before, since my ex was the chef. I’ve established a regular meditation practice. These are all goals I had for years, but I found it wasn’t until I had the motivation of proving to myself (and let’s be honest, my ex) that I could be strong and healthy alone that I was able to meet these goals. A breakup can sometimes give you great energy, creative and otherwise.
6. Be very selective about who you allow in your life.
A rough breakup can really clarify who your truest friends are. Sometimes it’s surprising — friends you thought were rock solid get impatient or flakey, while people you thought barely considered you might come to the fore and prove to be your strongest allies.
“I think it’s good to let in the latter category, just people who will be with you as you feel this terrible loss,” Piver says. They’ll be far more helpful than people “who are impatient with you, or people who want you to move on because they’re uncomfortable, or people that are constantly giving you advice, when what you really need is to just be witnessed.”
It’s also perfectly fine to feel like some good lovin’ is in order. Sex can definitely help, but not if it’s a way to simply punish yourself. Be very careful about who you “rebound” with, and consider that you might actually be more open to kind, genuine, and gentle people now. “I think it’s not that hard to tell who to let in when your heart is broken, because your emotional radar is so sharp that you know who’s genuine and you know who’s on your side and you know who isn’t,” Piver says. As with all of these tips, trust your instincts.