what to do when your heart breaks

Dear Ones,

As you may or may not have noticed, I haven’t been writing in the last few weeks.  First, I’m sorry!  Being in touch consistently has been so important to me, and I have definitely fallen down on that score recently.  Um, also without telling you about it.  (That’s what we tend to do, as human beings - we change and forget to inform our loved ones!)  Believe me, I’ve still been thinking of you.  Often. 

So, what’s been happening, you ask?  

Well, partly I couldn’t find the words to adequately express my own personal SuperFeeler heartbreak in recent weeks.  Too much violence, too many national and international crises, too much senseless death.  Inside me, so much painful shocked sadness and outrage and even despair anytime I sat down contemplatively to write.

It seems I lose my words when these things happen - it’s like becoming a raw, soundless gouge.  And in that space, writing about the personal lessons I’m learning in my own teeny tiny little corner of the universe looks like narcissistic navel-gazing (to my mind, anyway) but more relevant, writing to an audience just feels impossible.  I haven't been able to find the words. 

However, what I have found are things to DO.  We can educate ourselves (please check out
this powerful curriculum, especially if you are white like me).  We can take concrete steps to consciously dismantle our privilege - here’s one perspective and here’s another.  Please read. 

Because avoiding the news doesn’t work.  I’ve totally tried this, you guys!  While there are some clear benefits, media avoidance is not completely practical (at least until I move to a hippie commune in the woods!) and, in all seriousness, I care a lot about being a responsible citizen.  So I’m paying attention.

Here's where I've landed:  being part of this world in human form means that we will experience heartbreak.  We can’t avoid it or prevent it.  We can’t actually control other people to protect ourselves (even though this strategy is also something I've tried, you guys, and fervently - but to little avail).   

In one of the great bittersweet ironies of life, when we try so hard and so carefully to avoid having our SuperFeeler hearts broken, we inadvertently end up creating heartbreak.  Specifically, as it relates to recent horrifying world events, we create heartbreak by giving in to helplessness.  (Which is why Despair is not invited to visit me anymore!! She's gone.)

So, what the hell do we do then???!  Especially as SuperFeelers with SuperFeelings???!!  I mean, really!

When your heart runs as deep as the ocean, and world events are crushing your spirit to within an inch of its precious life, here’s what to do.  At least, here’s what I do.  

STEP 1:  Stop taking in poison.  

If you’ve seen the news and you know what’s happening, it’s enough to see it once.  Then stop watching.  Please.

I mean, please do watch it once.  Be informed, by all means.  But do this with an eye toward a larger purpose. 

We watch the news so we can be responsible citizens.  With news of violence, we take it in so we can do the more important things of acknowledging the painful reality and honoring the dead with our sincere attention and respecting the families who are hurting.   Watch it once, pay respects, and then stop.  Turn off the media sources.  

If you don’t, and you keep watching the same horror repeatedly, you are torturing yourself.  If you dive deeply into the pain and stay there, wallowing in other people’s suffering, you are drinking poison - willingly.  If you spin around in the pain of others without taking responsibility for your own psychological experience, you are actually doing self-harm.  I know this sounds dramatic, but for SuperFeelers, it's true. 

I know because I learned this lesson the hard way.  On September 11, 2001, I came home from teaching school and watched the news for hours...so it must have been at least fifty times that I saw the airplanes crashing into the Twin Towers with all the accompanying pain and horror and outrage and anxiety and helplessness transmitted by the news anchors.  The video footage was played repeatedly.

But you know what?  

By watching the news for hours, I did not become more informed.  Nor did I become better able to help anyone, including myself or my seventh-grade students, to process the national tragedy.  In fact, what I became as a result of all that television was an unstable, confused, shaky version of me who was walking around in deep despair, mentally replaying truly terrifying images over and over and over again, lost in suffering.

This kind of response doesn't make anything better. 

Thankfully, I have learned a lot since then.  As SuperFeelers, we must take responsibility for our inner worlds, firmly and tenderly, because that’s where our power lives.

So, we can take in the news, and we can pay attention to suffering.  Then we can GO DO SOMETHING about it. 

It starts with the choice to stop drinking poison.  

STEP 2:   Calm down.  Like, really.   Really, really, really calm down.  

Once you’ve stopped watching the news (and perhaps the media altogether), it’s time to have a moment. 

Okay.  Hang on to your hat now!  Are you ready for the most unsexy and most unsurprising information ever???

We calm down by taking deep breaths.  (Yes!!! I know!!!! What an exciting and sexy and unique thing to say!!! #Don'tCare)

This letter is already long so I’ll spare you the neurophysiology, but suffice to say that breathing deeply is not just for hippies or yoga class.

It's for YOU!

As SuperFeelers, it's essential to check in with our inner worlds.  

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be a swirl of all the big feelings after watching the news.  I mean, we could drown in our own depths, right?!  So we need to know what on earth is going on in there.  Like, specifically.  So we don't drown.  (In fact, I believe it's our responsibility to know what's going on in there - but more on that later.)

What we often do is label the swirl of big feelings as “Anxiety” and then move on...to a glass of wine ("I need to relax!") or a light-hearted television show ("I need to be happy!") or a chat with a friend ("I need to get out of my own head!"). 

But “anxiety” is often a blanket decoy label for all the depths and complexities and nuances of feeling that are truly underneath.   

We need to actually know what we are feeling.  We need a moment, a deep breath (or eight), and a fine-tooth comb.

And I guarantee you this:  if you have just watched a video of an unarmed man getting murdered by a police officer (or any other kind of outright terror), you will find that you feel absolutely TERRIBLE.

Taking this moment of quiet practically ensures that you will experience pain - w
hich is why so many of us skip this step!  And I totally get it, you guys!  We really don't want to feel awful. We don't want the sharp discomfort, the acute pain, the ugly shame and twisting guilt.  That stuff hurts

But here’s the thing, dear ones:

All those feelings are THERE ALREADY!  If you are a SuperFeeler and you have just watched terrifying news, I guarantee that you are feeling beyond terrified and angry and shocked and sick and more).  Those feeling responses are flying around inside your skin and you are feeling AWFUL.  You just may not be conscious of it.
(Because usually it's the conscious mind that can't even and so ignores, denies, suppresses, etc., etc., etc..) 

So, we must take a pause and a deep breath.  Lots of deep breaths, actually.  Until our nervous systems shift back into "Rest & Digest" mode and we can function in homeostasis as we're designed to do and consciously feel our own SuperFeelings and skillfully understand what is happening in our internal worlds.  Only when we understand our deepest selves can we drop anchor in our integrity and meet the world with the unrelenting kindness that it so desperately needs (!).  Which brings us to...

STEP 3:  Be powerfully, relentlessly kind. 

Here's where you get to really go nuts and choose your own adventure.

There are a squillion ways to be kind to yourself and to others - and not in an airy-fairy, trite, cute emoji kind of way.  I mean, I totally dig emojis, but I'm talking about being kind in a POWERFUL way that makes a big, hairy, tangible difference in the world. 

Teachers at the ten-day metta meditation retreat taught me to always start by offering kindness to myself, which I've written about before.  Anytime I'm distressed, whether at home or on the bus or walking downtown, I repeat the metta phrases to myself.  It changes things.  Please try it, or any other way you can concretely, sincerely offer yourself kindness - and receive it.

(Because it's near-impossible to be genuinely kind to others when you're anxious / swirling / distressed on the inside.  People can feel these things, you know?)

Then you could hug the daylights out of your kiddo, who might be just as terrified as you were just a moment ago.  You could go to a convenience store and park yourself outside of it to escort people of color in and out of it to ensure their safety.  You could join the
Human Rights Campaign.  You could write a poem reflecting on your privilege (like the eighth-grade boy whose video-recorded reading has gone viral), you could work in a community garden in an under-resourced neighborhood, you could organize a group in your white community for addressing racism even if there are no people of color who live there.  You could attend a rally and stand calmly between police officers and people of color as a way to use your privilege for good.  You could send money to organizations who do good work.  You could do whatever kind, beautiful thing you feel inspired to do as part of making the world a more inclusive, fair, and peaceful place. 

This is our work.  When your heart runs as deep as the ocean, you can do sooo much good!!  We just have to become skilled.  We must intentionally clean ourselves up so we can vibrate on a frequency of peace.  Whether we are making dinner with our littles, talking on the phone with our beloveds, buying groceries on a weeknight, or marching in a rally, we are far, far, FAR more powerful when our SuperFeeler hearts are anchored firmly in genuine calm, sincere kindness, and audacious hope. 

Much love,