Experiencing the Dark Side of Impermanence.
I broke up with my girlfriend this week. Or maybe she broke up with me.
Honestly, I’m not sure what you call it when two people who say “I love you” every day mutually decide that things aren’t working out. I just know that I started this past holiday season with a significant other, and I ended it all alone. What’s confusing the hell out of me, however, is that she’s a good person. And I’m a good person… I think. So what does it mean when two good people can’t make a relationship work?
This is the question that I’ve been pondering the past few days as I power through the five stages of grief, and the word that keeps popping into my head is impermanence.
Buddha tells us that everything arises and everything passes away. In other words, impermanence is a permanent part of life (see what I did there). Furthermore, it’s our desire to keep things from changing that causes suffering. That makes sense when we’re discussing the weather. But how do relationships play into that? No one says, “I love you… until circumstances change and I no longer have the same feelings.”
In fact, romantic relationship hinges on the idea that your feelings won’t change. It’s like a shared delusion where two people convince themselves that Love conquers all. My ex-girlfriend and I gave up weekends, birthdays, and time with friends to be with one another because in a universe where mountains crumble to dust and stars explode in the sky, we thought our feelings would never change.
In short, we created a fantasy world where our love would last forever… until it didn’t.
And that’s where I’m standing right now. I’m in the place right after love stops lasting forever, and I’m trying to find a way to move forward. Intellectually, I understand the teaching of impermanence. I get that everything changes. I understand that relationships are no exception to the rule. But that understanding isn’t helping me right now.
Because there’s a hole in my chest where my heart used to be, and it feels like I’m going to die.
I observe this feeling when I meditate. It comes and goes in waves as different memories play in my mind. Sometimes it feels like a dull ache in my chest, and I barely know it’s there. Other times it feels like an anvil, and I can barely breathe. I try to not take it personally. I remind myself that this is karma manifesting itself as physical sensations in my body.
Just as a room goes dark when you turn out the lights, a heart aches when it’s broken. All I need to do is maintain calm-abiding, and let the feeling run its course. Thinking in this way lessens the pain. It gives me a way to move forward.
What I’m experiencing right now is the dark side of impermanence. It’s easy to accept that life is constantly changing. But it’s hard to accept that the karma associated with those changes can be unpleasant. I think the key thing to remember, however, is that karma is impersonal. It doesn’t manifest itself based on what we do or do not deserve.
It just manifests… and we must find the skillful means to cope with what it gives us. So now I’m in a situation where my relationship has ended, and my karma demands that I be in emotional pain for a while. What to do? I think I’ll call my parents and tell them, “I love you.” Then I’ll take the dog on a walk. If I have to endure suffering, I’ll balance it out by bringing joy to others.
In the face of impermanence, that seems like the logical choice.
Sensei Alex Kakuyo is a former Marine who now earns his living as a Business Analyst. He splits his free time between social justice work, cycling, and deepening his meditation practice. Alex has been a Zen practitioner since 2013, and he is training to become a lay minister in the Bright Dawn Center of Oneness Buddhism. You can read more of his writing by visiting his blog, The Same Old Zen.