IMG_5097

Finding the Buddha in a Breakup

One Mind Dharma Mindfulness 0 Comments

One Mind Dharma is SUPER excited to offer this post from the wonderful Kate Spina. It is with joy and gratitude that we offer you this deeply honest piece.

I got dumped.

It has taken me seven weeks to be able to write that sentence. I’ve said it in other terms, made these long convoluted sentences about what happened, but the truth is that I was dumped. It was not mutual; it wasn’t a shift in directions: the man I love left me.

So I’ve been devastated. In moments, totally wrecked.

And, I’ve also been incredibly grateful. I know, I know, you think it’s a load of crap. How can I be grateful at a time like this? Am I just trying to sound all spiritual and stuff?

No, I swear, I am grateful. I am grateful for the Buddha. For this man who, about 2,600 years ago, laid out a series of teachings that make a whole lot of sense to me, and apply to every aspect of my life. Even a breakup. I can see my experience through the lens of his teachings (the Dharma), and not get so wrapped up in my breakup stories.

Because, let me tell you, I can get lost in stories.
If only I had done…
If only I noticed…
If only he…then I could have…
And on, and on, and on. And it’s not very useful, this trying to rewrite the past.

But because of the Buddha, I have this Dharma lens through which I can see my experience. I was able to view the breakup through the teaching of the three characteristics of existence. And by understanding that, I found some measure of freedom.

Impermanence (Anicca)

Everything changes. Nothing lasts. All conditioned phenomena is impermanent. And all means, well, all. Even relationships. If a couple stays together for their “whole life”, the likelihood is one of them will die first.

What a relief. The relationship changed because the nature of things is change. I know this intellectually, but accepting it can be hard. My mind wants to tell me everything is all my fault. When I can feel the truth of impermanence, that part of my mind relaxes, and I can just feel whatever is happening in the present moment, whether is sadness, or anger, or hopelessness, or peace.

One tool I have used to really feel impermanence is to spend periods of meditation focusing my attention on the body. As itches arise and pass away, and aches come and go, I really feel them. And when my mind tells me I need to scratch or shift, but I have the patience not to, I can watch the sensations change and pass away.

I can transfer this to my experience with emotions. When I wake up feeling the hopelessness from the breakup, with my fears about the future seeming to press upon me, I can trust that it will change at some point. This will not always be my experience. And there’s a lot of freedom in that.

Unsatisfactoriness (Dukkha)

This word dukkha is hard to translate, but what the Buddha was essentially saying is that there is going to be difficulty in life. Because everything is impermanent, there is nowhere to fully rest in comfort, so there is an underlying unsatisfactoriness of life. We will often have periods of our life filled with joy and ease, but the reality is shit happens.

Getting dumped happens. It doesn’t mean I’m doing “life” wrong. It just means that a conditioned experience that I was a part of changed. This can be hard for me to accept. I grew up in a family where the appearance of perfection was paramount. My parents have been married over 40 years. Every time a relationship I am in ends I feel like I failed. And the truth of dukkha is that isn’t true, because unpleasant experiences are just a fact of life.

When I sit in meditation and my neighbor’s yappy dog starts barking I can get lost in a story about it, or I can see it as simply an unsatisfactory experience and have some acceptance around that. The same is true of my whole experience. I can create stories around the breakup (I am inherently unloveable is my personal fave), or I can see it with this broader view as an unsatisfactory life experience.

We are so brave when we know that the relationship will change or end and to willingly choose to be in it anyway. I made the brave choice to be in the relationship knowing that it would change. I could have avoided my current pain, but I chose to be in the experience because I gain so much knowledge about myself, the human experience, and others by building a relationship with another human being.

Not-Self (Anatta)

This third mark the Buddha talked about can sometimes come across as a big abstract concept, but I’ve actually found it quite simple. If all conditioned things change, and I am a conditioned thing, then I change, so there is no “fixed” Kate. The 2006 Kate that slept with four people in the two months after a breakup is not the Kate I am today. (For this breakup my most unskillful tools have been Netflix and cheese, a huge improvement!)

I don’t need to label myself as one thing or another. I don’t have to be “the woman that gets dumped” or “the unloveable woman” or “the woman who is bad at relationships.” Instead I am a series of causes and conditions. As Stephen Levine says in his 2006 book Unattended Sorrow, “Though we may have been told we are and must be a noun, in truth we are a restless verb, a process in process…”

To access the truth of anatta I find a reflection practice quite helpful. I can reflect back on the me that had a break up in 2006, or 2008, or 2009, or 2013 and see the changes in how I experience a breakup now. Reflecting on my growth allows me to see the changes in myself, patterns of behavior I may want to look more closely at, and how different causes and conditions create different results.

Freedom

When I see my breakup through the lens of the Buddha’s teachings I am no longer swept away by my experience. Making it less about me and more about the Buddha’s idea of the nature of things gives me the space I need not to get caught up in my stories. I still have periods of overwhelm and sadness and anger and loneliness, but I also can see the moments of peace and clarity and even nanoseconds of hope.

About Kate

Kate Spina, LCSW, is a meditation facilitator at Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, an Adaptive Ski Instructor, and a lover of the Dharma. She splits her time between Ventura, CA and Telluride, CO. Kate can be reached at it.is.kate@gmail.com. You may read Kate’s posts (and stay tuned in for more) by visit www.OneMindDharma.com/Kate.