Staying Mindful Through Heartbreak: A Personal Account

Naomi Klein spoke at my college about six years ago. A highly introverted and naive sophomore near the end of a long, Iowa City Winter, I was highly influenced by Naomi and other subversive voices. Lonely and broke, wallowing in the bleakness of Bright Eyes made me feel a little better.

I don’t have any recollection of her lecture. I imagine that she was everything I thought she was.

What I do remember is the fear I felt as I approached her for a signature. Tripping over my words, I grunted something incomprehensible and held my book out to her.

She gave me a look of concern — maybe a little pity. Opening the freshly-purchased copy of Shock Doctrine, she wrote three words:

Be Brave!

Never had anyone pointed out my anxiety in such an overt way.

I felt exposed. Everyone else seemed to have no anxiety at all about approaching her.

Shortly after that, I loaned the book to a friend and never asked for it back.

I haven’t thought much about it since. Not until last week, when I experienced some loss and heartbreak.

Today, the words “be brave” bring me solace. Looking back at my relationship, I have no regrets about the emotional risks that I took.

Pushing through anxiety and being vulnerable can feel like a complete loss of control — and that’s exactly the point. You may find that your partner knows how to nourish you in these moments — but they might just let you down.

It was difficult for her to attend to me. She’d often react with anger or frustration. She had difficulty going to vulnerability herself. But every time I thought we were nearing separation, she would surprise me. She’d push through and share her emotions and vulnerability. And she did it for me.

I knew this would be an every-week struggle. If I was going to stay with her, I’d have to be more patient than any reasonable person.

When she told me that she no longer had the emotional capacity to be with me, I felt hurt and abandoned. I rejected her explanation — if you said that you love and care for me, how can you not have any room for me?

This past weekend, I felt like a wild animal brewing with resentment. It tainted our connection, the experiences that we shared. The memories felt fraudulent somehow — if she was leaving me, then she never could have loved me.

But that isn’t fair to her.

She decided to take on what she could handle. She has family relying on her through health episodes. This is not a role that comes natural to her, but she knows that she needs to step up.

Allowing myself to see her suffering, I can respect her decision. It doesn’t matter whether she didn’t want to be with me or merely couldn’t.

I try to judge people based on the decisions they make. Given the circumstances, she made the best decision for her. Rather than yielding to my delusions, I can see it for what it was.

The acceptance and peace I feel now would not have been possible without my friends — and certainly not after only 3 days.

As I agonized about what our experiences meant now, a friend stopped me right there. “Someone once told me that the past is just a story we tell ourselves.” I knew that he had me there.

Without the wisdom of another friend, who knows how long it would have taken me to not only accept her decision but to respect it.

To take it a step further, I could even embrace her decision to leave me.

But I’m not quite sure if I’m there yet.

Somehow, in the recesses of my mind, I thought about Naomi’s signature in the book I haven’t owned for years. Since then, I’ve hardly thought about it and haven’t followed any of her work. This brings to mind a book I recently read, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo:

There is no meaning in their just being on your shelves. You read books for the experience of reading. Books you have read have already been experienced and their content is inside you, even if you don’t remember.

I am again reminded to embrace impermanence. Just as I can donate 50 books from my shelf — many on my list to “read someday” — I can accept that relationships, people, myself are all constantly changing. I’m content to close this book and reach for the next.

Originally published at on July 8, 2015.