We live in times of great heartbreak, times of great suffering. The fallacy we brought to2021 was that it might be better, might get easier, but what we’re learning is that the legacy of 2020 remains. If each year feels more difficult, each day still brings opportunities for joy, and each day teaches us that the only way past these times is through them.
I am reminded of the writing of Rabbi Steven Leder, from the book More Beautiful Than Before:
This man then pointed something out to me that I had never thought about before. He pointed out that the Bible says God places words and commandments for kindness and decency upon our hearts.
Why Does God place these words upon our hearts? Why not place these holy words in our hearts?” he asked me.
Then he answered his own question, quoting a sage:
“It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.”
The Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh speaks to what we do in these times when our hearts seem endlessly broken:
It is in my heart when I use it because when you breathe in, your mind comes back to your body, and then you become fully aware that you’re alive, that you are a miracle and everything you touch could be a miracle — the orange in your hand, the blue sky, the face of a child. Everything become a wonder. And, in fact, they are wonders of life that are available in the here and the now. And you need to breathe mindfully in and out in order to be fully present and to get in touch with all these things. And that is a miracle because you understand the nature of the suffering, you know that all of suffering, that suffering play in life, and you are not trying to run away from suffering anymore, and you know how to make use of suffering in order to build peace and happiness.
Why do our hearts break? This past year, I’ve had many conversations with heartbroken friends, and the best reason I can come up with this: that the story we held for ourselves, the life we thought we had, has fallen apart. These times of plague strip away the story we had for the United States, for Hong Kong, for the world at large.
One of the most important lessons I learned from a meditation teacher is that suffering is a reminder that we are interconnected. That same fear, that same anxiety, that same desire for hope in hopeless times can isolate us and drive us into ourselves, but it is also what unites us as humans. Like Rabbi Leder’s story, these times are meant to remind us to be kind, to be decent, to forgive.
Here is a meditation that keeps me steady during times of heartbreak:
Breathing in, I see my pain
Breathing out, I wish myself healing
Breathing in, I see so many others, too, feel this pain
Breathing out, I wish them healing
I hope it can helpful for you, too.