I just came back from Burning Man. But this isn’t a post about that. While there, a love relationship imploded and died. But this isn’t even a post about that. This is a post about looking out for one another.
In the death throes of this relationship, and before and after, I learned a lot about what it feels like to not have people take care with me, and also what it feels like to have people take care. And now, with those lessons fresh in my mind, I want to make a plea to all of us: let’s take care of each other.
One of the projects on the playa this year was a sculpture called Truth is Beauty, a beautiful woman made out of soldered metal, who towered over all of the other art projects. And one of the gifts the builders of this sculpture gave out were wristbands that said “Together We Stand”. The friend who gave it to me explained that this meant that women needed to support one another and to intervene if we see another woman being abused or mistreated. I expanded that definition in my mind to the idea that ALL of us, regardless of gender, have a responsibility to watch each other’s backs and step in when help is needed.
There’s a tendency, I think, among many of us to assume that total independence and self-reliance is the only way to be healthy. But this ignores human emotion and even human physiology. We need one another in order to feel safe and secure and even to be physically healthy. We need our loved ones to treat us well, to love us, to be kind, and to be supportive. It’s not only just nice to have, it’s actually vital to our well-being. INTERdependence is actually what’s healthy. Independence, in the true meaning of the word of not depending on anything, is not actually particularly healthy, or even possible. Our very brain chemistry relies on having strong support from other people.
I’ve become intimate with more than one person in my life who didn’t seem to understand that, by being in an intimate relationship, we were assuming a certain amount of responsibility for one another, and that this was healthy and normal. Research shows that lovers actually regulate one another’s body systems – heartbeat, breathing, skin temperature. And learning the hard way, as I too often have, that someone I was intimate with didn’t have my best interests at heart has, each and every time, been a crushing blow, because it seemed to fly in the face of everything we’ve been told about what love is. Each time, I wondered if there was something seriously wrong with me that this person just didn’t seem to care. But each time, the people around me gathered me up and told me, with words and actions “I care.” And each time, I stood up again and continued on, and I did this because people around me gave me their hands and helped me up.
All this to say: let’s take our responsibility to one another more seriously. If you see someone being mistreated, take some kind of action, even if to reach out to that person later and ask if you can help. If you’re starting to date someone and someone else thinks they have an intimate relationship and is upset by your presence, leave the situation until the two of them resolve their issues. If you see someone hurting, stop and ask if you can help. If someone seems sad, smile at them. If someone you know – even if only on Facebook - is going through a hard time, check in with them. Don’t poach other peoples’ intimate partners. Learn how not to be cruel, demeaning, or insulting in your words and actions. Learn how to speak honestly, but also kindly. You can say what you need to – even if it’s hard - without being mean. Take care of one another. Take care of yourself.
One of the most profound things that happened for me in the desert is that, as I was sitting alone, bereft and sad, at my camp the night that things exploded, a young man – a 21-year old military vet – came over and sat with me. I didn’t know him, and he didn’t know me. He listened to my sob story. He offered to stay for as long as I needed someone to be there. He told me his sad relationship story. And when I said I needed to be alone now, he left, but not without giving me the Burning Man necklace he was wearing. I can’t remember his name, but I’m wearing the necklace right now. To me, it represents the kindness that we can all show one another if we just took our responsibility for one another seriously.
I’ve been thinking about this term, heartbreak, recently, as I struggle with the knowledge that a dear, tender, special and much-hoped-for relationship is not working out the way I would have chosen. I’ve been heartbroken often in my life, because I’ve chosen, over and over again, to open my heart to people [...]
I’ve been thinking about this term, heartbreak, recently, as I struggle with the knowledge that a dear, tender, special and much-hoped-for relationship is not working out the way I would have chosen. I’ve been heartbroken often in my life, because I’ve chosen, over and over again, to open my heart to people I see as potential intimate partners. Even though the pain of disconnection is excruciating to me, more painful than is probably healthy, I keep opening because I have no other choice. This is who I am. For the same reason I write about my inner experience on blogs, I keep opening, sharing, being authentic, even though I’ve consistently gotten the message that I’m too open, too authentic, too needy, and too emotional. I keep opening, changing my tactics in response to lessons learned, tactics which may or may not get the response I’d wished for, then when the hurt comes, I retreat to lick my wounds and to think about what just happened. Then, inevitably, even despite myself, I find myself opening again. And again. And again. I’m either very brave or very foolish.
Right now, as I feel waves of sadness, love, confusion, anger, self-pity, loss, and grief, I wonder about the word ‘heartbreak.’ What does it mean?
- Heartbreak means we must let go of expecting someone else to give us the sweet, tender caresses that carried us through many a night.
- Heartbreak means being tossed out of a comfortable nest. Perhaps, hopefully, helping us learn to fly.
- Heartbreak means the heart breaks open, wide, wider than it was when we were grasping at the beloved. In my life, heartbreak has often led to amazing moments of connection with the wider world, and the humans around me, most of whom have felt the searing pain of this experience.
- Heartbreak means that our future plans and hopes must fade away, as the castles in air that they always were.
- Heartbreak means facing the inevitability that everything we love will someday be gone from us.
- Heartbreak means letting go of habits and rituals that we shared with the beloved, and being open to new habits, new rituals.
- Heartbreak means letting the other person’s happiness lead our actions, rather than grasping at what we’ve lost.
- Heartbreak means sitting with the waves of pain and not letting them derail us or send us down into darkness, but striving towards the light the way a surfacing deep-sea diver swims towards the sun.
- Heartbreak means continually going back to the mantra “I send you all my love” to the one who is gone, even when every fiber in our being wants to beg to be let back into that tender and comfortable embrace, or rages in anger and disappointment at the beloved, for making the choice to let us go.
- Heartbreak means taking care of ourselves, letting ourselves cry, letting ourselves rage, letting ourselves reason and rationalize, and, in the end, knowing that none of it is true, it’s all fleeting emotions that will shift through the coming days and weeks. Heartbreak means being patient, knowing that we will need to be brave during this time.
- Sometimes heartbreak means falling to the floor in tears, begging the universe for some comfort, any comfort, even if only numbness. And sometimes, heartbreak means the universe answers with a presence wrapping us in warmth and unconditional love. I’ve been lucky (if that’s the right word) enough to have this happen twice in my life, and it’s magical.
- Heartbreak means reaching out to others, even while the instinct to hole up and isolate is overwhelming. It means using the pain as an impetus to open to the other love that’s in our communities.
- Heartbreak means questioning ourselves, deciding what was right about how we acted and what might not have been as skillful.
- And heartbreak means accepting ourselves fully, even the parts that we wish hadn’t surfaced or we’re told shouldn’t have surfaced, knowing we did our best, as did our partner.
In this situation, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be authentic. For my next post, I’ll discuss that. I’d love to hear from others about what you think it means to be authentic. I’ll post that on this blog in the coming days.
Email me!honey_b_temple (at) yahoo (dot) com
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