By Kellie Schorr
May You Be is a 4-week series designed to coincide with the “Metta in May” theme going on through the month of May. Each week looks at one of the statements of the Loving Kindness recitation.
May you dwell in safety
May you be happy and healthy
May you be free from affliction
May you live in peace
Late night is the worst.
The world is dark and quiet. Sweet distractions that carry her step by step through the day have been put to bed. A silent, shimmering moon bathes the porch in the light of soft desire and she can see two chairs: hers, and the empty one. His chair.
She looks at her phone willing her finger to touch any icon, a bank app, that word game she hates, the data monitor, anything but Instagram. Too late. She flips through the additions to his account from the last time she checked, “just to see if he was still alive.” He is. Memes, moments, a trip to the lake with his girlfriend; he’s definitely alive. She puts the phone down and lifts her face as that merciless moon vaporizes into a hundred stinging droplets of loss that edge down her cheek.
“It’s been almost four years,” she says to no-one. “When will it stop?”
Affliction. When we say that word in our Metta practice there’s a tendency to think of affliction, or suffering, as the external circumstances that surrounds us—disease, job loss, car trouble, or broken windows. The real affliction, the kind that needs more prayer and attention, is actually the internal pain we carry, and cause, ourselves.
Suffering isn’t pain. It’s our relationship to pain and nowhere is it is more challenging than that room in our head where ex-friends and lovers still reside as the hungriest of ghosts. It doesn’t matter who walked away from the relationship, a best friend who painfully cuts you out of their life or a lover so destructive you simply had to leave. As long as there is attachment there will still be affliction.
How do we practice this prayer and let go of those ghosts, some of whom have been in our attic longer than they were in our life? Day by day, prayer by prayer. Here’s a good place to start the journey to be free of affliction.
After the storm, the crackling electricity that rolls through your heart like lightening and the heavy rain of regret, when you’ve accepted it is finished and the landscape of your life has changed (sometimes better, sometimes worse), the first thing you must do is mourn. Grief is an incredibly important part of letting someone go. It is as painful to lose a friendship to personal or political differences as it is to death. Maybe more, because you must also overcome the false hope that person will return and it was all just a mistake.
Allow yourself the same time, space and rituals as you would any other deep loss. Acknowledge the pain and disappointment you feel when forever fails to make it through the winter. Voice your anger at the emptiness in your heart, your home or your bed. Forgive yourself if you feel weak, and re-center. Moving forward from a lost love takes the same strength and compassion people gain once they’ve stood by a grave.
Best Practice: Tonglen. The practice of sending and taking, Tonglen will help you take in all the brokenness and pain and surround yourself with light and healing.
Once you’ve said goodbye, it’s time to let go. Grieving makes it a little easier because you’re no longer holding on to a living fantasy, but a dead reality. Ew. Don’t be an emotional vulture picking off the bones of what you had. Three ways to fly away:
Stop social media stalking. Seriously. If your app of choice has a block, use it. If it doesn’t, then say clearly, “I’m not looking them up. All it causes is pain.” Train your hand-mind connection to reject that search and it will get easier over time. When you throw away junk food, it doesn’t climb out of the trash on its own and say, “Dammit! You’re gonna eat me!” Likewise, your ex’s social channels aren’t banging on your eyelids by themselves. Stop going there.
Stop the replay. Replaying the negative things you experienced in the relationship is like preparing a brand new beautiful bowl, then pouring yesterday’s moldy soup in it. Remembering the “good times” just lets nostalgia distort your thinking. Your relationship wasn’t the worst and it wasn’t the most amazing. It just was, and now it isn’t. Keep your mind in the present.
Clean your haunted house. That may mean physically removing pictures, art, his clothes, or that funny set of dish towels your bestie gave you on the trip to the beach, back when you were friends. It also means transforming the things you do and the places you go. You don’t have to quit going to the beach you love, but take new friends, and make new memories. The more space you make, the more room you have for growth, for fun, and for love.
Best Practice: Calm Abiding. Just as calm abiding (sometimes called shamatha, or zhine) teaches you to focus on the breath, the practice will help you learn to bring yourself back to the present.
The best way to let go of an ex-friend or lover is to take them out of the “ex” category altogether. Part of healing from a relationship is learning to identify yourself in other ways than “Maggie’s friend” or “Luke’s girlfriend.” Letting that relationship go in such a powerful way it no longer causes suffering means learning to see them as Maggie instead of “My former friend” or Luke, not “my ex-boyfriend.” Instead of dehumanizing them into demons of your past, put them in the category of all beings. This is especially helpful if you share children. Seeing someone as “Greg’s father” instead of “my ex-husband” helps everything stay in perspective.
Go from blame to being. When you end up remembering the relationship, create a cognitive shift from “she unfriended me” to “we had different political ideas and couldn’t overcome them.” Transform, “He slept with his co-worker” to “We crossed a line too far to return.” Do not gaslight yourself into thinking, “It wasn’t his fault” or “I could have….” Be realistic. At the same time, removing the personal blame from a situation takes out its battery and it becomes just another event.
Stop searching for “why” and start looking for “where.” The search for “why this happened” is a perpetual motion machine that will never let you rest. Even if you get the person to tell you “why” the answer rarely satisfies. Keep bringing your focus back to where you are now, who you are now, and what’s right in front of you that needs your attention.
Best Practice: Metta Meditation. Every day keep praying for all beings (even Maggie or Luke) to be happy, healthy, free and at peace. You don’t have to mean it. Just keep saying it. Eventually, the meaning will fill in the spaces, and without any ex’s, you will be liberated too.
May you be free from affliction.
Editor: Dana Gornall
Were you inspired by this post? You might also like:
- Meeting Your First Teacher: How to Begin a Body-Positive Path - June 11, 2021
- Walkin’ After Midnight: A Two-Step for the Path of Change - March 31, 2021
- The Lighthouse: What to do When Your Compassion Isn’t Welcome - January 28, 2021