A very close friend and I spoke today on the phone. She’s going through a really hard time with a break-up. It’s not nasty, no one cheated, no yelling, no blame, no blatant ugliness, but a more insidious kind of discomfort; when one of the two seems to get over it much more easily than the other. This outcome can lead (perhaps more-so for women?) to us calling into question the depth and value of the relationship as a whole, going back through history and replaying certain moments until we’ve convinced ourselves of one thing or another, namely that what we thought was the reality for the relationship while we were in it is a lie and some other less wonderful thing was actually going on. Ick.
The narrative you convince yourself is of course your own and reflects the story you are trying to tell yourself. Perhaps it includes you as a victim or someone that nobody likes. Perhaps it includes the other person as not caring at all about you and being a jerk. The truth is that while we can learn about people from how they deal with conflict and change, we often add in our own assumptions and logic to fill out the story instead of accepting the fact that because we aren’t in as much contact or aren’t sharing as intimately with this other person that there is actually a lot we don’t know and won’t be able to understand. Furthermore, because of our vulnerability we need to be careful of making up stories, because this doesn’t help us see or feel clearly. I think what has worked best for is to continue to dismantle those stories as they form and remind myself of the things that I don’t know. Then contiue by bringing my focus back to what matters, which is what am I actually feeling and what do I have to learn and take care of for myself. What is real. What is real. What is real. What do I have control over. What can I change. What can I learn. What can I do to love myself and take care of myself while I’m feeling so strongly the absence of another’s care.
The process of analyzing and creating storylines to fill in the gaps of knowledge has never led anyone to any better understanding of what actually happened. Hearts aren’t rational and relationships rarely follow logical trajectories. Why does one person get over something quickly and the other take a long time? It’s better not to concern yourself with why because You’ll never truly know the truth of another person, even if you do end up spending the rest of your life with them.
In my ideal world when people break up they would continue to meet up and help each other process and learn from what happened. Both would be open to it and also want the other person to feel loved and supported through the grieving process of allowing a relationship to pass out of one’s life. But often in this actual world that we live in, people are incapable of such presence, openness, humility, vulnerability, and courage. It’s easier to shut it off and either repress the uncomfortable emotions or blame the other person.
It’s hard for me to imagine going through something like this without a spiritual perspective. I imagine it would feel quite bleak and lonely. That was one of the ways that she described how she felt: alone. When I was younger and on fire with interest in the opposite sex I experienced a lot of painful rejection. I remember how much relief I felt when I finally allowed myself to listen to Billy Holiday and feel the pain and discomfort rather than trying to avoid, ignore, or deny it. Listening to those songs about heartbreak and abandonment was difficult for me until I developed the emotional depth and maturity to hold that pain and discomfort, but as that happened what I found was the comfort of the shared experience and the release of my own judgment around having the experience of rejection and hurt feelings. From that eventually the seeds of recognizing our oneness were planted. After I made space for myself to actually feel what my life was bringing me I was able to step beyond that to realizing that Billy and I shared some experiences, and probably a lot of other people had as well. The commonness of our human experience has been a great comfort to me. In that pain is the ecstasy of life, in each person’s eyes the reflection of our own self and what we share.
I think one of my first spiritual experiences was listening to Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah. If you haven’t heard it, do yourself a favor and listen to it now. Leonard Cohen wrote the song originally (of course, didn’t he write everything? Him and Bob Dylan…) and there is a section of the lyrics towards the end that goes like this:
It’s not somebody who has seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
The Hallelujah of this song is not about celebration. What I think he’s saying is that Hallelujah means something when you can say it from your most broken and vulnerable place. If through your tears, your mistakes, your foibles, and all that didn’t go the way you would’ve liked, if you can muster a “cold” and “broken” Hallelujah, that is a real Hallelujah. That is a praise that has some weight and depth to it. That is a profound understanding of the divine. It’s easy to say Hallelujah when everything is amazing, but can you find yourself in the profane, in the disaster? Can you know that you stand on the same sacred ground in your moment of sacred terror as you do when you think you’ve been blessed? This has been an incredible lesson for me, and one that has moved me through many hardships. If you can say Hallelujah then, it’s like truly understanding that this too shall pass. And this too shall pass. And this too shall pass. And in every moment I can say with my full heart and body Hallelujah. Even when Amy died, even when Julie died. The best thing that I can offer is not that this is “good” or “bad,” holy or unholy, but merely my sad and pained hallelujah. My recognition of spirit, and thus oneness, and thus the existence of all in this moment, all good bad and unholy. It’s all in that one word said in such a moment.
In the second to last stanza he says “it doesn’t matter what you heard, The holy or the broken Hallelujah” because “there’s a blaze of light in every word.” Part of what I love about this is that he’s taking on the issue of our limited human perspective and saying “It doesn’t matter what you heard.” It doesn’t matter what you think of me. It doesn’t matter if in your eyes I wasn’t doing something right. And the word Hallelujah is just a metaphor for all of human doings and sayings. You experience my way of being in this world as profane. The opinions we have on that don’t matter ultimately, because in the eyes of god there is a blaze of light in every word. Every word. Every breath. Every atom. Every tree. Every thing. Every terrible event. A blaze of light. A hallelujah. Sacredness. It is all sacred, all of it. So remember that this person not loving you back, or not understanding you, or thinking there’s something wrong with you, doesn’t touch the blaze of light and life in your words. There’s a blaze of light in it all, in the holy and the broken Hallelujah. That is a grace that is always available to us, always. In your darkest moment say hallelujah and don’t worry if it comes out holy or broken.