I have a good friend who is going through a difficult time, and I’m hoping that this will comfort her as it did me when I was going through my own heartache. Gene, my rock throughout my high school years, sent me this when I went though a terrible break-up, and I’ve kept it and have read it so many times as I’ve gone through challenges and struggles that I pretty much have it memorized.
You know that pain you get in your ribcage when you’re (emotionally) hurt? It kind of feels like something in your chest is going to explode. Unless maybe you could find a way to scream loud enough or cry long enough and somehow just push the pain out of you, as though it could be liquefied or turned to breath and just expelled. And you’re sure if you really could do that, you would flood the world or cause some disruption in the weather pattern because the force and depth of that pain is just SO BIG. And if the world could not survive it’s unleashing, then surely you will never survive its captivity in (what must be) your heart.
We call it heartbreak. Aptly named, really. We feel it near our heart and it does hurt so something must surely be getting irreparably damaged. We are warned about it from the beginning and watch our friends and family suffer from it even before we ourselves are its victim. We are taught that it is a bad thing. To be avoided at all costs.
Maybe we were taught wrong.
What if I told you that the pain in your chest isn’t your heart breaking, it’s just your heart stretching?
When you think about it, those situations and experiences that cause us “heartbreak” are always the ones that require us to grow in some way. Maybe we are learning to love bigger and broader. Maybe our heart is widening its boundaries to accept a new and different life. Growing pains for grown-ups.
And if you’re skeptical, think of this – don’t you get the same kind of pain in your chest when you witness something really beautiful? Like a child being born or watching that last guy cross the finish line at the Ironman?
The problem is, we’ve been taught to call it heartbreak and there’s a negative connotation to the word “break”. As a result, in seeking to avoid the deep feeling that may bring us pain we also cheat ourselves of all the joy that it will also bring us. That’s why the people who cry at sad movies are usually the ones who cry at happy ones. And some people just don’t cry at anything.
Our feelings can’t be selectively filtered, except by depth. If we keep our deepest feelings buried, then that includes the joyful ones as well as the painful ones.
If we stop thinking of the pain as something bad and think of it as a part of our growth process, maybe we wouldn’t be so afraid of it. Maybe we wouldn’t be so afraid of getting attached to people. Maybe we would stop alternately hiding ourselves away from the world and searching desperately for ‘the one’ who won’t ever cause us such pain. Maybe we’d get better at following our wildest dreams because we wouldn’t be so worried about rejection. Maybe we’d tell more people we love them without fearing that it would be seen as a romantic overture. And maybe we would become comfortable enough to hear that someone loves us without running away. Maybe we would learn to say “no” more when we normally say “yes” and “yes” when we usually say “no”. Maybe if we let our hearts out to stretch once in awhile, we would all learn how to love better – ourselves and others.
I think it’s really another matter of perspective. If what you see is what you get, why not look for the pleasure in your pain? Sometimes life hurts. But nothing is going to break.
So, go on, stretch a little.