The Mystery of Soulbreak
Sometimes things happen and it causes us great pain. It is so painful that we can barely breath, let alone make sense of it. We fall into a spiral of darkness, a bottomless pit where the sunshine cannot reach, where every last bit of optimism within us is extinguished. And, this sense of being swallowed up by darkness can last for a very very long time.
It is a mystery why such things happen, and it feels much bigger than a heartbreak. I call it a “soulbreak,” and it is related to the “dark night of the soul” if you have read about this in spiritual or psychology literatures. A failed romance can lead to this, but so can other events such as losing one’s job, getting divorced, or losing a loved one. The experience has at its origin an intense inner struggle that culminates in the tearing apart of one’s soul through an event like the ones just mentioned. These events are not the cause in and of itself. Rather, they simply serve as a catalyst for what has been needing to happen. Following them is the profound sense that we no longer recognize ourselves, nor do our preconceived notions of how to live our lives apply anymore. We are broken open as to create a void within ourselves, so that something else may enter.
I went through such an experience three times in my life, with the first one being more than twenty years ago. I had expressed my love to a woman with whom I felt passionately alive, but that brave step into what I had hoped was the promised land landed me into a blackhole instead. The life was sucked out of me. For months on end, and indeed, for many years after I lived with recurrent aftershocks of this seismic event. The agony and the subsequent decisions I made changed me from the inside out; I was barely recognizable to those who used to know me well.
Dealing with Soulbreaks
It is crucial to recognize that soulbreak is a mystery, and that it is much more than a meaningless or cruel event. Making this distinction at the outset will make all the difference. Choosing to see a soulbreak as the latter will prolong one’s suffering unnecessarily, while choosing the former means one will be able to become an active participant in, as well as a beneficiary of, such an event. One may feel one does not have the power to choose initially; but, yes, it is within our power to choose. I’ll save this point for another article on another day.
Derived from the Latin word mysterium and the Greek word mysterion, the modern word mystery is a secret rite or doctrine, and the person who follows it is a mystes, or “one who has been initiated”. In addition, mystery has in its etymological meaning a hidden spiritual significance, or a hidden meaning. I also like the play on words which I read somewhere once, which rephrased mystery as “my story”. I have selectively taken these bits and pieces of the concepts of mystery in order to point to the understanding that mystery is something one is initiated into, and is a meaningful part of the unfolding story of one’s life where its precise meaning is to be found. Like all creative works, such as a movie, a song, a painting, or a novel, there are many layers to this mystery which can only be peeled back a layer at a time. The rewards are there for the participant should she be interested and patient enough to continuously engage with the mystery over time.
As such, it is important that we ask the right questions if we want to arrive at the kind of answer that is going to help us. Here, I would invite the reader to consider one or more of the following questions in engaging with such an event: How is this soulbreak shaping me today, now, beyond the grief I am experiencing? Besides what it has taken away, what is the situation giving me; can I be still enough to notice it? What aspects of myself (for example, practical, social, or spiritual) am I needing to exercise because of the situation? What are my genuine desires and thoughts when I am no longer running away from my suffering? What is beneficial about the state of mind I have currently? Of what have I been forced to let go and what is the benefit of that?
Notice in order to answer the kinds of questions I am suggesting, one must shift one’s perspective, perhaps not unlike how the surrealist painters saw the world through their paintings, where one’s world is not a place with known knowns and unknown unknowns, but a place with unknown knowns and known unknowns. In other words, black and white begins to blend and reality begins to bend; one finally begins to loosen one’s hold on what they know for sure.
Life after Soulbreak
It is not difficult to find stories of people who give credit to difficult circumstances or upbringing for helping to shape them into the amazing individuals they became, which enabled them to contribute what they were able to contribute later in life. Michael Jackson, Oprah, Charlie Chaplin, Wayne Dyer, and countless others are examples of such a story. These stories are made known by famous people, but they are just as numerous among ordinary people like you and I. My maternal grandfather, for example, dealt with countless business failures while raising a family of four; he persisted nonetheless and eventually reached great success financially. Beyond his money, as an ordinary person (but no ordinary grandfather), he was an example to me on how to love and how to be in the world. This was his ultimate gift to me, and I am unsure such a gift would have been born had he dealt with the repeated failures (which had pushed him to the edge of his personal abyss at one point or another) in a manner that is to be expected of the average person.
I do not happen to think that one must go through extraordinary difficulties in order to become wise, strong, driven, or whatever. However, so long as difficult situations happen, and a soulbreak is an extremely difficult situation, we can put into practice the timeless wisdom that has been left to us by our forefathers and foremothers. Here, I like what the Buddha has taught his disciples as the first rule of Buddhism. Allow me to paraphrase: “unless the truth I am teaching is true for you, it is no truth.”
Therefore, forget all of the teachings about how challenges are supposed to make you a better person, or that it is a gift in disguise. The only thing that matters, if I were in your shoes, is to fully experience this soulbreaking event in such a way so that you are no longer impelled by only the pain, but also by something deeper and greater. Allow this something to take you beyond hope, despair, happiness, heartbreak, anger, grief, and regret. Allow it to take you to a place that is beyond words. Express who you are and what you are going through in every way possible: through writing, through drawing, through being, through acting, through dancing, through crying, through laughing, through shouting, through silence, through growing, and through dying in its many symbolic forms.
One day, a year from now or nineteens years as was the case for me, the soulbreak won’t really matter anymore. You will have stopped counting the days, hours, and minutes since the traumatic event that was the end of your world. You will have stopped hoping that you no longer feel the pain, or that you wish you could feel something other than emptiness. If you will have somehow reached deep down inside to that place with no words, and anchored the ship of your soul to the rock that is within you, you just might finally get the closure you have long given up on. By then, it does not even matter, because you will have already learned you were loved beyond measure.