Break Up to Wake Up
By: Randy Siegel, “Everybody’s Gay Best Friend”
My heart went out to Melissa. She was in pain.
“I can’t sleep,” she said. “My mind is racing, and no matter what I do, I can’t make it stop. My emotions are all over the place.”
Melissa and I were sipping Margaritas and munching on chips at our favorite neighborhood Mexican dive.
I totally understood. When I had my big breakup two years ago, I tried to control and crush my crazy thoughts and roller-coaster feelings, but that only increased their charge. Instead, I found that by observing them with curiosity and without judgment, like clouds they gently floated by.
My therapist helped me with this sage advice:
“Ask yourself what’s not okay about this moment, then note your answer,” he began. “If it’s not okay, then think of your mind as a garden; your job is to pull out the weeds. An obsession? A weed. A fantasy? Another weed. A thought about the future? A memory of the past? Weeds. Keep pulling the weeds until one flower remains: this present moment.”
I saw how my mind worked—all the crazy stories I made up in my head. I noticed them when my ex and I were together, and I observed them now that we were apart. I learned to welcome them and use them as a kind of restart button to become present. When I caught myself in a fantasy or another form of “crazy thinking,” I could remember my therapist’s wise question, “What’s so bad about the present moment that you can’t be in it?”
I could also observe my emotions. Like my thoughts, I used them as a vehicle to become more present. When I felt sad, I asked if that sadness was based on a memory or future projection, or if it was what I was actually experiencing at that moment.
I learned that sensations are a clear pathway to the present. When I listen for the sounds around me, see my surroundings with what the Zen Buddhists call a “beginner’s mind,” and follow sensations in my body to track what I’m feeling, I sink deeper into what spiritual guru Eckhart Tolle calls “the power of now.”
I wanted to share these experiences with Melissa but caught myself. The timing wasn’t right; Melissa was still too raw. The best I could do for her now was to simply listen and empathize. “You must be exhausted,” I said.
Over the next few weeks, I continued to check in with Melissa, and gradually I was able to share what I had learned about surviving—even thriving—during a breakup. Here’s my best advice:
Seven Commandments for Conscious Parting
One: Allow. Allow all feelings and thoughts to bubble up. Don’t try to control, speed up, or manipulate the process. Everyone’s process is different. Allow yours to naturally unfold.
Two: Observe. Observe your feelings, thoughts, and actions without judgment. Become an “observer-participant” in your life. When you are an observer-participant you experience your emotions, but you don’t identify with them. For example, you may say, “I feel sad,” rather than “I am sad.”
Three: Feel. Feel your emotions. Remember that the more you’re able to tolerate the pain, the more present you’ll become, and the more present you become, the more you’re able to tolerate the pain. If you don’t experience the pain now, it will most likely creep back into your life later.
Four: Review. Review past relationships. How was this last relationship similar to past relationships? Can you find a pattern? If so, is this a pattern that you’d like to continue or break?
Five: Remember. Above all, remember to be present. To be present is to wake up. When you catch yourself dwelling on the past or what may happen in the future, gently come back to the present. You’ll know you are fully present when you feel you’re in the presence of the Divine.
Six: Act. Act intentionally. What changes do you need to make in order to bring your dreams, values, and interests in closer alignment with your relationships and life? Before acting, ask yourself if you are acting out of fear or love.
Seven: Become. Become your best self and live your best life. Allow, observe, feel, review, remember, and act intentionally; your breakup will eventually become a breakthrough. You’ll become the person you were born to be and enjoy richer, deeper, and more meaningful relationships.
In life one thing is for certain: we will get hurt. Our hearts will break, and if we are lucky they will break open. When they do we can begin anew—either with the same person or another—and experience ourselves, relationships—indeed all of life—in a deeper, richer, and more meaningful way.
Last winter, another friend suggested that I write my next book on relationships. Relationships! I had to laugh. Since my divorce sixteen years ago, I’ve not been able to hold on to a relationship for more than three years. Then it hit me: while I may not know much about relationships, I know a lot about breakups.
My latest book Break Up, Wake Up, Move On: Straight Talk from Everybody’s is now available at Mallaprop’s, Accent on Books, and Amazon.com.
Randy Siegel is “everybody’s gay best friend.” Join him for conversation, commiseration, and perhaps a cocktail or two on EverybodysGayBestFriend.com and the EverybodysGayBestFriend Facebook page. 828 236-0045. Randy@EverybodysGayBestFriend.com