Life has a way of taking us away from each other.
We leave for so many reasons. Lovers’ quarrels. Moving cross-country. University graduations. Even the slow passage of time simply changing us. The chemistry loses its magic. Surely we never intend for relationships to deteriorate, but that thing life puts in our path becomes undeniable—so irresistible—that we part ways.
I don’t even fight it. I’ve been at the steering wheel of countless turns that changed the terms of my connections (I’m a bit of a vagabond in that way). And when it happens that I’m on the opposite side of the decision-making, it hurts like hell, but I understand. I understand why we have to listen to the stirrings of our soul and let go.
We can’t carry everyone with us forever.
That said, I typically lean on the romantic, optimistic end of the spectrum of humanity. So despite how history reinforces this fact (over and over again), I’m still caught off-guard when someone who resides in my heart is no longer present in my life.
It took me over a year to come to terms with my first boyfriend not wanting to stay in touch after we broke up. I know this may be naïve, but I really thought we could work it out. I still cared about him and it felt completely wrong that I couldn’t just reach out to say “hello,” ask how we was, and celebrate the many victories he was surely collecting in his new life.
Did I do something? Is he mad? Maybe I should just reach out again…
I took it, as we do, personally.
Yes, I was genuinely in acceptance of the partnership’s closure. It was sad to lose each other, but I was in full support of the directions we both had chosen to take. I wanted the best in life for him, even if it wasn’t with me. What I couldn’t come to terms with was the disconnect between the deep care in my heart and the blaring absence of any physical expression of it.
Perhaps that was my problem: I assumed that heart and life residency are essentially paired. I assumed that by releasing a relationship’s physical bond, I must also release the love I felt for the parting person. This is a painful misunderstanding.
Because the truth is, I still care, even if I’m not there.
I feel this way for past lovers, best friends, family members I’m no longer in touch with, teachers—anyone with whom I made a genuine connection. Their presence floats into my mind from time to time, and I remember fondly how we brought laughter, late night talks, and mutual, loving support into each other’s lives. I cared so much. I still care. How could I not?
I still care if they’re finally sleeping better.
I still care if the city discovered the artist I always knew them to be.
I still care if their warring minds made peace with each other.
I still care for them to know how gifted and beautiful they are.
I still care, and so hope, that they feel safe and loved. Always.
When I listen to my heart, all of this is true. But what I’m coming to know is that we can genuinely care, and also be at peace with knowing we are not there to know the answers to these wonderings. We do not have to shut these people out or shut off our hearts just because things changed.
We can learn to trust that life, and the many people in it, will be there to remind these people that they are cared for. It does not have to be us just because for a season (or even many seasons) it was.
We can hold all this care in our hearts without the aching need to act on it. Love is not dependent on a relationship to thrive. In other words, we can love without attachment or condition.
There is a beautiful Buddhist meditation called Metta, which is a practice of expressing the feeling of “loving-kindness.” I’ve found this to be an immensely helpful means of keeping our sense of care alive without suffering around the loss. There are countless guided meditations of this kind to explore, but for simplicity’s sake, it goes like this:
Loving-Kindness Meditation for Healing Past Connections:
Relax into a comfortable, seated posture.
Take a few deep, clearing breaths, filling up the chest and belly, and then expelling all the air completely.
Then, relax and bring awareness to the natural breath, rising and falling in the chest.
Start by bringing to mind a person who was easy to love.
Visualize their face before you, smiling.
Then, genuinely send the love and care you feel for them from your heart to theirs.
Visualize their heart receiving this care from you, without condition or further action.
Next, bring to mind someone you find difficult to be in relationship with—perhaps a connection that didn’t end on good terms.
Remember the love and care you felt for them prior to that difficulty, and then send that love from your heart to theirs.
Then, offer this genuine love and care to yourself in the same way, visualizing your own smiling face across from you. Send your love out and back into your own heart.
Lastly, visualize your heart, soft and open, offering this sense of care to all people. Offer love to the new figures in the lives of those you’ve let go. Offer gratitude for that care, knowing there is enough love and care in this world for all.
Return your awareness back to the breath, and your own heart, placing your hands over your chest to close.
Gently open your eyes.
This is one practice that has helped me let go of loved ones without numbing out or tuning out my own heart. We can love people unconditionally, even when they aren’t in our lives anymore. In fact, that is what this world needs most, I believe.
When we can learn to care for one another—everyone—with all our hearts, beyond the confines of a present relationship, we may someday know peace.
In Soul, Danielle
(This post was originally published on Elephant Journal)