How to practise with the pain of a broken heart?

So let your heart open and feel the pain of yourself and of others. That pain cannot destroy you and it cannot make things worse – at least when you open to the pain you feel alive and where there is life there is hope.

Lama Shenpen answers a student’s question on working with very intense and painful feelings through experiencing unrequited love: 

The problem is when we try to stop these strong feelings coming up, it is making it more real. Intensity of feeling is not a problem, and even the thoughts that go with it are not a problem. Believing they are a problem becomes the problem.

There is no need to feel tired and fed-up with the same thoughts and same feelings arising all the time. Admire the whole thing – is it really you doing all of that, those thoughts and feelings chasing each other round and round? Relax and open out into the whole thing. It is quite splendid.

Desire for another person is quite beautiful and poignant. Even as one reaches out, the object of our desire is disappearing under our touch. The moment is always gone. How to be with it at the moment of its most intense beauty? How to just be with that? Unrequited love is just as good for practising with as requited love actually. Both are very interesting.

There are those moments of melting pleasure and then the grasping – the wanting or the not wanting, the sadness, the disappointment, the empty feeling and then off we go again into the mounting joy and pleasure. What a roller coaster! Yet it is empty, like magic, like a dream – appearing but empty, ungraspable and in essence it is something real beyond grasping. There is a living quality to it all that is beyond grasping. That is what we are seeking to rest in.

The pain is real. Turn towards that pain again and again. It is your open and sensitive heart hurting. Don’t shut it down – let the hurt open you up – it’s no use trying to shut it down. It doesn’t get better that way. It is like trying to kill something that just won’t die. Better accept that the pain is real.

What else are you going to do with it if not try to smooth it away? Let it be what it is – open out – let it hurt and notice again and again that it is this pain that unites you will all other beings.

Everywhere you look others are suffering just as you are. It is universal. Everyone longs for that love, that being known, that being accepted for what they are – for companionship, for communication deep and meaningful, for trust, for warmth, for the joy of discovering what is true and genuine in oneself and others.

So let your heart open and feel the pain of yourself and of others. That pain cannot destroy you and it cannot make things worse – at least when you open to the pain you feel alive and where there is life there is hope.

The pain is what makes you a human being and it’s driving you to look for the truth, the truth that goes beyond the grasping and trying to make things what they are not, the truth of awakening to what is truly real and precious in yourself and others – all others.

Notice how you ignore and count for nothing all those people around you that you think of as not really your friends. How lonely are they? How much are they doing to themselves what you are doing to yourself?

Let the pain in your heart open you to everyone – every living thing and let the pulse of life pulse through you and tell you that there is another way to be. It is the only solution. You cannot kill the life of your heart and you cannot get rid of the pain – you can only realise what it is, awaken to what it is. It is Bodhichitta – the Awakened Heart. I really cannot see any way round this – whatever words one chooses to use – I cannot see any way round this.

I wish I could help you to have courage and confidence in this.

Lama Shenpen

Lama Shenpen’s students are all studying the Living the Awakened Heart Training – a structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight. The training, which is open to all, brings the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a Western audience in an experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning. Find out more and how to join at

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