Michael A. Rodriguez
Let’s be honest: Our hearts are breaking at the individual and collective levels. What is the meaning and significance of heartbreak? I’d like to begin by distinguishing between two kinds of love.
In my experience, there are two main kinds of love at play in our lives. The first is what I would call “human love”; it is relational and conditional. It’s a two-way street in the sense that it’s transactional. It says, either consciously or unconsciously, “I will love you if you fulfill these criteria.” It also says, “If you hurt me, I will close my heart and stop loving you.” Human love is messy, painful, vulnerable, dualistic, full of contradictions, and terribly confusing. It expands and contracts beyond our control, and it is based on fear. We yearn to love and to be loved, yet we fear and even sabotage it at the same time. Yet human love contains a truth and, with the aid of wisdom, is a portal to something much deeper.
The second kind is what in the Christian tradition is called “Agape Love,” which is a field of boundless, unconditional Love that is always here–eternally. It is the omnipresent source and substance of everything that arises; in other words, everything you experience is made out of unconditional Love. I often call it “boundless Awareness,” “Consciousness,” or the “Self.” I even sometimes call it “God.” For me, all of these terms are synonyms for the ultimate truth at the core of everyone’s being. While human love wants and even expects to be loved in return, suffering hell when it does not get its way, unconditional Love does not want or expect anything in return, as its nature is simply to Love, to share itself out of pure and innocent joy. While human love is a two-way street, unconditional Love is one-directional like the sun. The sun’s nature is to shine outward; it does not require the returning of its rays to be what it is. Its nature is just to radiate from the inside out. And so it is with unconditional Love.
When we’re identified with an egoic state of consciousness, we cannot perceive or access the field of unconditional Love underlying our human love, and we consequently long for it. When we are empty of self (and hence of the division and conflict it creates), we are not only capable of perceiving and accessing the Presence of unconditional Love in which we are always cradled like a child in a mother’s arms, but we come eventually to discover that we are not separate from it and, what’s more, that our broken humanity is the vessel for its manifestation in our conscious experience.
In other words, we come eventually to discover that these two loves, rather than being mutually exclusive, co-exist and in some mystical sense depend on one another. Human love arises in and is an expression of unconditional Love—and without either, neither would be possible. Heartbreak is the link. Heartbreak is clearly inevitable in the human experience, and that is not a mistake. This realization is enough to explain and justify our relative presence here in this world of painful heartbreak. That is, bringing both loves into harmony and eventual unison requires heartbreak; the philosopher’s stone in this alchemical process is the willingness to soften one’s heart in the midst of heartbreak, over and over again. This gesture of softening transmutes common human love into something divine and altogether miraculous.
The tendency for us humans when we are shrouded in ignorance is to seal off and harden the heart when it has been broken, which we misperceive as a gesture of strength, but guarding and hardening the heart is actually a form of weakness and is not wise (though it is a completely understandable and innocent mistake). In fact, it takes great strength and wisdom to remain innocent, vulnerable, and softened in the midst of heartbreak. A true Lover does not seek to deny or mend a broken heart but to accept and soften into it as a way of life. That way, we retain the innocence of our childhood but with the added strength of wisdom that comes with Awakening. This does not mean that we do not exercise common sense when it comes to setting up relative boundaries and saying no to injustice and abuse, but the great myth is that we have to harden our heart and compromise our innocence to do those things.
I have always loved this line by Leonard Cohen: “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” However, in this context and with the deepest respect, I would change one word: “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets OUT.” The light of unconditional Love is already in you; in fact, it IS you. When you let your human heart crack or even break wide open, softening into the heartbreak you experience rather than hardening against it and refusing to feel it, the unconditional Love that you truly are shines out of that crack and may even burst forth like rays from the center of the sun. It is through heartbreak that the Love of God or the Self or Consciousness breaks into the world of experience. Without the gift of heartbreak, God’s unconditional Love would remain unconscious. Human heartbreak turns the infinite and eternal potentiality of God’s unconditional Love into a lived actuality in space and time. With this perspective, we might be able to understand something Father Thomas Keating once said: “Vulnerability means to be hurt over and over again without seeking to love less, but more.” You could never “do” this from an egoic perspective; it’s only when you surrender the resistance that constitutes your ego, soften into the heartbreak that is there in you, and discover your essence as unconditional Love itself that you are capable of loving in this way.
So, are you up to the task? More than you think. In the stunning words of Zelda Fitzgerald, “Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.”
With Boundless Love,
Michael A. Rodriguez is a spiritual teacher who works with people in meetings, retreats, and private sessions on a full-time basis in the United States and abroad. He holds four academic degrees, including a master’s degree in comparative religion from Harvard and a PhD in English literature from Florida State University; taught at the university level for well over a decade; and has lived long-term in two monasteries. Drawing always from his direct experience, Michael illuminates the undivided nature of Life or Consciousness with great clarity and compassion, pointing to reality in a way that is free from dogma, ritual, or adherence to any particular tradition. He draws skillfully from the world’s wisdom traditions and also integrates Jungian psychology, literature, music, and art into his work to address the full range of human potential. All his work, including his interviews, can be accessed via his website at www.boundlessawareness.org.