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In the wake of anger, you may find the strength and determination to live differently. If you don’t, you haven’t yet seen fully to the needs of your own screaming child. You are rejecting it still.

There’s time. You’ll have many opportunities to quiet the rage. You’ll have many chances to apply the alchemy of your own gentle attention to whatever is disturbing you. Screaming babies go to sleep, eventually, and every wise parent learns to let a sleeping baby be.

Be Completely Sad

When you’re sad, be sad. — MAEZUMI ROSHI
Anger, we despise, but sadness, we might cherish. At least I did. Sorrow can seem such a rich and complex place to dwell; we might forget that it, too, is impermanent.

One time I went to see Maezumi Roshi after a meditation session in which the tears streamed in rivulets down my cheeks. “I’m sitting in a field of sadness,” I said to him. I was a tiny bit pleased by my poetic expression. I thought we might talk about it, rooting out the cause, and apply a treatment.

“When you’re sad, be sad,” he said. And that was all he said. I confess I found it abrupt, considering my experience with other counselors. He didn’t criticize or correct me, he just didn’t dwell. I was unaccustomed to making so little of what felt like so much.

We usually have an impulse to do something with what we judge to be a “negative” emotion. Perhaps we should explore, explain, or fix it. Surely it’s not “right” or “normal.” Is it possible to be sad and then be done with it?

Sadness is a good guide and even a good sign. Sadness may initiate your spiritual practice. Because most of us suffer when we are sad, it can lead us to seek solace and resolution. You might notice, for instance, that when you begin a meditation or yoga practice, you cry for no good reason at all. This can indicate that you are releasing long-held emotions and fears.

To be sure, grief is its own teacher and takes its own time. It feels good to cry. And it feels good to stop. By itself, crying always ends. Sadness changes to something else, because all things, even thoughts and emotions, change when we let them.

Soon enough you’ll see that a heartbreak doesn’t break anything for long. Take care that you do not turn back and take up permanent residence in the ruin, or you will condemn your life to the shadows of the past. Keep going straight on.

Sit Down for a While

Through the process of sitting still and following your breath, you are connecting with your heart. — CHÖGYAM TRUNGPA
I copied this quotation in a personal journal I kept during my breakup eighteen years ago. Now I can see how clearly the dharma always leads us back to ourselves.

The surest way to keep going through any difficulty is to sit down and stay put—specifically by practicing meditation. It’s what all the teachers tell us, and you can prove it to yourself. Meditating while you are angry, sad, disappointed, or afraid is the most direct way to resolve the difficulty. Why? Because you’re facing it. Meditation is the practice of facing yourself completely, cultivating intimacy with your breath and awareness. It is an intimacy that goes far beyond the companionship and gratification we seek from another. Keeping company with yourself can change the expectations you place on a relationship. Through a mindfulness practice, you see firsthand what it means to take responsibility for your own happiness and fulfillment, and you experience love of a different kind—unconditional love, which arises spontaneously as your true nature.

When you practice formally with a group, you’ll have the opportunity to sit in silence for a day or more alongside someone you’ve never met. Eventually, your mind will grow quiet and your concentration will deepen. You will share proximity without the judgments and expectations we usually impose on those around us, and be in relationships that are not conditioned by what another person is doing for you or how they are serving you. This is what happens in a silent meditation retreat. At the end of the time together, you might be inclined to do what I do: turn to the stranger sitting nearby, smile, and spontaneously say, “I love you.” The thing is, I really mean it. Is it possible to love in this way? Yes, from the very bottom of your heart and mind, when everything else drops away, it is possible and it is effortless.

Now, can you live that way with people you actually know?

The Romance of No Romance

Where there is no romance is the most romantic. — HONGZHI
As surely as trees bud in spring and leaves fall in autumn, couples in a long relationship encounter all the same stages as those who don’t make it. Yet their union endures. They survive anger and resentments, disappointments and reversals. They watch their interests diverge and their devotions ebb. Their responsibilities grow; their families expand; their houses fill and then empty again. What is it that favors one partnership over another? Some say it is magic, the machinations of fate, the movement of stars, the right choice, or sheer luck. I think it is something we have the power to realize and actualize for ourselves.

Love that lasts allows the love story to end. It isn’t laden with romantic fantasies or regret; it’s not defined or limited, not stingy or selfish. Without form or name, this love allows all things to be as they are. It sees all of life in every season as a process of perpetual change, growth, maturation, and renewal. This love is our inherent treasure, and when we practice, it shines. It is true love because it is truth.

Several years after my lover left me peering into the emptied medicine chest, I got married to another man, and he and I have been together now for a long time. I make no claims for our future, nor do I sentimentalize the past. Our toothbrushes sit in silence side by side on the bathroom counter. They stand sentry over a life shared through mutual courage, acceptance, forgiveness, and very small kindnesses.

Every morning I reach for my toothbrush in a transcendent act that will spread boundless love wherever I go. I brush my teeth, brighten my smile, and begin again.

From the September 2011 issue of the Shambhala Sun. Click here to browse the entire issue online.

Karen Maezen Miller is a teacher at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles. Her most recent book is Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life.

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