For years after I quit drinking, I dreaded coming home to my empty apartment. Without the company of a bottle of wine, I faced loneliness, restlessness and uncertainty. My impulse to anesthetize myself, to drink to avoid my feelings, stayed strong and troubling.
Many turn to the 12 Steps to help them cope. Instead, like a lot of “dry” alcoholics, I repressed my cravings through shopping, eating, exercising, sleeping and dating jerks. This got me through hard times in much the same way drinking had.
After enduring two and a half years like this, I read The Wisdom of A Broken Heart by Susan Piver. I didn’t have a broken heart exactly. But I constantly felt the vulnerability and rawness common after a breakup—even while I found myself falling in love sober, for the first time since high school.
I was distracted by thoughts, ranging from the trivial—what am I going to eat for breakfast?—to the existential—am I on the right path?
We all have impulses to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. But Piver suggests that heartbreak—experiencing pain without repressing or denying it—can lead to your deepest tenderness, wisdom and strength. She writes that it’s possible to stabilize your heart in the “open” state, so that love and life can be experienced without fear, or losing yourself, or having a nervous breakdown.
And the basis of this transformation? Meditation.
Piver is a Buddhist in the Shambhala lineage. She teaches a type of meditation called Shamatha, or “peacefully abiding.” Instruction focuses on body, breath and mind. Although I’m not authorized to teach meditation in the Shambhala lineage or any other, this is an approximation of the expert instruction I received:
- Body: Sit on a cushion with legs crossed in front of you, or in a chair with both feet flat on the floor. The back is straight, the chin slightly tucked to elongate the top of the spine. The hands are placed on the tops of the thighs. The eyes remain open with a soft gaze.
- Breath: The breath is natural, in and out through the nose.
- Mind: Awareness is placed lightly on the breath. When thoughts inevitably arise and remove awareness from the breath, label them “thinking,” and gently return awareness to the breath.
I began meditating for 10 minutes a day. Each time I sat on my cushion, I intended to maintain awareness on the breath. But just seconds in, I was distracted by thoughts, ranging from the trivial—what am I going to eat for breakfast?—to the existential—am I on the right path? I’d relive past situations, or construct detailed fantasies. At times, it seemed nine out of ten minutes were spent off in the recesses of my mind.