Gratitude For Heartache

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Gratitude For Heartache

A quick search of online dictionaries gives a very mediocre definition of heartache. They define it as emotional pain or sorrow. I think it goes much deeper and reflects an emotional wound that a simple salve or bowl of ice cream will not solve. Perhaps this poem from Joy Harjo sums it up:

“And this ache

this trembling ache
haunts me endlessly
like you.”

  • She Had Some Horses

In my mind, an ache is a pain that is deep, one that never completely leaves you, but has a vibrational quality to it – like a resonance that fluctuates in its intensity. This doesn’t sound like something to be grateful for. Yet, I am. Heartache shows me that I do care deeply about the events and people in my life. Heartache is the counterweight to joy and happiness. The depth of one causes the other to deepen. This means that as I feel greater heartache, my soul is opened up to greater joy and happiness.

The question that, at least for me, started all of this was this: where does heartache come from?

First off, I think that not all heartache is created equal. Those with less experience in the world tend to feel it more deeply because they don’t have the background of experiences to judge it against. At the time that they are feeling it, it is the most intense feeling that they have dealt with up to that time. The events of life and the wisdom that hopefully comes with it will deepen a person’s understanding of emotion and the attendant aches, but for the youth and the uninitiated to life’s troubles, an emotional intensity of a “four” will seem like a ten if their deepest emotional responses have been fours. Limited life experience means having a limited depth of emotion that is attached to those experiences, at least in the general sense. It is a given that there are some that although young in years, have experienced life in a way that others will have a hard time comprehending. However, for the vast majority, emotional depth comes from greater experience in life.

Second, the level of heartache that we feel depends on how much control we have had over the situation that caused the heartache. For example, if I had a strong desire to visit a dozen historical sites in Europe, but didn’t save up the money, didn’t make plans, didn’t identify the specific sites that I wished to visit, and so forth, then the level of heartache is much lower than if the opposite was true It seems to me that the more control and personal investment that a person has in a situation or a relationship, the deeper one feels heartache when it doesn’t work out.

Third, the heartache that we feel becomes the impetus for action, but the type of action depends on whether the emotions behind the heartache are based on positive or negative virtues. Simply put, a positive virtue is one that fosters growth, love, patience, and similar types of values in oneself and in others. Negative virtues are those that promote selfishness and greed, that destroy relationships because the individual who possesses them is thinking solely about what they have to gain, even at the expense of others. When heartache is based on a positive virtue, that individual will begin to examine themselves – their mindset, actions, words, and so forth and look at what caused the situation to fall apart. They are not seeking blame, but facts, and to identify the key points that caused the problem. The main goal is to improve and be a better person the next time that the situation shows itself.

Those who suffer from heartache based on negative virtues find that they become consumed with jealousy and envy, an inner rage that others possess what does not belong to them. It is a mindset of blaming others and victimhood. It does not look at what the person has done to create the result, but at what others have done to them. This mindset shuns personal responsibility and destroys relationships because it is focused on the pain that others have given the individual, instead of personal growth and honest analysis.

Although I am grateful for heartache, it isn’t a place I wish to dwell in longer than necessary. How do I learn from it and move to a greater level of happiness and wisdom? One of the keys is through our expression of it. Sharing our struggles with those we trust or a therapist can be liberating. We keep so much emotional baggage within ourselves that we stunt our emotional growth when we choose not to express it in healthy ways. If we have a place of respect and love where we can share these feelings and troubles with others, then we will have an increased strength to carry on and deal with life’s struggles.

Another method of relieving heartache, used in conjunction with verbal sharing, or in place of it, if trusted individuals are not available, is to write it down. Pen or pencil on paper, not on the keyboard. There is something special about the physical act of writing that punching plastic keys cannot match. When I have a problem, I write the problem as a question and then freewrite whatever answer pops into my head. I am not trying to control the output, but to simply put down what is in my heart. I never edit what I write, even misspellings. I will find my answers, the actions to take, the people to talk to – it all comes out on the page.

After writing, I often find that I have to forgive myself and others. I have heard it said that we judge others by their actions, but judge ourselves by our intentions. If my heartache is based on another person’s behavior, I have to remind myself that I do not know their thoughts. I need to take their actions in the kindest light possible. More times than not, it is my own personal hangups that caused the misunderstanding, and it is I that needs to change.

In the end, I believe that is why I have gratitude for heartache – it tells me that I can be better and with some introspection and work, I can and will be better.

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