“The Wisdom of a Broken Heart”

Seeing that today is Valentine’s Day, I figured it would be a good idea to upload a book review on love and all its heartbreak. Susan Piver’s “The Wisdom of a Broken Heart” seemed to fit perfectly into this theme.

When your heart is broken by a lover, is your first impulse to intellectualize the pain, or to seek revenge? This is what many feel when the searing sword of a heartbreak is plunged into them. Maybe, however, this pain can be used as a teacher towards greater love and compassion. This is what Susan Piver explores in her book “The Wisdom of a Broken Heart”. It is a self-help book about romance and heartbreak that is a refreshing change from the girlfriend-you-need-to-kick-him-to-the-curb kind of book.

Most other books I’ve run into on this kind of subject would seem to be unhelpful to the reader. There’s the implication that if you are bothered by some lover, former or otherwise, this is indicative that you have surrendered all of your power by looking for happiness in someone else. So, being in pain over a lover (usually interpreted as a woman being bummed over some guy) means that you are somehow deficient in your attitude in life. After all, if you knew how great you were and were dancing with the glory of your inner child, you wouldn’t let some silly romance derail you, right? This kind of theme seems to suggest that if you think positive all of the time, nothing bad will ever touch you inside yourself. In this case, emotional health means never letting someone else take your joy away. Somehow in this world, ideal self-esteem and love means never being in pain over a person.

Piver takes a much different attitude towards romantic love and its heartbreak. Instead of preaching that pain from a lover is symptomatic of relationship addiction or codependency, she suggests that heartbreak is exactly what is needed to help a person to become fully human and alive emotionally. It is like you need to travel to the depths of hell in order to really understand heaven. Her theme is that by making friends with your heartbreak, you can better open yourself to the world, and feel free to “fall in love” again.

“The Wisdom of a Broken Heart” is part self-help and part memoir. Piver uses her personal experience of the first heartbreak over a lover as the foundation for her book. Added to that her experience as a Buddhist, and the book is an interesting combination of girls sharing their misery together over coffee and Buddhist wisdom to open yourself to the world. What is interesting about this layout is how Piver shows how spirituality and sexual love are not incongruent and in fact, are quite compatible. One has much to teach about the other. She seems to teach this motif: if you want to find spirituality, forget about the monastery, just go and fall in love and get your heart broken. You’ll find all the spiritual lessons you need for the world there.

At the end of the book, Piver provides a full seven-day meditation program designed to help you learn to make friends with your heartbreak. With a combination of journaling and meditation, it is intended to help you dislodge any bitterness towards your romantic partner and soften your heart. The purpose of this is to help you not feel fear of loving again. For if you have confronted your greatest pain and survived it, love doesn’t seem like a monster that you have to run away from. If you’ve survived the pain once, you can survive it again and there is no need to hide.

After reading the book, I practiced the seven day program myself a couple of times. I had been in the midst of a long personal inventory of my past to prepare for memoir writing. During this process, I analyzed my relationship with the first man I fell in love with, which was over twenty years ago. I then tried it on my marriage, even though the relationship is nowhere near being in the past and is thriving well in the present. Piver’s prescriptions for prayer, meditation and journaling were quite beneficial, and I was surprised by the insights I received, especially from an incident so long ago as my first love.

Maybe you are tired of feeling callous toward the gender you are attracted to because of past experiences. Maybe you are in the midst of deep heartbreak. Or maybe you would just like to know how to use any pain your have to better your life now. If you are experiencing any of these things, I suggest Piver’s book. It is accessible and secular enough for a non-Buddhist person like myself to relate to. But it was spiritual enough that it does not coddle your bad attitudes but instead coaches you gently into a more compassionate state of mind. Piver’s narration is friendly and nonjudgmental. It will help you feel as though a friend is at your side, but a friend that wants you to get out of your misery rather than help you wallow in it. The book makes a great argument that pain is not to be avoided to find love and happiness, but embraced. The totality is what makes a person fully human and alive.