“Let your heart break and drop the story” is attributed to American Tibetan Buddhist and author Pema Chödrön. Her quote is often cited as a prescription for the first and essential stage of recovery from devastating loss, life changing trauma, and inconsolable heartache. But this is curious advice for those who already are overwhelmed by sadness, rage, guilt, or shame. After all, when we are besieged by these feelings, how much more heartache can we bear?
As I think Chödrön would put it, the answer is that the story we attach to our feelings may get in the way of fully experiencing the depths of our emotional despair. The reasons we use to justify our feelings or explain why something bad has happened, inevitably create a narrative that revolves around victimization and blame. And the more we get caught up in a story that serves as a justification for our feelings, the more we get trapped—ultimately prohibiting ourselves to feel grief or rage that needs no justification at all. This is why unleashing our most ugly and fearful feelings can be so liberating. In those moments, we are freed from causality and intellectualization, freed from turning our feelings against ourselves, and freed from believing that finger pointing will make us feel whole through vindication or revenge.
When we learn to lead with our broken hearts, not our heads, we can find a profound solace for which we all yearn. This place is at the heart of soul.