Follow Your Heartbreak

October 10th, 2008 by Steve Pavlina

At the Tampa I Can Do It! conference, I attended a workshop by Andrew Harvey on Sacred Activism. I met Andrew a few months ago when we were on a panel with Alan Cohen and Summer McStravick for Hay House Radio. Andrew is a fiery, passionate individual with a powerful message about ridding our lives of distraction and embracing “passionate compassion” for others through activism. He stresses the importance of taking direct action to address the real problems of the world, and he says we need to stop trying to comfort and distract ourselves from empathizing with the pain of others.

It’s no secret that Andrew’s message creates resistance in people, partly because the way he delivers his message is so passionate, direct, and unforgiving. He pulls no punches and lambastes the “New Age Movement” for being yet another form of mental masturbation. Andrew is aware of the resistance to his message, and he acknowledged it when he spoke, but he certainly didn’t let it stop him.

Personally I agree with Andrew’s message (at least what I’ve heard so far — he’s written quite a number of books), although I view his ideas from within a different framework. What Andrew calls passionate compassion, I regard as a combination of Oneness and Courage (two of the seven principles in Personal Development for Smart People).

Andrew talked a lot about the Dark Night of the Soul, which is something everyone on this path of service experiences. Personally I think we go through multiple dark nights as we shed more and more of our false identities and learn to align ourselves with Oneness.

Andrew spoke with conviction as he told a story about praying at a temple in India. As he left the temple, he encountered a helpless man with no arms and no legs in need of assistance. Instead of ignoring him, Andrew opened his heart and chose to help this man. He contrasts that experience with the dissociated attitude many people display in such a situation. Instead of embracing our heartbreak and allowing it to guide our actions, too often we shield and distract ourselves from those feelings. When we do this, however, we become something less than human.

Bliss vs. Heartbreak

There was one line Andrew said during his workshop that gave me an instant emotional hit. He said, “Don’t follow your bliss. Follow your heartbreak.” That’s a powerful way to reframe your life purpose.

I realized that my bliss and my heartbreak both point in the same direction. I follow my joy and my heartbreak simultaneously because they’re two sides of the same coin.

Andrew’s statement reminded me of this quote from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet:

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see in truth that you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

In fact, I’m pretty sure I mentioned this quote during our initial radio panel together.

My greatest joy is seeing people live consciously, courageously, and compassionately; it’s to watch people bring their lives into greater alignment with truth, love, and power. My heartbreak is seeing people live unconsciously and inflict all sorts of unnecessary suffering on themselves, on each other, on animals, and on the planet as a whole. It breaks my heart to see people living in denial, disconnected from others, and disempowered. It’s rare that more than a few days go by where the nature of my work doesn’t bring me to tears. However, usually those are tears of joy. I feel very grateful for being able to make a difference in people’s lives, and often that can be emotionally overwhelming.

In my messages I tend to focus on the lute’s music, while Andrew seems to stress the “hollowed out with knives” part. When he spoke, he often repeated the phrase, “The world is burning!” But really joy and sorrow are two sides of the same coin. Your greatest joy is also your greatest sorrow.

I remember debating with Andrew during our radio interview about the joy/sorrow issue. I think he may derive most of his drive and passion from the sorrow side, while I get mine from the joy side. I consider both approaches to be equally valid; however, gratitude is a stronger motivator for me than sadness, so I focus on the those feelings because they’re more effective for me. When I’m sad I usually do nothing. But when I feel grateful for the opportunity to make a difference, I reach out and connect with people.

Making a Difference

Experience has shown me that following my most action-inducing emotions does make a real difference in the world. As just a small example, over the years I’ve helped inspire hundreds of people switch to vegetarian and vegan diets. Let’s say I’ve helped 100 people go vegan, which would be a pretty conservative estimate. That seemingly small shift will actually conserve about 142 million gallons of water per year, not to mention loads of other resources and a massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. (That’s 3,900 gallons per day of excess water required to feed a typical animal eater vs. a vegan x 100 people x 365 days per year.) That’s a lot of water! This is far more water than I could possibly conserve as an individual during my lifetime.

Just by continuing the work I’m already doing, I’ll eventually help us conserve many billions of gallons of water (and conserve fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions), which means my presence here is actually creating a massive net positive environmental impact. And that doesn’t even count the rippling effect that will spring forth from those I’ve influenced. I consider this a very tangible result of following my bliss, and it motivates and inspires me to do even more. All I really did was follow my heart and share my experiences with other people. It wasn’t particularly complicated.

From a certain perspective, I could say that it’s heartbreaking to see so many resources unnecessarily wasted in the process of turning plant-eating animals into human consumables, but again, I prefer to focus on the gratitude side because that’s what motivates me to take action. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have a positive environmental impact by doing my best to be a good example to others and by encouraging people to make their own conscious choices.

Heartbreak and Life Purpose

You can actually follow your heartbreak to discover your life purpose. If you’ve tried the life purpose exercise and had trouble going deep enough, try repeating the same exercise with this starting question instead:

What is my greatest heartbreak?

This strategy of following your heartbreak is another way to get out of your head and to start listening to the voice of your heart.

If you’ve already done the life purpose exercise and got an answer that inspired you, I encourage you to try it again with the heartbreak question. This may help you develop a deeper understanding of your purpose.

Effectiveness

You have to determine what works best for you. Are you more motivated when you focus on your bliss or your heartbreak? I suppose this is the classic difference between towards motivation and away-from motivation. I’ve always been a towards guy, but I think that’s the less common of the two.

The important thing isn’t how we choose to motivate ourselves. What’s important is that we find a strategy that’s effective for us. Are we actually taking action? Are we serving as good examples for others? Or are we comforting and distracting ourselves?

Which emotions are arising within you? Do you feel more connected to your pain or your sorrow? What feelings will drive you to action if you crank up the volume? Are you listening to those feelings… or are you numbing yourself to them?



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