The pain has subsided; the angry letters written, destroyed, rewritten again, ripped up and burned; the drunken one-nighters have passed and many gallons of tears and rage have flowed on down rivers of chocolate. If you’re lucky perhaps you went through only one of these. Depending on one’s predilection towards emotional hari-kari perhaps all of the above and more were wallowed in. This is not to disparage the reaction to a break-up, but to put it in perspective and like any painful event there is a need for some humor even in the midst of sorrow, because the joke ultimately is, with shaking of head and rueful chuckle, that this too shall pass and all the time spent on ruminating over past hurts and present feelings of rejection or betrayal will be small and slight in comparison to the vast amount of time that came before and will come after.
The loss is often so large, so ridiculously painful, not because the other person wasn’t worth it (though let’s face it, there really isn’t anybody worthy of invoking the feeling of soul-spasming pain felt by romantic loss) but because in a very real sense the world created by the connection was torn away. This isn’t poetic license, this touches upon attachment and how our minds work, giving us a bit of insight into why even after all the tears and sorrow there’s a part of us that leaps for joy at the possibility the ex may return.
David Chalmers has spoken of the “extended mind,” a conceptualization of human mental activity that broadens the understanding of mind to include those objects or people with which we have a relationship or connection thereby extending the practice of the mind from a singularity to a multiplicity. Often this extension concerns having something else take over and do more efficiently (at least hopefully so) what the mind used to do, as is the case for smart phones and computers with us no longer having to use up mental space for phone numbers, directions, etc. This extension also encompasses other people and provides a means of constructing just why with certain relationships taking place over time there come moments of finishing thoughts, intuitively grasping what the other is feeling as they enter a room and even taking on certain manners of speech and behavior. “You are like the company you keep” is more than just a saying, it is a mental equivalency, as our minds take on and incorporate into the so-called individual world all those variables referred to usually as people and shape a new narrative and structure of the self.
I’ve spoken before of this transcendent need within us to expand by necessity our connections, either by religious or personal connections. This natural and inevitable creation of attachment is seen in the yearning a child has for their care-giver, in the charging maelstrom of neurons exploding for human touch, in the bond of parent to child and in our protest behavior as anxiety breaks open due to feelings of loss. This dependency is not, however, a loss of freedom but the means by which we interact with an increasingly complicated world of evolving societal and cultural forms. To return to Chalmers, we have a need to organize our emotions/thoughts, which cannot be done within a context-free universe as emotions/thoughts are the emergent entity out of that very context and so our minds reach out to extend the self and find avenues for their development.
There are any number of points of advice peddled about, in magazines and books and most certainly from our friends and family, as to whether when or if the ex returns we should reengage and start over. I’m not here to offer pithy sayings though at times I’ll do so for the sake of fun. What I am here for is to provide a potential context or structure to help each person in the decision-making process. Doing so begins with acknowledging the reality of the nests or baskets of our existence and with humility understand that we never make a decision all on our own as if plucking from the sky a free-floating behavioral possibility. That former romantic connection or friendship, however much they may have hurt us, provided the means for pain or did not live up to their potential integrity, still provided for that time together a means of constructing the experience of life; the stronger the emotional bond the strong the connection must have felt and still likely has a hold on us. This is not because we are weak, as some unfortunate people have mentioned of those involved in abusive relationships, but because our minds don’t operate outside of context, even when that context is not of an objective life-giving form. Standing in the waters of a river you’re going to get wet and no amount of believing otherwise, no amount of looking only for the good things, is going to remove the increasingly strong undertow. In fact, even the removal of oneself from it is not simply a matter of stepping out of it, as there must be a ground to get to, a branch offered to grasp. Being able to look at one’s emotional life and consequent mental creations from a broader and more awakened perspective allows us to see all those connections which provide the means or space to allow us to step out and away.
Once having accepted the inevitability of creating attachments and feeling their pull even when thought to have gone away, the next nest encompasses value and is the legitimately powerful side of the positive-focusing that I irksomely noted above. Like a mashed and crumpled dried-out sponge, the emotional waters of previous relationships can quickly return us to a form waiting to be reborn. By projecting forward the highest form of our needs, not just attachment but honest and open connections, not just anyone but someone who is walking alongside on their own path and by doing so opens up vistas of growth we had hitherto not known, we can take note of when such occurs and becomes manifest in our lives.
When that former lover/friend returns we can stand in the waters of that familiar stream of emotions and step out of it by grasping the branch of the highest values we want in our lives, strengthened and given form by the communities in which we are involved. Then we can look at what is being offered and reject from a place of strength that old companion of lack and pain and move on into connections of plenty and joy.
© David Teachout