Storms Can't Hurt the Sky
Hurt the Sky
We are happy to share with you a short excerpt from Gabriel Cohen's new book, "Storms Can't Hurt the Sky", which he has graciously offered to IloveUlove.com.
Cohen’s marriage fell apart, he began to explore Buddhism and discovered that
its insights were very relevant and useful: they offered him a positive path
through anger, resentment, loss, and grief. Now, in the first book to focus on
Buddhism and divorce, he provides a practical guide to surviving the pain of a
Storms Can’t Hurt the Sky: A Buddhist Path Through Divorce
At seven in the evening on June 25, 2005, my wife suddenly got up and walked out the door.
She never came back.
As far as I could tell, most of our marriage had been happy. We rarely fought, or even argued. We had the kind of relationship in which we told each other that we were best friends, said I love you at least once a day, gave each other massages at night. For one Valentine’s Day, I built her a box filled with a collage of mementos from our time together. On the cover I glued two pictures of rocking chairs, which represented how I looked forward to growing old with her.
When we had to find
a new apartment, though, we began to quarrel about everything: how much we could
afford, how many rooms we needed, what constituted a reasonable distance from
the in-laws. Our sex life suffered, then died. I was a generally cheerful,
peaceable guy, but I was surprised to find myself slamming doors, veins popping
like the Incredible Hulk. We were going through a rocky period, but I never
dreamed that my wife might take such drastic action. I had never cheated on her,
or drank to excess, or done so many of the crummy things that can make a
If hope, as Emily Dickinson wrote, is the thing with feathers, I remember the exact moment when the feathers fell off. After my wife had been gone almost a month, she called to say that she wanted to talk. My heart soared, but she didn’t want to discuss anything; she just wanted to tell me that she had signed a lease on her new apartment.
I felt like I had been stabbed.
Conventional wisdom says that men and women tend to experience anger differently; that men project it out, while women turn it inward and experience it as depression. I raged about my wife’s betrayal of our marriage vows, and I sobbed like a baby (so much for conventional wisdom). I spent many hours playing a tape loop in my head of all the vengeful things I wished I could say to the departed love of my life—I wanted her to hurt as I was hurting.
I was a mess, and I desperately needed some kind of help. Luckily, I found it—in the last place I would ever have imagined.
I was coming out of a coffee shop near Washington Square Park when I saw a little poster: How to Deal with Anger. The sign advertised a Buddhist talk. Now, I’m not a crunchy granola kind of guy. When I thought of Buddhism (which wasn’t often), I pictured wizened monks in Himalayan caves, or Hollywood stars looking for a trendy soul workout to supplement their Pilates and personal training.
Still, the sign intrigued me. It didn’t say How to Pretend to be Blissful, While Seething Inside. It made a direct, simple promise: that I might learn to do something positive about my mounting bitterness and pain.
I took out a pen and wrote down the address.
* * *
Buddhism and divorce might seem like an unlikely pairing, but it makes perfect sense. Divorce is all about how a search for happiness (marriage) sours into suffering. And Buddhism—which I imagined would be some kind of esoteric, mystical religion—turned out to be a down-to-earth, practical guide to how to use suffering as a springboard to happiness. It helped me get through some very tough times.
How? By turning my world upside down.
Let me give you a good analogy. Let’s say you’re sitting on a park bench, enjoying your lunch, when someone sits next to you and starts doing something you find very annoying (popping their gum, trimming their fingernails, whatever…) Normally, you’d think Oh no, a problem has just intruded into my life. And then you’d experience strong feelings: you might get angry, or depressed.
Now let’s look at the situation differently. Let’s say that you’re trying to become more patient. You look at the gum popper, and you think What a great opportunity to practice! Notice what happened. The external situation didn’t change one whit, but your problem disappeared. Why? Because you changed your mind. And that’s the essence of Buddhism.
Typically, I saw my problems as out there, independent of me. I saw my feelings as reactions outside of my control. My wife is making me angry. I also saw my happiness as coming from outside. I’ll be content if I can just get some delicious ice cream, or a great apartment, or the perfect career... In short, I was embarked on a huge life-long project. I struggled to make more money, to get better publishing deals, to find a more loving partner. I hoped to change my external circumstances, but that was a constant and very frustrating battle. As one 8th century Buddhist sage noted, to protect ourselves from stepping on thorns we can’t possibly cover the entire world with leather. But—he wisely added—we can cover our own feet.
I thought my suffering was coming from my ex-wife, but I discovered that all of my feelings—my anger, my bitterness, my grief—were coming from one place and one place only: the inside of my own head. And that was great news. I couldn’t change her behavior, but I could learn how to change my mind. And if I could transform my mind, I could radically alter my experience of my divorce.
I’ll explain (briefly) how I learned to use meditation to recognize that my thoughts didn’t have to automatically lead to anger or depression—that I could put a little breathing space between an event and my conclusions about it, and find more options of how to react. I learned how to lighten up, to feel more compassion for my ex, and to become more accepting of the confusion, disappointment, and grief of my divorce. I’ll also explain that I’m not proselytizing for Buddhism—the reader can take advantage of these helpful psychological insights without having to give up his or her current religious or spiritual beliefs.
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