Balance
Community,  Wisdom

On being heartbroken

The compounding crises of our times are leaving many people feeling battered and exhausted.


From spells of low spirits to deep sadness to utter loss of hope, humanity is suffering in 2022. Yet, we know it is nothing new; we humans are masters at inflicting pain and destruction. We have built libraries and filled museums with artwork to express or describe this complexity.

In her most recent book, Altas Of The Heart, Mapping Meaningful Connections And The Language Of Human Experience, researcher Brenée Brown catalogs the intricacy of human emotions. In chapter six, The Places We Go When We Are Hurting, Brown explores anguish and its components.


Anguish is the emotion we see on the faces of civilians in battered Ukraine, of people rescued from fire or flood, of the isolated elders in pandemic lockdown, of frightened children lost in rubbles, of angry youth contemplating their future.

And sometimes, we feel it at home. I bore witness to such anguish on a cold winter night. My then 20-year-old son called to say that his younger half-brother had just died in a freak accident. The unbearable pain I heard in his distorted voice conveyed shock, disbelief, grief, and powerlessness. Touching his acute despair and sorrow, all I could do initially was stand by him and bear witness to his suffering.

Today we talk of burnout, weariness, compassion fatigue, depression, and overwhelm. But, ultimately, it comes down to brokenheartedness.

Contemporary Anglo-Irish poet David Whyte has a lot to say about heartbreaks. Our hearts break because we care deeply. Humanitarian workers and activists train to deal with the compassion fatigue that inevitably catches up with them. Many people experience exhaustion or burnout and must seek professional help, practice self-care, and rest when needed. But the antidote to exhaustion says Whyte isn’t resting; it is wholeheartedness.

Being wholehearted lifts us from being brokenhearted when we are willing to offer our hearts again.

See how sincerity can transform difficult times, how this young wartime Ukrainian competitor skates wholeheartedly and breaks our hearts.

24 March 2022, Figure Skating World Championships, Montpellier, France

And you? What does wholeheartedness feel like to you? How do you express it? Please leave a comment; we love to hear from you.

Photo by marek-piwnicki

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