Swimming in Heartbreak

Lodro Rinzler
9 min readMar 16, 2024


What I learned from meetings with dozens of strangers about their broken hearts

This piece originally appeared on Lodro’s Substack: The Laundry

One of my meditation practices is that when I read the news in the morning, I pause after certain stories and let them penetrate my heart. I let my heart break for the victims of warfare or, closer to home, some of the tragedies that happen in my own backyard. I am experienced enough in navigating heartbreak that I know my boundaries and I don’t let it overwhelm me.

In this way, even though it feels like there is more and more occurring in the world that can break my heart, I have been working to make it a part of my spiritual path. Heartbreak here is not considered an obstacle but the very fodder for me living with an open heart.

A dozen years ago I had my own few months of calamity that broke my heart to the point where I experienced suicidal ideation. My fiancé left me out of the blue. I was laid off from my job out of nowhere, causing a bit of a quarter-life (and financial) crisis. The straw that broke me though was when my friend Alex died unexpectedly, due to heart failure, at the age of 29. Over these many years I feel like I have said a lot about this moment in time, in particular in my book LOVE HURTS: BUDDHIST ADVICE FOR THE HEARTBROKEN, so I don’t particularly wish to rehash it here.

However, these three things happening within six weeks of each other not only left me heartbroken, they left me curious about the experience of heartbreak.

Nine years ago I did something a little bizarre. I hatched a plan (and somehow got it okayed) to hole up for a week at a warehouse-sized high-end store in Manhattan known as ABC Carpet, using it as a writer’s residency.

In the morning I took over their small studio, a sound-proofed room where I would conduct twenty minute “interviews” with scores of random strangers who, for some beautiful reason or another, decided that yes, they would like to meet with this author and share their story of heartbreak. In the afternoon, I would set up camp in their storefront window facing Broadway and 19th St and write my little guts out.

When it comes to my writing technique, I have always subscribed to an old Raymond Chandler quote: “Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every afternoon.” In this case, I would come off the heels of hearing people’s heartbreak stories and write and write, sometimes pausing to wave back at the kids knocking on my window like I was a monkey at a zoo, and then write some more. Late afternoon/early evening I’d clean it up a bit, go home and have dinner, and do it all the next day.

In retrospect, I should have encountered a lot more weirdos than I did in those heartbreak interviews. There were a few, to be sure, but you’ll have to buy me a drink to get those stories.

When people met with me for heartbreak appointments I would sit with them, but only ask four questions. Sometimes I would only ask the first one and that would take the full twenty minutes we had together. Often, I only got to ask the first two. What were these four questions?

  1. What is your experience of heartbreak?
  2. How are you feeling…right now?
  3. What can you do to take care of yourself in the midst of heartbreak?
  4. What is one thing you can do today to take care of yourself?

Even touching on the first two questions was still enough for the person I was sitting with to move past the intellectual understanding of heartbreak and get to the core of what they were experiencing, which thankfully, can be cathartic.

If you yourself are feeling heartbroken, by the way, and you’re the journaling type, I recommend the above as a sequence of journal prompts. Also, this.

With these short meetings, when given the opportunity to speak and know that they would be fully seen and heard, people didn’t need much encouragement; they could go on at length, ultimately moving into their own wisdom around their experience of heartbreak.

Some people talked about the obvious: their last big breakup. But most people veered wildly away from that. They may have even come in with the intention of talking about their ex but when asked the first question, “What is your experience of heartbreak?” they immediately began to talk about their cat who died two years prior.

“I know it’s just a cat,” they would say, “But this still is very real and very hard for me.”

In my experience, when it comes to heartbreak, it is never “just a cat.” I feel so much heartbreak over things that other people may find insignificant. Conversely, there have been major deaths in my life where I actually feel like it was a good death and there is not the same level of heartbreak. Often, the heartbreak is less about them dying and more about them not still being around to experience life with, if that makes sense.

During these sessions I learned that the term “heartbreak” is vast and can include experiences such as:

  • comparing yourself to others
  • reconnecting to a childhood friend, falling in love, and being left by them
  • the sudden death of a parent
  • the slow death of a parent
  • giving your child up for adoption and not knowing whether they would be okay
  • seeing your likeness in yet another victim of police brutality and realizing the same crazy messed up situation very easily could happen to you
  • finding out the person you’ve been married to for years is gay
  • divorce
  • the death of a first love while still very young
  • not seeing your young child enough because of work
  • being estranged from your own children and grandchildren
  • a high-school break-up
  • losing your family members to suicide
  • a partner who is sleep-walking through months of your relationship
  • being estranged from your family member due to mental illness
  • the loss of a dream home
  • the feeling that there may not be someone out there for you
  • the death of a beloved cat (I actually got this one more times than you would think)
  • an ex who moves on very quickly, while you’re still nursing the pain of the break-up
  • being slandered to everyone you know by someone who betrayed you
  • losing a sibling to alcoholism
  • blatant discrimination
  • being 39, wanting a family, and not finding anyone who loves you
  • being so incredibly lonely and not knowing how to be alone
  • all the people in your life slowly drifting away over time
  • aging and no longer being seen in everyday society as a result
  • unrequited love
  • cancer
  • thinking that you gave yourself cancer due to negative habits and thinking

Needless to say, these heartbreak appointments? They were a lot. But one thing it allowed me to realize is that we are never alone when it comes to heartbreak.

While the circumstances may look different for all of us, the root emotions we struggle with are often the same: despair, overwhelm, sadness, anger, grief and so on. Realizing this has allowed me to not only write a book on the topic but continue to counsel people over time by looking at the very causes of heartbreak itself.

There’s the old saying that when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. Similarly, if you ask a meditation teacher what will help you, they will likely recommend meditation.

Meditation can help us navigate heartbreak…but it’s not the only solution. This is a big part of why I’m offering the course The Broken Hearts Club, launching March 27th, so there is a space and techniques for anyone feeling a bit broken-hearted to navigate the experience overall, regardless of their specific circumstances right now.

Here are some of the things that the people I interviewed told me were helpful to them:

  • being with someone who could really listen and see them for who they are, including their pain
  • talking honestly about their struggle
  • turning their attention toward helping other people
  • time (a cliche for a reason)
  • spending time with their child
  • napping
  • therapy
  • going to the park with their dog
  • meditation (this also came up a lot, including one person saying, “Sitting on a cushion saved my life”)
  • for those who had loved ones that have died: engaging in activities that they did with that person when they were alive
  • tracking down the person they hurt and attempting to re-establish communication
  • setting a place at the table for the deceased loved one at major events (also: including their favorite drink at that setting)
  • taking all the memories and thoughts and mentally placing them in a smooth stone, then placing that stone somewhere in nature
  • yoga
  • reading
  • eating cookies (but not over-eating)
  • being with their dog
  • the excellent Buddhist teacher Susan Piver’s book The Wisdom of a Broken Heart
  • seeing friends
  • prayer
  • running
  • planting flowers in a garden
  • dancing
  • writing
  • eating something healthy, like carrots
  • hugging themself
  • breathing into the heartbreak
  • listening to the heartbreak
  • learning to meet the emotions where they are

At the end of her story, one woman told me, “I have an ocean of tears, and I’m not a good swimmer.” This process of meeting with people about their heartbreak was like being dropped in an ocean of tears and attempting to tread water for a week straight. My heart broke in response to every one of the stories people offered me. I shared in their pain. And, through navigating that time, as well as my own period of deep heartbreak, it made me into a better swimmer.

Because that is the true nature of heartbreak, whether it is the result of a death or breakup or simply reading today’s news. It breaks our heart open which, yes, can be painful. But it can also be tender and vulnerable and vibrant. It strengthens us and allows us to contact a sense of openness that makes us not just more resilient but more loving.

If you are feeling broken-hearted, come join the Broken Hearts Club. The videos are something you can watch on your own time, when you’re feeling up for it.

It’s interactive in that you can email me questions and have them appear in a future talk. And it’s healing to learn new ways of grappling with your strong emotions. If there is good news to drowning in heartbreak it’s that it, like everything else, is impermanent and that we heal and grow into much stronger swimmers than ever before.

Click here for more info

This piece originally appeared on Lodro’s Substack: The Laundry. For more of his recent writing, check out The Laundry today.

Lodro Rinzler is the award-winning author of 7 books including The Buddha Walks into a Bar and Take Back Your Mind: Buddhist Advice for Anxious Times. He has taught meditation for 20 years in the Buddhist tradition, is the co-founder of MNDFL meditation studios and travels frequently for his books, having spoken across the world at conferences, universities, and businesses as diverse as Google, Harvard University and the White House. Named one of 50 Innovators Shaping the Future of Wellness by SONIMA, Rinzler’s work has been featured in The New York Times,The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, FOX, CBS, and NBC. He lives in upstate New York with his wife Adreanna, daughter Ruby, and a menagerie of small animals. lodrorinzler.com



Lodro Rinzler

Lodro Rinzler is author of “The Buddha Walks into a Bar,” “Love Hurts” and a handful of other fun books on meditation | Co-Founder of MNDFL. lodrorinzler.com