Seven years ago I walked away from my lover, an actor who was shrouded in intrigue and inaccessibility, after an annoyingly unsatisfactory lunch. It was last-minute, and doubtless because he forgot the significance of the day. He had whipped around to my apartment in Soho, and took me to a noodle shop in Wan Chai. We sat there and chatted and an empty hole in my heart got bigger and bigger as I realized the futility of our relationship.
When we were done, we walked outside and stood in the sharp sunshine on the pavement. He looked me in the eye, and probably noticed something. A new look. A mixture of defiance and realization. I had somewhere better to go. He jumped in the cab, and I turned around and started walking in the opposite direction.
I had seen the advert earlier that week in HK Magazine: a course in the Heart Sutra, Buddha's central teaching on emptiness. It struck me as soon as I saw it - because I was on the lookout for a method to fix my gaping heart. It made me laugh out loud when I saw that it was starting on Valentine's Day.
I walked into the third-floor Buddhist center, where the lilies stood in big vases before huge pictures of holy beings. Where the sunshine fell on the floor. Where the people smiled at me, and a soft quietness filled the air. I took off my shoes to see - to my horror - odd socks, and then sat down on a cushion on the floor, closed my eyes and felt -
at last - peace.
That book was to change my life. I was eager to get out of the mess of Samsara anyway, but that book gave me the tools. It showed me the architecture of Samsara. The way we see things and believe them to be fixed, solid, real. The way we give in to this view.
"Form is emptiness, emptiness is form."
I took that medicine and swallowed it, and threw myself into the task of realizing its ultimate truth.
The relationship fell away. The sadness fell away. The loneliness fell away. The concrete lines of my world fell away. And a humble monk with a brilliant smile was able to take the pieces of my shattered heart, and stitch them back together again.
Now I am married to a beautiful man. I am happy. I still have insane mood swings, I still cling onto the firmness of this world. I still live in the illusions. But I have tools. I have prayers and the belief and the insight - that actually - it's an illusion. There is nothing inherently wrong here.
So, no roses or chocolates for me today. Just huge thanks for that afternoon where I walked towards wisdom.