HomeVolume 7October 2022 The heart never breaks

FINN McMILLAN is a relationship counselor who has used his experience of heartbreak, with his clients and himself, to learn an important lesson: the heart is a repository of strength, courage, and love. 

A ship in the harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are made for.”
– John A. Shedd.

Be not afraid.”
– God

Many of us have seen the exquisite images of Japanese pottery marked and scarred with gold or silver where breaks and cracks have been repaired, rejoining the shattered pieces to manifest beauty where once was brokenness. The art is known as Kintsugi, and is the bold embrace of this brokenness to create something new and wonderful, where nothing is hidden, shamed or denied, but rather made more perfect by the very process of fracturing.

As a relationship counsellor and mediator, I have spent many years holding space for men and women in the bleak depths of agony as relationships died and they endured the worst wounds of heartbreak. And sometimes, I would show pictures of these beautiful examples of kintsugi to help them find a healing context to make sense of their pain in the gradual unfolding of their lives.

However, as the years have passed, and I have explored my own experience of deep heartbreak, I have learned something new, vital, and even more hopeful.

The heart never breaks.

The heart can never break. The heart is the very source of healing, of openness, of trust and faith, of ever-renewing. The heart is never diminished, nor wounded. Indeed in ancient Celtic teachings on the “Three Cauldrons,” the heart centre (Coire Emmae, or the Cauldron of Vocation) is seen as becoming ever more abundant through a lifetime of both joy and sorrow. It is in the open hearted embrace of both joy and pain, love and sorrow, that the heart matures and strengthens. And it is in the denial of these emotional depths that we lose our connection with the heart’s messages and prompts.

But the heart never breaks.

There may indeed be pain; the pain of growth, the pain of new birth, is often required for the heart to thrive and grow. The deepest wounds can nurture the deepest and the best in us; the greater betrayals the greater resurrections. This is all in the process of the heart that never breaks.

Two dichotomies are at work when we try to understand “heartbreak” and to process the pain of it. The first is that between love and fear; the second is between ego and the heart.

Reflecting on this, we can begin to understand ancient teachings which have always seen that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. “Perfect love casts out all fear,” it has been wisely observed. Where the one exists, there can be scant room for the other. It is also often thought that the opposite of fear is courage. But this is not the case. Fear is the precise condition required for courage to exist. And we know that courage itself is one of the core values of the heart. Indeed, we get the word itself from the French word for heart, coeur.

This is the challenge of living a life in divine alignment with the heart; to recognise that it takes courage to love, and to live whole-heartedly in the face of fear. The evolutionary challenge here is to recognise that which we fear, and to trust that the heart is resilient and all-embracing enough to hold and embrace that. Living heartfully is to risk, explore, gamble, trust and leap.

This is the challenge of living a life
in divine alignment with the heart;
to recognise that it takes courage to love,
and to live whole-heartedly in the face of fear.

From philosophers to saints, from psychologists to neurologists and biologists, the primary quest for safety (always the prerogative of the ego that wants to maintain control of external factors and environment, or the primary signalling of the brain’s amygdala to the physiological system) has been identified as the greatest impediment to any psychological, social, emotional or spiritual growth. Even Ben Franklin’s famous observation, that “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety,” demonstrates the principle in political philosophy.

With experience and mistakes, options taken and opportunities lost, one increasingly comes to look over the course of one’s life and realises that, in the end, it was the lack of courage that caused the greater losses. To gain anything means to lose what was had before, and what was had before was safe. To do anything of meaning means to risk losing in the attempt. To love means to risk hurt. To gamble means to often lose.

A wise woman once taught me the vast difference between playing life to win, as opposed to playing it simply not to lose. Living to win means to risk losing, and those that do live this way both win and lose often. But to live simply not to lose, in fear of hurt and loss, ensures one is likely protected from grief and hurt, but at the cost of never truly winning. Living this life keeps one merely safe and cocooned, fragile, ever-protective of that fragility, ever-fearful to lose.

Living bruise-free and risk-averse is easy, as is living without passion. But where is the life in that? Where can the love ever be?

Where is the heart?

Of all the virtues of the heart, it is courage that opens the gate to the joys of the others. I used to wonder why in the Bible every time an angel appears, the first thing s/he says is “Be not afraid.” When something wonderful and new comes into a life, it cannot come to fruition unless one can overcome the fear of the challenging and frightening new unmaking it brings with it.

“Be not afraid.” The motto of a true life, lived beautifully and heartfully.

As to the other dichotomy that often turns us from the wisdom of the heart is the contrasting imperatives of the ego/brain and its stories on one hand, as opposed to the heart’s deeper understandings on the other.

It is our brain and the voice of our isolated self (ego) that tells us to protect our heart from damage. But the heart never breaks, it is only the ego that may. The heart can feel pain and grow from it, whereas the ego sees impending pain and fearfully shrinks away. And so, the ego tells us – in the face of heartbreak, betrayal, lies and hurt – to never risk again. To only ever approach new love or experience from a place of hurt and mistrust. It does so, because its entire self-creation is put at risk. Am I good enough? Am I enough? What’s wrong with me? Will I be hurt? Will I survive? This is all the language of ego, not heart.

And so, as we identify with the ego and the processes, analysis and questions of the brain, we move away from the direct experience of heart expansion and believe our dysfunctional beliefs. And the ego is conniving in how it offers us its clever narratives.

The ego, particularly one that has been traumatised by hurt and betrayal, pretends that the inclination to close down, run away, not risk love again, is to “protect” the heart. It will proclaim great and often noble-sounding assertions that the greater virtues are “independence,” “sovereignty,” “self-sufficiency,” and remove itself from the risk, messiness and reality of love, humanity and the work of the heart. But it is, invariably, simply the voice of fear. The brain lives in linear time and provides the ego with fears of past experience, projected into anxieties of future realities. The heart, not needing any such protection, lives in the now of experience. Trauma holds no place in the heart, this abundant and bottomless well of self-healing.

A healthy brain and heart will naturally operate together in cohesion, but each individual needs to understand where the executive power in this relationship lies. As the Heart Math Institute’s research has shown, the heart’s intelligence and information networks exceed even those of the brain. It is not the brain that controls the heart (the heart only variably heeds the instructions of the brain), but rather the heart that invariably determines how the brain functions, thinks, perceives, and determines the signals it provides to the body’s various electrical, hormonal and biochemical functions. The information network that connects the brain and the heart runs predominantly from heart to brain, not brain to heart.


Returning to the ancient Celtic model of the Three Cauldrons, one cauldron is in the head, one is in the heart, and one is in the loins. The head controls ego and thought, the realms of past and future in time and space. The cauldron in the loins manages bodily energy, sensations and instinctive needs. Both are important, but a weighting in either will cause us to live cut off from the font of our deepest wisdom. Either can draw us into cold and passionless lives, without courage, distant from the touch of love and the voice of intuitive wisdom.

The heart is our home, our destination, our greatest joy and most sacred guide. It continually blesses us, and the world around us. It opens us to the mystery of Love.

And it never breaks.


Finn McMillan

Finn McMillan

Finn is a professional counsellor specialising in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), clinical hypnotherapist, stress management consultant, ordained Buddhist dharma teacher, and HeartMath facilitator. Specializing in men’s counselling... Read More