(A Long One!)
It is often talked about.
Go ask Mr Google.
Or ChatGPT if you are inclined to dabble in the AI world.
It seems that the romantic useage can be traced back to the 18th and 19th centuries...but the first use of the ‘shape’ of a heart that we think of...was introduced in the 1250s....by a Frenchman...and was depicted upside down from how we currently use the shape.
I could go into all the ways it is now used and of course it is popular in the yoga world as “Opening your Heart Chakra”.
You can use your own reference points and you know what it means to you personally...even if there are many meanings for you as well.
For me....right now...I’ve begun to have experiences that are outside my usual understanding of what it means to open your heart.
Sure...I can say ‘my heart is open’ and mean that I am open to listening to someone....empathizing with them...say that I can have compassion for something or someone....or a situation....and we can all nod in agreement that that is a good thing to do...kind, loving, etc.
However...even if I elicit feelings in myself...quite often it is an intellectual experience. Maybe it is different for you. It has felt like “thoughts and prayers” sometimes. Meaningless, in how we ‘say’ the ‘right’ things in order to appear properly connected or involved.
Stay with me.
I don’t mean that I don’t feel sad when I read about or hear about tradgedies. Or that you don’t.
Of course we do.
And often that is accompanied by outrage when it seems that it was unnecessary. We often imagine ourselves in the circumstances of the other(s). It is part of our mirroring nature as humans. It is, in part, our way of connecting with one another. AND...it is still an intellectual experience first.
Not bad...not good.
We have to crawl to walk, walk to run and run to fly.
For the embodied experience of opening our hearts...we must first experience the separation from the body as an infant as we move into being socialized and forgetting much of our early embodiment...becoming ever more ‘civilized’ and head-bound as we learn to navigate the world...having to think things through.
Then...in order to blend the two apparently separate ways of being...we must refamiliarize ourselves with the feelings that we have...even as we learn to pause before acting on them from a more mature way of interacting.
Think of how many women...and men...express, upon the birth of their first child, that they have never felt so much love before. Never knew it was even possible to feel their hearts in that same way. Different even than falling in love with a partner. Their hearts opened wide and felt into the world in a new way.
Often it is ineffable.
We do not have the language to express and invite others into the experience we are having.
I’m gonna attempt to explain my recent awakenings or awarenesses...in a language that is meant more for commerce than spiritual and emotional intelligence.
When David died..and it has been four years now...my heart got broken open over and over and over and over and over. I would pick up the pieces....mend them with scotch tape and glue sticks and attempt to fill the cracks with love.
This has been..and in some ways continues to be...a regular occurance. As time has passed it has been easier to hold my heart in coherence and extend my deep empathy (because I’m still coming to terms with the word compassion) to others grieving the death of a loved one.
I refuse to say that I feel ‘sorry’ for them.
Instead I say that I have an inkling of what they are experiencing, based on my own experience.
As I continue to study grief and the importance of grief as love and praise and how grief is so often the unwelcome guest who arrives unexpectedly and with dirty feet and ragged clothes and hungry and thirsty and enters our homes,our lives, our very essence, whether we try to shut the door to keep them out or not.
Then....about six weeks ago...once again being reminded of May 22nd, 2019, I began to crumble into my pain again.
I let it.
I have learned the value of allowing even the most painful or terrifying feelings to exist in me and have discovered that I do not dissolve into a puddle of goo, or die from the sheer intensity.
One day I was sitting, waiting for my car to be serviced, and watching the people and the loop of television news that was playing. One woman had been waiting for hours apparently and was trying desperately to get them to finish it because she was supposed to go wedding dress shopping with her daughter. She was not unkind about it, but her growing frustration was palpable. A news story highlighted a recent shooting and interview with family members. Another man, seated, wore an expression of deep sadness.
Suddenly I was feeling...something that felt more profound than empathy or compassion.
It was not overwhelming...as often is described. My personal boundaries were still coherent enough for me not to fall into someone else’s story. The sensation was of my heart expanding in my chest.
Not painful....rather...I felt receptive.
That receptive state moved me to silently acknowledge the suffering.
WOW! My teacher Richard Moss often spoke of conscious suffering. That was the way in which we could recognize the pain of another as well as be in conscious relationship to what they are experiencing and NOT falling into their story...but rather being present for it.
Allowing you to remain clear and grounded in yourself.
I mean, how many times, in the face of someone’s anger, grief, confusion, fear...do we fall into their emotional state and join them in the waters that threaten to drown us too... or....shut the door and avoid inviting them to have their experience while we attend them with our full presence?
I sat before one of my teachers...also a beloved friend...as he expressed rage and pain and angst at both his physical pain and the pain of his people and could feel the blast of that energy moving through me as though I had been shot through with a cannon. Paul Simon’s “Everybody sees you’re blown apart.” And it was all I could do to listen without falling into my own pain and fear.
Now I think I could do that without feeling blown open and helpless.
What Richard invited us to to was stand steady in our own consciousness and recognize the ‘I’ that is ‘We’.
Our very being in that receptive state allows for a healing to occur. And by healing...I mean reconnecting with our larger essence... our Consciousness with a captial ‘C’. Recognition of a larger truth or reality beyond what our everyday sense usually take as real.
I think...I feel...that that is beginning to happen to me.
And sure...take the mushrooms...meditate yourself into bliss... visit the shaman for the Ayahuasca journey...pray yourself or chant yourself into deeper and wider experiences of spiritual connection...and maybe you’re further along the path...if there even is such a thing...than me...and if you are....you can hold open the door for this dirty footed, hungry, thirsty, ragged traveler.
I may be 72....
I’m still a child...
David always said you had to be supple as a child... remaining receptive.
Jesus allegedly said “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kindom of heaven.”
Don’t know that I’m entering heaven...however....I am certainly getting a peek into the purity of what we mean when we talk about Opening The Heart.