THE HEART SAYS HELLO!
We’ve arrived at “heart of the matter,” the middle of the chakra system, the energetic centerpoint of the human experience. Every chakra is necessary, of course. But there is something special about THE HEART and its element, LOVE. You might sense this intuitively or, as the saying goes, “just know it in your heart,” but if you’re looking for evidence, it’s all around you. Note the countless idioms and cliches about the heart that are living through everyday language. Tally the popular songs and stories about love. Observe how people gesture to their hearts when they are being sincere (or pretending to be!).
Lightly scratch the surface of any religious tradition and you’ll come up with heart references galore. Go deeper and you’ll realize that the great heroes of scripture are all embodiments of a vast, loving heart. Think of your own favorite human ambassador of love. Does he or she demonstrate the signs of a healthy, radiant heart chakra?
- PRESENCE: an ability to be still, focussed and present; ability to BE WITH whatever and whomever is in front of us
- SERENITY: an ability to find and create emotional harmony, even in challenging situations
- SINCERITY: speaking and acting from a deep sense of inner authority
- COMPASSION: an ability to connect with others, to step into their shoes and forgive them their shortcomings
- TRUST: a sense that the journey is worth it, that everyone is doing the best they can, that our original nature is good
- HEALING CAPABILITY: an ability to help others discover their original state of wholeness
- HONOR: a recognition that there are things of higher value than his/her own comfort
- RESPECT: a recognition that the lives of others are just as valuable as his/her own
- EMOTIONAL RANGE: access to the full range of emotions but the steadiness not to be swept away by them
- EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE: an ability to be guided by emotion; at times this may almost seem like clairvoyance
Nisargadatta Maharaj tells us that great love, “Is not choice, or predilection, or attachment, but a POWER which makes all things love-worthy and lovable.”
So why, with all this emphasis on the heart, with these shining examples all around us, do we still live in a world that seems so devoid of these qualities?
Countless reasons, but we can follow them all back to one simple acknowledgment: we are wounded. If the wounds are in the lower chakras we will be struggling with the basics. If we cannot feel safe and nourished in our bodies, if we do not experience freedom from oppression and destruction in our daily lives we will not be able to drop into the care of the heart.
If the wounds are in the upper chakras we will likely get stuck in the mind. We give more power to our stories and ideas than to reality itself. The mental activity whips itself into a self-referencing whirlwind and we lose the way back to that quiet truth at the center of the heart. Without even being aware, we talk ourselves into leading lives that don't connect back to our real values.
How can we heal these wounds? How can we, imperfect as we are, begin to open the heart and return to a connection to what we care about most?
Countless ways, but they all begin with one simple step: offering our time and attention. Though love takes infinite shapes—nursing a sick child, “liking” a friend’s post on social media, praying to a beloved deity, donating to a worthy charity, writing a ballad to your beloved, gesturing “thank you” to a stranger who offered a hand or a smile—every one of them requires this preliminary gift of our time and attention. These are the resources that all of us have, regardless of our own wounds and shortcomings. That's the beginning of living love. All else is just frills.
Most of us are trained to believe that love is just for our romantic partners, our immediate families, our closest friends, or those who share our beliefs. But the heart says differently. It says that love is the very stuff we all are made of. It is what connects us all. If we allow ourselves to just give a little time and a little attention to whatever is right in front of us our love moves into the next level
ALLOWING EVERYTHING TO BE AS IT IS.
Give your time and attention to whatever is before you--be it animal, vegetable, or mineral, be it a computer screen, a glass of water, a beloved pet or a stranger passing by. When your mind starts to comment or your body starts to become restless, take a deep breath and return your time and attention to what is before you. LET IT BE EXACTLY AS IT IS. This is how my teacher once defined real love: letting everything be as it is. Not coincidentally, this is also how he describes meditation.
Yes, there are situations that demand assessment and action. But if we don't allow the heart to do its work of accepting and caring, where are our assessments and actions coming from? What are they moving toward?
ANAHATA = unstruck
The Sanskrit word for the heart center is anahata, which means unstruck. The name gives us a clue as to the nature of the heart—in its true nature it is unstruck, unwounded, undivided, unconquerable, unharmable.
This is good to remember as we address our wounds. If we believe that the heart itself is broken or closed then we shut ourselves down from its healing power. Think of the heart as being underneath those wounds and scars, perfectly vibrant and healthy. Our emotional damage is always surface. The depths are always A-OK. Remembering this gives us the hope to move forward and discover love again.
The name anahata also reminds us that the heart radiates out a powerful vibration at all times. Imagine a drum or a piano, sitting there silently. When you approach and hit the skin or the key--sound! If you do it several times, we might enjoy a song.
But the heart beats all on its own, without anyone else manipulating it. It is the drum and the drummer in one. It is the original vibrational energy of YOU and the center point of your relationship with all beings. When connected to the heart, we sense the importance of relationship; we realize that the space between two hearts creates a vibration greater than the two individuals and we learn how to create, protect and utilize the beauty of that space. There is that subtle giving and receiving happening all the time and we are a part of it.
With so many traditions emphasizing the heart, it's not surprising that there are lots of different ideas about what it's made of. Often you'll find the heart associated with the element of AIR. Sometimes, as in Tarot and Astrology, with WATER. But, based on my research in multiple traditions and most of all on own personal experiences of an awakened heart, I have assigned the heart the element of LOVE.
You can think of LOVE as a kind of energetic currency that relates us to everything around us. Love is a sort of bridge between your heart and all other beings. Once you establish a vibrational relationship with someone else, the bride is open and you can send another being thoughts, words, actions, anything you want. Though we usually focus on the ways that love shows up, it's important to remember that love exists prior to us doing anything. LOVE is the connection itself.
WORKING WITH THE HEART
The lower three chakras connect us to physical reality, raw resources, the unconscious powers of body, sexuality and other animal instincts. The upper chakras connect us with the more subtle, refined and conscious energies of language, thought and spirit. The heart is the bridge, the uniter between upper and lower. Its energy empowers us to hold that between space of life—between two distinct chapters, between two different emotions, between two distinct worlds, between two different beings.
If the lower chakras give us life itself, and the upper chakras give us life with meaning, then the heart really makes life worth living, for love gives everything VALUE. Without love we don't care what happens. And if we don't care then there's no reason to do anything at all.
So honoring the heart means honoring your values.
<< VALUE/IMPORTANCE >> "The heart of the matter"
The heart holds our deepest values. What we care about most deeply. When we're suffering or acting in ways that we're not proud of, usually we are fretting unimportant details and failing to connect to what really matters.
When we connect to care it not only ensures that we don't lose track of what this life is all about, it also gives us a kind of rocket fuel for achieving our goals. In moments where we remember what's at stake, that what we love needs us to step up and serve it, nothing can stop us from getting there.
Below is an exercise for this.
> CONNECT TO YOUR CORE VALUES: Go to the heart and ask, “What do I most love? What do I most value? What is it that I care about so much that I’m doing all this self-exploration, all this spiritual seeking?”
If you get stuck, ask yourself WHY do I love that? Ask that again until you connect to something that feels powerful enough to build your practice on.
Now ask “To what am I giving my time and attention?”
Now ask, "How are these things liining up? How much am I giving my time and attention to what matters?" "How much am I giving time and attention to things that distract me from my values or fly in the face of them?"
Now, "How can I begin to close the gap? How can I honor what matters most to me every day?"
Continue to contemplate this as long as you need to. Once you get in touch with whatever your core value or values, find a way to connect with it each and every day. Is there an image that you associate with it? Or a word or phrase? Maybe there is a physical feeling that you associate with your heart value. Maybe some combination of image, word and feeling.
> HONOR YOUR CORE VALUES: Set yourself up for success in your spiritual practice by giving yourself reminders of it constantly.
EXPLORATION of the heart
Place a hand on your heart and take a deep breath in. As your lungs expand and take in fresh oxygen, that supple and powerful muscle between them moves as well, graciously accepting the nourishing gift of breath. As you exhale allow your shoulders and face to soften. The heart softens too.
Notice whatever is present in the heart and give it permission to be there. Whether it is ease or tension, tenderness or anger, numbness or aliveness, meet it and welcome it. You can even say, "You are welcome here."
To explore the heart, return your awareness to this physical space as often as possible. I highly recommend doing this alone in the quiet. But once you have done that a few times, try bringing it out into the world. Allow the person across from you to be exactly who they are, how they are right now. Allow the situation you are in to be just what it is. Say, "I give you permission to be what you are."
When inner commentary arises, when you start to hear the mind say things should be different, when you feel the body start to "fix" the moment, try to soften. Can you let even your resistance to this practice be how IT is? Without grabbing onto any of it, just soften and let it swirl and move and, eventually, settle.
Below are more ways to explore the heart and its qualities. If an intuition tells you to dig deeper in a particular area, try the exercises there.
<< PRESENCE/HOLDING SPACE >> "Listen with the heart"
The heart’s most basic mode is to be BE WITH everything that it comes into contact with. This BEING WITH might not sound so impressive, but it is absolutely essential for working with the chakras, or doing any other spiritual work for that matter. For if we cannot meet our circumstances, our fellow humans, the pieces of our own inner reality with an open acceptance, how are we ever to know those things as they truly are? And if we don't really meet something, how can we possibly HONOR it, EXPLORE it, HEAL it and INTEGRATE it?
> BE WITH: Think of someone who you want to connect with deeply. Dedicate some time and attention to them--make a date. When you show up do the heart honoring practice above. This will make the other person feel seen, heard, respected. And THAT is to feel loved.
<< RELATIONSHIPS/KINDS OF LOVE >> "What is love?" (Baby don't hurt me. Baby don't hurt me. No more!)
When connected to the heart, we sense the importance of relationship; we realize that the space between two hearts creates a vibration greater than the two individuals and we learn how to create, protect and utilize the beauty of that space. There is that subtle giving and receiving happening all the time and we are a part of it. That is love.
But most of us have unexamined assumptions about what love is that limit and frustrate us. Maybe we think that love is only being "nice" or being in a romantic relationship. Maybe we think that some people are loving and others are not. But everyone's heart chakra starts the same! Everyone wants to give and receive love.
> "WHAT IS LOVE?" CONTEMPLATION: Go through your day finding examples of love. Try to find funny ones, surprising ones, touching ones. Before you act or speak, ask yourself, "What would love do?
> FEEL LOVED: Think of someone who shows up for you with real love, who meets you and honors and cares for you just as you are. Humans are all fucked up in some way or another so you might want to choose an animal! Once you have someone in mind, just feel at your heart level. That does it feel like in their presence?
> SONG SWAP: Our culture is obsessed with romantic love. Swap out "lover" for a favorite deity or the mother earth or a dear friend. I love singing Van Morrison's Crazy Love to my dog. (Note, this doesn't always work as well with sexual songs. But try it!)
> EXAMINE EXPECTATIONS: When was the last time you felt like someone was unloving? What were your expectations around how love was supposed to show up for you? What were your expectations around how you thought you were supposed to be loving?
> LOVE LIST: make a list of the 4 most surprising ways that someone has showed you love.
<< BALANCE/INTEGRITY/WHOLE >> "May all creatures everywhere be happy and free"
Feel yourself as an embodiment of love, accepting everything and everyone, honoring and healing by your very presence.
The heart is unstruck vibration. This vibration builds a bridge between you and everyone around you. This vibration brinigs interconnection, wholeness and balance, just by being that bridge. But when we are too busy thinking and doing we interfere with that simple vibration. So the most powerful thing you can do for the heart is just to trust its endless song, to get quiet and present and allow the heart and everything around it to simply be.
> RADIANT HEART MEDITATION: Sit and imagine the vibration of the heart extending out in all directions to everyone around you. Then send it out further and further.
> ALL IN THE FAMILY: Treat everyone and everything like family. Yes, even inanimate objects. Ask them how they're doing. Compliment them. Tease them. Ask for their help and thank them when you get it. You don't have to be precious with everything to show it all love. Just treat it all like you treat your family!
<< EMOTIONS/SENSITIVITY/INTUITION >> "I just know it in my heart!"
Once we establish a connection to the heart, a natural emotional intuition starts to guide us. We usually are trying to control our emotional experiences, labeling some good, some bad. But in reality they are all here to tap us into deeper wisdom. Sometimes they are giving us information about the emotions of others in the room, the city, the country, the world. Sometimes they are giving us information about old wounds that it's time to confront. In all cases, it behooves us to listen.
> Next time you have a decision to make, pause and drop into the heart. Go through the choices you have before you, one by one, asking "Does this resonate with the heart?" Try it with small decisions at first, then bigger ones.
> Next time you find yourself swept up with an emotion, drop into the heart and ask, "What information is here for me? Where is this emotion trying to guide me?" Try it with pleasant emotions and with less pleasant ones.
<< AUTHENTICITY/SINCERITY >> "Speaking from the heart"
Words and actions come from the heart, they are always more powerful. So often we are just doing what we think we are supposed to be doing. If we want to really unleash the power of the heart we must learn again how to be authentic and sincere.
> PAUSE: Take more pauses before you speak. Notice if what you are saying comes from direct experience or you are just repeating something someone else said.
> STUDY: Spend time taking in the words of authentic and sincere beings.
<< COMPASSION/UNDERSTANDING >> "I get it"
The heart allows everything to be just as it is. When it does this it learns that everyone got to where they are for a reason. From this comes deep understanding and compassion.
Try my 'Loving Kindness" meditatoin on the sidebar to the right.
HEALING THE HEART
When the heart is closed, well, I think that we all know what that feels like. We are stuck in our own little story without the ability to honor the experiences of others. We feel small and shut down. Any other chakra at this point might migrate to the CENTER. We might become obsessed with the physical or the mental. We might find ourselves constantly doing, consuming or producing, lower chakra stuff, so that we don't have to deal with the hole at our center. We might end up living in the mind, in stories and beliefs, abusing word and thought to distract from our lack of emotional connection and/or to justify it.
Now, I don't exactly believe it can be TOO open. But, if we don't understand how the heart works--and how it doesn't work--it can really seem like that. If we somewhere along the way learned things about love that aren't true, we can go around thinking that we're loving, but failing to really connect to and through the heart. We go around "looking for love in all the wrong places!" So for someone who seems to have a TOO open heart, they might always be putting themselves into situations where they get wounded. We call these people "sensitive."
This was me for several years. I was a sensitive person, which really is a great gift of mine. But instead of honoring my emotional intuition and taking advantage of the information it was there to offer, I overly identified with all my emotions--as if they were a permanent part of who I was, rather than a visiting guest. I judged myself for experiencing difficult emotions and generated lots of fear and self-loathing. And when I experienced positive emotions I got attached and couldn't release those guests when it was time for them to leave.
This made me a kind of positive emotional junkie. Always going around seeking good feelings. My favorite way to get my fix was to get other people to like me and give me positive feedback. I began doing "kind" things, not because it was the right thing to do or because I genuinely wanted to make someone else happy, but because I wanted others to vindicate my story. I wanted them to SEE me doing a nice thing and note it. It was about my reputation and, ultimately, convincing myself of something that deep down I feared might not be true. "I'M NICE! I REALLY AM!!!" At the same time I had a difficult time being direct because I didn't want people to not like me. I couldn't say no. But I felt no. I felt it in my heart ALL THE TIME. I was always judging other people and myself. But I showed a false face of kindness. It was living in division when the heart is the place of integrity. It was living a lie when the heart is really the place of authenticity.
Most of us are in a cycle where we put out "love" but with all sorts of unexamined expectations and caveats. It doesn't work the way that we anticipated. We get wounded and then we close down the heart. So we end up with this heart chakra that is totally hardened in some places and kind of floppy in others. And, ironically, being hard makes us more fragile, so, unless we go totally numb, which is living a kind of non-life, we end up getting broken over and over again. The place in us that is supposed to be in balance becomes anything but.
If this is you, you can heal the heart by dropping these stories, and learning to honor the moment exactly as it is showing up. Positive or negative emotion--ok. You like me or you don't like me--ok.
You can heal the heart through connecting with what you most honor and taking care of it. Heal it by being honored by others and letting them care for you. Heal it by picking up whatever instrument Grace gave you and joining the band. Heal it by respecting your contribution and by respecting the contribution of others. And when it's healed, it will heal everything else. That's just what it does.
One thing that can be helpful is to pay attention to what brings up a fullness in your heart. Maybe it's being grateful for what you have. Maybe it's remembering those who have less than you and feeling into compassion. Maybe it's spending time with an inspiring being. Maybe it's watching touching videos on FaceBook. Whatever it is, build a practice around it. Do that practice every day until you feel the power of the heart arise.
Through the exploratory work above you may have discovered that there are emotional wounds that have closed the heart down. We all have them. Keep doing your heart work but also reach out to someone who you think can help you directly address traumas from your past.
Integrate by building small, regular practices that return you to the values of your heart regularly. I'm here to help you with that. Reach out!