Living in the heart
“Staying in our hearts is not easy. For it is in the heart that we come to terms with our experience. If our hearts are open, we embrace our experience. We take it in and allow it to integrate in our psyche. If our hearts are closed, we push our experience away. We defend ourselves against disappointment or hurt. We escape into our heads.
The intellectualization of our experience robs us not only of the lows of emotional life, but of the highs as well. We lose the capacity to feel compassion for ourselves and others. We lose our sensitivity not just to pain and suffering, but to beauty and joy as well.
When our hearts are truly open, joy and pain are experienced without story or embellishment. They do not mean anything apart from what they are. Pain does not mean that we’re bad or that someone else is bad, and joy doesn’t mean that we’re good. There is no interpretation: just a willingness to embrace and bring the experience in. In the open heart, laughter and tears commingle. It is a place of intense contradiction, a rich place, a multifaceted banquet of experience that cannot be rationalized, tamed, predicted or figured out.
Fear and conditioning encourage us to push away those aspects of our experience that are new, unexpected, or that do not feel safe. By creating an area of expertise that is unacceptable, division is created in the psyche. Now we have good and bad, unconscious and conscious, wanted and unwanted. Now we can have an experience without feeling it. We can escape into our heads, space out, disconnect emotionally. While this kind of dissociation is understandable when it comes in reaction to traumatic events, it is dysfunctional in response to the ups and downs of daily life.
When we are willing to take in only what is familiar to us or what we think we want, we get stuck in the grooves and patterns of our past. We stagnate emotionally and intellectually. We become rigid, egocentric and predictable. Our life energy gets invested in maintaining our ego defenses and insuring that the status quo remains intact.
Living in the heart means letting everything in. It means being with our experience, even when it is difficult or confusing. To be in the heart, we often have to postpone making decisions until we have become fully familiar with the whole contents of our consciousness.
Staying in the heart helps us assimilate the vagaries of our experience. Often, it takes time for this to happen. When we take the time, we find that the initial contradictions sort themselves out. Clarity happens as we honor all the different thoughts and feelings in our psyche. It is a function of our felt wholeness.
Deciding something before we have taken this time to be with all of our contradictory thoughts and feelings often exacerbates whatever conflict we are experiencing in our outer lives. When we feel an urgency or pressure to decide or figure things out, it usually means that we are escaping into our heads, trying to “make something happen” that is not ready to happen. And this inevitably leads to outward struggle and disappointment. The doors do not open, no matter how hard or how frequently we knock on them. Because we are not in inner harmony, we cannot be in harmony with others. Because we are not in our own “flow“, we cannot flow with life as it manifests around us.
It takes courage to be present in our inner emotional landscape when rain or fog obscure the long view. When visibility is at a minimum, all we can do is put one foot in front of the other. When lots of conflicting thoughts and emotions are churning in the psyche, all we can do is bring our awareness gently to where we are. If we rush through the rain or the fog, we will stray from the path and fall. An accident will delay us from our goal much longer than bad weather will, and then we will wish that we had been more patient.
To be patient with ourselves and our process is the key to living in the heart. We can be in our hearts and not “know” the outcome of a situation. Indeed, the willingness “to be without knowing” is essential to being present here and now for whatever we are experiencing. “Knowing” is almost always about the past. When we no longer have to know, we can stay in the moment.”
The present moment
“In our society, doing is prized more than being. Our self image is built more on what we do than on who we are. When we are concerned with doing and getting things done, we tend to live in the past or the future. Sometimes that is inevitable. But if we spend most of our time in this space, we will experience very little peace.
Peace comes when we can take a deep breath and just be present right now. Peace comes when we realize that we do not have to bring our past fears into this moment, nor do we have to make decisions about the future. Peace is always present-oriented. Peace comes when we can stay in our hearts without having “to know” or “to do”.
Without the pressure of “to know” or “to do” life is much more simple. It is easier to accept or assimilate the experience that comes our way. We don’t have to resist what happens or defend ourselves against it. We don’t have to intellectualize it or figure it out. We don’t have to know what it means. We can just dwell with it, let it be, let it come in.
Living in the heart is a very different way of living than we are used to. It is a slower, simpler pace. When we think, we are practical in our thinking. We are concrete, down to earth. Abstract thinking has very little place in our life, because it takes us away from this moment. In the same way, when we act, we do something without ambivalence or deliberation. We don’t blindly follow a set of rules. We act because it feels right to act in that moment.
There is no complexity of mind in this way of being. There is no great drama, no scheming and dreaming, no perfectionism or second guessing. We put our best foot forward and we trust. We know that any more than that is just not possible. Doing the best that we can in the moment is and has to be enough.
That doesn’t meant that we don’t make mistakes. Of course we make mistakes, but these mistakes are not our enemies; they are our friends. They help us to find correction. They empower us to do better the next time. We don’t feel guilty and hide our faces when we err. We don’t feel shamed or rejected. We stand up and say “thank you for telling me”.
An empowered person does not feel shamed by his own mistakes, nor does he feel superior to others when they make mistakes. He accepts himself as he is in this moment. He accepts others as they are.
Sanity comes from living simply with dignity. It comes from respecting oneself and others. It comes from staying in the present moment. It comes from staying in the heart when life shows up differently than we expect it to.”