An experience with my open heart.
February 28, 2019 § Leave a comment
My mother was a devote Catholic. I grew up in a house decorated with Christian icons. Crucifixes hanging over doors were never given a second thought. One icon that did stick in my mind, however, was the image of Christ pointing to his exposed heart. “Why?” I thought, “Would anyone expose his heart to the world like that?”
Years later my heart was suddenly, and unpreparedly, exposed. It happened when a security guard said I couldn’t take any photographs in the area. Suddenly all the boundaries that separated me from the surrounding space dissolved. Although nothing in my surroundings changed, everything had opened up and I felt as a raw nerve, left exposed and unprotected to the harshness of the world.
In spite of my extreme sense of vulnerability I could not help but notice that this open space seemed a lot like the various experiences of higher consciousness I had read about. Except that there was nothing pleasant about this. I was completely sensitized to everything and felt entirely unsafe. The intensity of that experience waned after a few hours, but it took two years for the effect to work its way out of my system.
It was of great interest when, years later, I read Pema Chodron’s writing on the soft, vulnerable spot, or what I have recently come to call the hurt-self. I immediately recognized the vulnerable spot to be the area I had come into contact with so many years before. Pema Chodron confirmed in her writings the relationship between this soft spot and higher consciousness. And, if you want to advance along the path toward enlightenment, that you must connect with this soft spot. Like the iconic image of Christ, you must live with an open heart.
To live with an open heart is to live in the present moment without bias to anything that arises. Mindfulness meditation is the key to that life. In fact, mindfulness meditation may be described as the practice of opening your heart to life, as it is, in the present moment. You begin this practice by continually watching your own mind to see how you turn away from suffering and your own hurt-self. Then you expand your practice into daily life to see how you turn away from the suffering of others and the world.
The more you practice, the more you see how your conditioned awareness looks away from that soft, vulnerable spot that is your wounded heart. The key word here is awareness. I can’t stress that enough because you’re not looking to judge or fix anything. You’re just watching your awareness. Each time you find it dimming or moving excitedly to find something else to think about, you take note and return to the present moment. Over time you’ll find patterns in this movement. Patterns that reveal a history of trying to avoid some unpleasant thought or feeling. Patterns of self-protection that have led you to turn away from suffering, whether it’s yours or another’s, and close your heart.
I learned from my own experience that it’s best to ease into an open heart. You are, after all, dropping all your defences, and doing that too quickly can induce trauma. It’s best to do it slowly. As you do, as you become friends with yourself, something interesting happens. You discover that your suffering actually decreases. That’s because your very resistance to suffering is the major cause of suffering! To quote Rumi, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”