Thursday, April 19, 2007

Daily Om: Open Heart


Today's Daily Om is a bit too literal for me, but the message is a good one -- and something I have been working on quite a bit over the past few years. [Commentary below.]
Returning Home
Open Heart

Spiritual teachers have always pointed to the heart as the seat of consciousness, and recently Western science has found evidence to support this realization. It turns out that the heart has its own central nervous system and is not simply under the rule of the brain as formerly believed. Anyone who has taken the time to explore the heart knows this and, more important, has realized that the heart is the source of our connection to a consciousness greater than the ego. Approaching life with an open heart means that we have opened the door to this greater consciousness, taking up residence alongside it in the seat of our soul. Fortunately, at this time there is a lot of support for this shift energetically as well as practically. To some degree, approaching life with an open heart is as simple as shifting your attention onto your heart.

Eventually you will be able do this any time, any place, but at first it may help to try it in a quiet place where you won't be disturbed. Simply sit with your eyes closed and draw your breath into your heart. As your breath expands your chest cavity, your heart expands and opens. You may feel tenderness or sadness in your heart, and you may also feel relief. Any emotions that arise can be effectively witnessed and healed through the meditation process, which benefits both your physical heart and your energetic heart. The more you practice, the more you will find your heart opening to your own presence and to all the situations your life brings.

When we open our hearts, they may feel tender and vulnerable, which simply means that they need our loving attention as we cleanse and heal them of past hurts and blockages. This process asks us to practice some of the heart's greatest lessons-patience, compassion, and unconditional love. On the other hand, we may take up residence as effortlessly as a bird returns to its nest. Either way, approaching life with an open heart simply means returning to our true home.
While this post makes the process seem fairly nice and easy, the reality for many of us is that we have been closed off to our heart energy (which can also be discussed as the heart chakra) for much of our adult lives. It takes a concerted effort many times to open this energetic center within ourselves.

From Wikipedia:

According to contemporary buddhist teacher Tarthang Tulku, the heart chakra is very important for the feeling of existential fullfilment.

As result of energetic imbalance between chakras arises an almost continuous feeling of dissatisfaction. When the heart chakra is agitated, people lose touch with feelings and sensations, and that breeds the sense of dissatisfaction. That leads to looking outside for fullfilment.

When people live in their heads, feelings are secondary, they are interpretations of mental images that are fed back to the individual. When awareness is focused on memories of past experiences and mental verbalizations, the energy flow to the head chakra increases and the energy flow to the heart chakra lessens. Without nurturing feelings of the heart a subtle form of anxiety arises which results in the self reaching out for experience.

When the throat chakra settles and energy is distributed evenly between the head and the heart chakras, one is able to truly contact one's senses and touch real feelings.[9]

When we are closed to the heart center, life can seem to lack meaning. The anxiety that this passage refers to can often be described as a kind of existential angst, a sense that we are isolated and that life is at best absurd or meaningless.

But when we do begin to access this part of ourselves, as we must if we wish to be whole and healthy people, the feelings that come up can be very intense and overwhelming. In fact, we may fear that the repressed pain and fear will engulf us and we will never escape. The ego fears this experience and will make very effort to avoid it.

There is no easy answer for how to do this -- we simply must do it and begin to trust that we will not only survive, but be happier and more whole for having gone through it. A good therapist can be very useful for this process, as can a good meditation teacher.

A way in for those who, like me, tend to live in their heads and avoid emotions is to practice crying. I am a big fan of the therapeutic benefit of crying as a way to release difficult emotions and pain. At first, the deep sobbing will seem to arise from nowhere in particular and may not even have any specific emotion tied to it. But over time, as the pent up energy releases, we will have better access to the pain that we have hidden within ourselves over the years.

It may be difficult initially to access the need to cry -- so I use sappy movies and TV shows (The West Wing tends to work really well for me -- some of the episodes are extremely touching). Others may prefer to use music, or art, or writing -- it doesn't matter what makes you cry, only that you cry. You can almost think of it as a workout for your heart center, like going to the gym, but without the sweat.

When we start, our egos will fight the feelings coming up and we may only cry for very short periods. But over time we can learn to relax into it and trust that we are cleansing our psyche and soul of years of pain.

I want to be clear that this can not take the place of actually dealing with past events and learning to reframe the memories and release the pain. But it can be a very useful process alongside the emotional work that may be more verbally based or intellectual.

For those who seek a more gentle approach, this heart meditation is a very easy way to begin to access the heart in a softer way.

In the long run, as I have learned, life becomes much more joyful and we can hold much more compassion if we can begin to release old wounds and pain and be more in contact with our hearts. As with most things, the only way out is through.


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