What does it mean to have an open heart? To lead from the heart?
We talk about this in yoga. We do these awesome chest openers to open the space around the heart. Physically the poses stretch that area, allowing for expansion of the tight muscles, tendons and ligaments that cause our shoulders to bow forward. They are great for that purpose. The time spent on computers and in cars driving can wreak havoc with our posture. Working out with weights often leads to the same issue if there’s more of an emphasis on chest work than back. That's why, physically, it's a good idea to come to the mat and work on heart openers.
Emotionally, opening the heart can be scary. An open heart means we have to feel. We feel the love and the joy. We also feel the hard stuff. After my daughter died I thought it might be a good idea to try a support group to make sure I was properly managing the grief thing. So off I went to my first Compassionate Friends meeting. I write about this in my book Back to Happy. It was good to be in a group of people going through the same process of healing that I was. At the same time, I was having a hard enough time dealing with my own sadness, let alone a whole room of suffering people.
Truth was, my heart was cracked wide open when I lost my daughter. The grief I was experiencing had blasted through a wall of protection that had been there for years. I was vulnerable, so sad and ill prepared to handle the immensity of emotion that was flowing through my system. And I was pregnant! I had to back off of those meetings for a while to protect my heart a bit from the new sensations of compassion and empathy that comes with a heart that opens in this sudden and exaggerated way.
Now contrast this with the opening of the heart that comes with a new love. Whoa! It’s intense and wonderful and light and lovely and all those good things. Suddenly the world is all beautiful and everyone is kind and loving. Feeling the heart as it opens in this way can be just as intense as the other way, only profoundly more enjoyable. It can make us giddy and reckless and prone to stupid decisions if we’re not careful.
Opening the heart in whatever way it happens is inevitable because we’re human. We practice this on the mat so that when it happens, and it will happen, we can be balanced about it. On the mat we feel sensations and we can notice them without fear. It’s the fear that blocks the open heart and creates those walls of protection that we create for ourselves.
Ultimately, we want to lead from the heart and be open to the love that is always there. We want to be ready to welcome new love and to say goodbye with grace and peace and love when the time comes. And those times will come. But it’s scary to walk around with all that love right there out in front for all to see. Lots of folks have tried it (Jesus, Princess Diana, Martin Luther King to name a few) and sometimes it doesn’t go so well. But like these love masters, there’s something in us that keeps us coming back for more. Eventually we can get there, but it takes practice, sometimes a lifetime’s worth of practice.
With an open heart we can forgive easily because we are intimate with pain. With an open heart we can fill up with joy and peace and love and ALL those good things with no restraints or restrictions. Our love tanks are somehow bigger, holding even more love. And they overflow, spilling love everywhere we go. Love spills over. And it’s not a mess we ever have to clean up!
My prayer for you this Valentine’s Day is that you will allow that beautiful heart to open, as slowly or as quickly as you feel ready. Let it open to the beautiful and the happy and the sad and even the scary. An open heart is so lovely. An open heart is awake. An open heart is free.