“Happy is the heart that still feels pain” from “Everybody” by Ingrid Michaelson
When we close our hearts to ourselves Your heart center feels deeply whatever is going on within and around you. It is a dynamic energy center, opening and closing to allow or reduce the flow of energy (and awareness).
When we experience pain or hurt, one way to escape the uncomfortable feeling is to close the heart. We do this unconsciously out of habit. It’s common in our culture as a learned way of dealing with pain. But you can also choose to consciously hold the heart open during difficult experiences. When you do this you open to transform, connect, and even flourish in the face of pain.
For example, when going through the grief of losing a loved one, if you can hold your heart open through the experience you will learn, grow, and develop depth of connection with yourself and your loved ones. These types of growth experience are what change our lives.
However when you close your heart to yourself, difficult situations can turn into experiences of apathy, isolation, depression, or desperation.
Think about a difficult situation in which you or the people around you were closed and disconnected. (Some of us may experience this commonly at home or at work!) Then think of a situation where you or the people around you were open to feeling and connecting through the process. Which one was more fulfilling? More transformative? Which one was more painful?
Making the choice Although we reference the heart fondly in our culture, we don’t get much instruction or explicit role modeling on how to embrace life through the heart. In some circles, having an open heart might be seen as weak. Or for those of us who have been hurt and learned to shut down, it may even be seen as stupid or careless.
How do you change this pattern? First, be open to the concept that the pain of an open heart is much less than the pain of a closed heart. Then the challenge becomes more internal—how do we keep our hearts open in face of our own self-judgment?
When things are going well and outer life reinforces our idealized self-image, we tend to feel more open. But when we experience failure, rejection, or loneliness the tendency is to close the heart to self to avoid seeing and feeling what does not match our self-image. As a consequence, we disconnect from self and from intuitive awareness.
When we say someone is bitter or hardened, we are referring to their long-standing choice to close their heart in reaction to some experience. We can intuitively feel how they have shut down the connection and flow in their life. It becomes hard to relate to them. It may even feel unhealthy to be around them. You might have been one of these people at some point in your life. Bitterness in its extreme state reveals what is happening on a more subtle level when we close our hearts temporarily. We are actually cutting off our life force.
Which comes first, the pain or the closing? So you might say, “When I feel hurt or angry, my heart just naturally closes. It’s hard to help it.” But which really comes first—the ongoing hurt or the heart closing? If you become aware in the moment and choose to keep your heart open, you will feel the hurt but it will continue to flow through without shutting you down. Your energy will expand and your experience can be different.
Meditation for heart awareness
Sit quietly. As you breathe naturally, focus on connecting to your heart center through the breath.
Recall a time when you felt joy, acceptance, and relaxation. In your mind’s eye, see yourself there. Hold this image for a minute or two and feel the sensations in your heart center.
Then recall a time when you felt loneliness, rejection, or aggression. Hold the image of that experience and feel how the feeling in your heart center changes.
Write down your observations.
Continue to observe yourself as you go through your days. Paying attention in this way will lead to new awarenesses about leading an open-hearted life.