The heart has its reasons that reason knows not. – Unknown.
Awakening our heart and trusting our heart wisdom allows us to understand ourselves and our position in life more accurately. The heart speaks a different language, one the intellectual mind does not understand. But if we desire to, we can learn this language and receive the wisdom and joy that an awakened heart will bring. It is not difficult. Trusting our feelings and acting upon them puts us in communication with the heart. Often it is instinctive. Someone slips, your arm goes out. A car is in a ditch; you join the others and push. A colleague at work is depressed; you let him know you care. Already we are kind and loving in many ways, but this can deepen immeasurably. These are only the first few steps on the amazing path to the centre of your heart.
When you awaken the heart, the boundaries between self and others diminish. Each of us is linked to each other, in more ways than we can imagine. We are all brothers and sisters. We are all part of the human tribe, and through service love and appreciation of one another we awaken this realization.
Christ said, ‘For I was hungered and ye fed me, thirsty and ye gave me drink, sick and ye ministered me, in prison and ye visited me.’ And they said amongst themselves, ‘Lord when were ye hungry and we fed thee, thirsty and we gave thee drink, sick and we ministered thee, in prison and we visited thee?’ And he answered, ‘As ye have done unto the least of my brethren, ye have done unto me.’
And where will the heart lead us? To others. The heart longs to nurture others. To explore others. To experience and interact with others. To experience our oneness with others. And this fact offers a clue to some of the truths and perceptions that the heart contains.
While the mind may conceptualize “We are all one,” as indeed it tries to, it can never know this. Not even an enlightened mind knows this. But the heart knows this intimately. And by following the path of the heart we will know it intimately too. For this is both the first and most important truth the heart teaches us. And to know this as a reality we ourselves experience, rather than an intellectual concept, is to be forever changed and blessed. To know this is to be initiated into one of the great mysteries of who we are.
Unfortunately, our lives are complex, overcrowded, full. Sometimes we feel we are too busy to be of service. There are always so many things we have to do, and they all seem so important to us. But if we do not value and put importance on awakening our heart, helping one another; if we do not see this as an important and valuable part of our growth and development, what does that say about us? What path are we on if service is not part of our journey? Do we really think that making more money, watching another night of TV, or going out to a fine restaurant will make us happier or more content? Actually our constant self-preoccupation is the source of much of our unhappiness.
We need to open up and feel deeply our special relationship to others, to break out of the prison of constant preoccupation with self. Open the windows and let in some fresh air. When we do this, what healing balm it is to the soul.
When you have the courage and will to awaken your heart, you will find the chains of self-absorption melting away, like snow on a hot spring day.
Breaking out of the prison Of little self I find myself Flowing into everything
The Japanese word for neurotic self-preoccupation is “seikatsu onchi” or “tone-deaf about life.” This is an artful description of a condition that has us totally preoccupied with ourselves. Every event and circumstance in our life is measured by how it effects us. This self-centeredness is the cause of most of our suffering.
The goal is to pull your attention away from excessive self-focus and push it outward until you begin to see yourself as part of others lives. To see others as a part of your life. And to notice how we all share the same life experience together. The separation we feel is more illusion than fact. And our heart knows this. You will know this too; you have merely to stop and listen to your heart. When we quiet the mind, we will hear the heart clearly. It is always trying to make its ways known to us. A little confidence in its wisdom, and the courage to follow where it leads us, is all we need. We need not be afraid. It will not sidetrack us from our life’s objectives. And what are our true objectives in life if not to enlighten our mind and awaken our heart?
The gift of our life is an honor and privilege for which we are forever indebted. The awakened heart never forgets this. We are blessed with riches and joys innumerable, no matter how sparse our situation, and so in gratitude we do our part. We help because we want to help. Our heart leads us to help. To lend a hand, an ear, give some time, concern, money – whatever seems appropriate. And we find that by doing so we are nourished and become greater for it. And as we lose ourselves act by act, moment by moment in helping one another, we find a nurturing joy and inner peace we could not have imagined before.
The awakened heart also encourages us to love ourselves. It teaches us that self-love is not vanity but as necessary to us as food, water and air. For until we can appreciate ourselves we cannot appreciate life. This is not always easy. We live in a society and culture that holds up almost impossible ideals that we think we have to match. The millionaire, the celebrity, the model; success is often measured in what you’ve achieved, how much money you make or how good-looking you are. And if we fall short of these ideals we deem ourselves unworthy. It is time to awaken from this nightmare. We have spent most of our lives trying to be something different from what we are. To have more money, to be more successful, better looking, smarter, more in shape. In doing this we have fled from ourselves and created a sense of shame in who we are.
The awakened heart beckons us to let go of all this nonsense and relax. We don’t have to be anything other than what we are.
Love thy neighbor as thyself.
Whenever this is taught to us the emphasis is always on “love thy neighbor.” But the scripture says, “Love thy neighbor AS THYSELF.” If we do not love and appreciate ourselves, how do we expect to love our neighbor. We must first love and appreciate ourselves.
A great deal of our problems in life occur because we don’t appreciate ourselves. Having never developed sympathy or gentleness towards ourselves, we cannot express it towards others. Developing appreciation for yourself allows you to see both your problems and your potential. If you practice self-appreciation you discover that no, you’re not perfect, but there is nevertheless immense value and beauty in precisely who you are. This is reassuring and very necessary to our growth. From being open and honest with ourselves, we can also learn to be open with others. So we can work with the rest of the world on the basis of the goodness we discover in ourselves.
I am looking at the flowering dogwood tree through my window this beautiful spring morning. It is blooming magnificently. I have had my coffee and am preparing to write but there it is, demanding my attention, and I am seduced. Each year it seems to flower more and more gloriously, and this morning it is really putting on a show. I’m just sitting here and enjoying it immensely. I am not examining it minutely for every little flaw, though I’m sure there are some. I do not say this flower is beautiful but this one is so-so, and this one could be bigger and this one is not so nice. Or this branch is too weak, this one too short, this one too long and looks funny, out of place. I do not. I just sit and appreciate it for what it is, enjoying it immensely.
I can sit and enjoy the beauty of the dogwood, but not the beauty of me. What is wrong here? Am I less than the dogwood tree? What is this neurotic self-examination, fault-finding, nit-picking feeling going on inside me that makes me feel ashamed, not good enough, unworthy, inferior? Why must I be anything else than what I am?
-Excerpt from John Kehoe’s A Vision of Power & Glory
When we open ourselves up in this way and let go of our harsh judgments of ourselves – something wonderful happens within us. We flower, bloom and grow strong in this ever-present love and acceptance. It is oil for our lamp, and as our lamp burns brighter, we are amazed, for we begin to see ourselves as we really are – we see our true worth, warts and all.
And as we learn to regularly behold ourselves in this way, day by day, week by week, everything becomes bathed in the warm glow of love and acceptance. Unconditional, total, complete love and acceptance is called for. No part of ourselves is to be omitted. Every weakness and inadequacy loved and accepted. Even the dark parts of ourselves loved and accepted. All or nothing – this is the challenge. And when we rise to the challenge, great alchemy takes place. All things become new. There is a new dawning. A life without shame or regret. A life nourished from within. Two monks are on a journey together when they come to a river. By the river there is a beautiful woman. The woman asks them, “Please will one of you monks carry me across the river? The river is too wide and the current too swift.”
The two monks look at one another, because they have taken a sacred vow to not so much as even touch a woman. Then, abruptly, the older monk picks up the woman, carries her across the river and puts her down on the other side. They continue on their journey.
The younger monk is flabbergasted. He can’t believe it. An hour goes by and not a word is spoken between them. Two hours. Three hours. And finally, after four hours, he turns to the older monk and blurts out, “How could you have done that? How could you have carried that woman?” “Oh?” responds his companion, “Are you still carrying her? I put her down four hours ago.”
– Zen parable
How much are we still carrying around inside us that should have been put down a long time ago? Disappointments. Regrets. Failures. Grudges. How much junk are we carrying around inside us and how long are we going to carry it? All our life?
Wounds heal when we forgive others and ourselves for our humanness. We allow ourselves and others to fail and make mistakes, to not be perfect. We forgive ourselves for lost opportunities, foolish decisions. We forgive ourselves for all our past and future errors. We recognize our vulnerability and fragility, and, far from being a weakness, we see this as part of who we are. Our quirks and idiosyncrasies? All part of our distinctiveness. We are special and beautiful because of our humanness, not in spite of it. In fact this is where our true beauty lies.
Self-appreciation means cleaning up the debris left behind in our life as the result of neglect and self-indulgence. We owe it to ourselves and others to respect ourselves. Until we respect ourselves, we cannot respect others. Until we love ourselves, we cannot love others. Our search for meaning and harmony in the universe can begin nowhere else but within ourselves. These are the truths an awakened heart teaches us.