This month I’ve been exploring the concept of love and wondering about how to have a more open heart.
This three part series shares three ways I have re-remembered (with the help of others) how to bring more love into my life.
Part 1: Let it Out
When I get particularly busy, as I did earlier this month, I find myself going a bit into “robot” mode, getting things done and putting out fires at the cost of feeling less connected to myself and others.
Talking with my friend Lyndsey of Rantoul Yoga, who’s also exploring being a more loving being, we re-remembered that one of the ways we block out love is by blocking out expressions of negative feelings like sadness and grief. By hardening myself to the deep sadness of what’s happening around me (and within me), I also harden my heart to feeling love for others.
Kit Miller of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence says that she does not know how to numb herself to pain without also numbing herself to joy and love. Somehow, these emotions are yoked within our system and closing the valve on one closes down the whole thing.
Miki Kashtan of Fearless Heart says that moving towards our despair rather than avoiding it allows our hearts to expand, to hold more without collapsing.
Of course, this concept is supported by neuroscience, as explored in the movie Inside Out – where Joy could not survive without the help of Sadness.
The invitation is not wallow in sorrow or sink into deep depression.
On the contrary, we are talking about allowing ourselves to experience and express short bouts of pain in a healthy manner.
So – how do we move towards sadness in a way that expands our hearts? How do we feel the pain of our lives – and of the world – without losing ourselves in it?
One way that my explorations have led to this month is to have a good cry (or even private car-bound scream) regularly. Crying has several health benefits, including stress reduction and mood improvement, even for people crying at a sad movie. The U.K. and Japan have taken this to heart (not pun intended) and created “crying clubs or classes” in which people can weep in the company of others.
I am reminded of a story a friend told me about John, a hospice worker who managed to hold the pain and loss of others with extraordinary care and tenderness for many decades, without burning out or contracting away. When asked about his secret, John replied without hesitation that the only reason he can do the work he does in the way he does it is because he makes sure to have a good cry EVERY DAY.
My tendency when things get rough is the opposite: to lock myself away from the tragic news of the world, to hide my heart behind a thick curtain and protect it from suffering (one of my preferred strategies is losing myself within a good fantasy novel).
However, I know that hiding from pain actually shrinks my heart, rather than expanding it wide enough to allow both sorrow and love to live within.
Since being reminded of this pathway to love, I’ve been practicing little moments of grief – and already I feel myself softening into more tenderness and care for those in my life.