(rawpixel on Unsplash)
Relationships are not easy. Whether it is our relationship with our mother, our spouse or a co-worker, relationships can be intense. Sometimes with only a few words said, a hot fire within us can be sparked and stoked, engulfing us in a rip-roaring blaze. Suddenly, we are pissed, angry, hurt and resentful. Instantaneously, we tuck our heart behind our imaginary shield and tightly grip our weapon. Prepared to defend and attack.
Often it takes only milliseconds to launch ourselves from open and relaxed to tense and shut down. Allow me to share a story. This morning, as my children sat colouring side-by-side at the table, I overheard my eldest daughter say something in a condescending tone to her little sister. Although the words themselves didn’t register in my brain, the hissing-sound of attack pierced into me. Instantly, I felt myself become tense. My heart hardened as it shut down. As I questioned my daughter, I could feel that I wasn’t engaging with an open heart. My shield was strategically placed over my heart and my weapon was drawn.
(Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash)
Most of the time, most of us march through life with our heart blocked and our weapon drawn. We try to take the focus off ourselves by blaming and judging others. We judge others for having different opinions or lifestyles than us. We blame others for our perceived problems. We speak condescendingly, and we complain and gossip about others behind their backs. We tell ourselves that we are better than others. Portraying a fake confidence; a bogus sense of pride. Arrogance and judgement are our key attack and defense strategies to avoid revealing our heart. Tactics to distract ourselves from feeling our own hurt and vulnerability.
When we push and control (rather than allow and flow), we also hide our heart behind self-erected walls. When a wife demands her spouse do what she wants and when she wants it, chances are her heart is blocked. When an older sibling determines rigid rules for how a younger sibling should express her own creativity and imagination, chances are the older sibling’s heart is closed off. When a child excludes another child from play, chances are his heart is shut down. When a parent demands with an authoritarian style that their children do as they say, chances are their heart is shielded. This is not to say that a spouse is not permitted from expressing his or her wishes in a relationship or that parents should not guide their children. But when our heart is tucked behind a mighty shield and our weapon is drawn, we demand and seek to exert control. Our communication is laced with aggression. We come from a place of fear and ego, not from a place of love and an open heart.
Like most of us, I have walked through life with my heart hidden behind a shield and carrying an imaginary weapon. Prepared to fight to avoid being hurt. Fight to be seen and heard. Fight to feel validated and valued. Similar to many of us, I have been too scared to allow my heart to be open and vulnerable. But it is only when we come from fear and ego that we feel the need to fight our way through life. To defend ourselves and protect our heart. To offer ourselves an illusion of safety.
What would happen if we would surrender our weapon and toss away our shield? We would discover the essence of who we truly are: innocent, pure, compassionate love. A magnificent, radiant spark; one and the same with our divine source. We would see that our true strength rests in our vulnerability.
(Morgan Sessions on Unsplash)
When our heart is open, we connect with others in a deeper, more meaningful way. We connect on a heart and soul level. Without a shield covering our heart, we open ourselves to fully receive love, as well as extend love to others. In our defenselessness, we see the world with genuine compassion. Like individual droplets of water in the vast ocean, we begin to see that we are all one and the same. We speak, act and live from a place of love, acceptance and gratitude. Fear and ego no longer control and dictate our thoughts, perspectives and actions.
When we have the courage to blast open the fortress walls around our heart, we experience life in a vibrant and exciting way. Life becomes like a motorcycle ride on a scenic road. We feel one with the surrounding nature. One with the wind. One with the trees. One with the ocean. One with life. One with our own vulnerability. Sometimes we lean into the corners. And sometimes we relax on an open, straight stretch. Completely present. Feeling it all.
So why do we build these fortified walls around our heart? At some point in our lives, often as young children, we experienced hurt. We learned that we were not completely lovable just as we are. We learned that love is conditional. We began to perceive our open-hearted, authentic selves as not good enough.
(Janko Ferlic on Unsplash)
Perhaps we felt the hurt of a parent yelling at us. Or maybe we were physically hit to “keep us in line”. Or perhaps we were the target of ridicule from other children. Or maybe we felt disheartened and defeated because a sibling received the love and attention that we craved. Or perhaps we felt lonely and sad because our parents were distracted, unavailable or unable to love us due to their own pain and fear.
As a result, we developed the belief that the world is not entirely safe. That we need to protect ourselves to survive and thrive. We hardened. We built walls. We disconnected from our heart. We grew up feeling separate and alone. Struggling to feel worthy of love. Struggling to love ourselves.
Living with an open heart is a work in progress. In my experience, it requires great awareness and regular practice. Although I am very aware of when I am engaging with an open heart versus when my heart is shielded, I still react in a knee-jerk way to situations that trigger me. For example, I still find myself flipping out at my kids when they don’t listen. I still launch verbal attacks at my husband for various behaviours that drive me nuts. And I continue to catch myself quietly judging others for being rude, inconsiderate, unprofessional, unaware and so forth.
Experiencing life with an open heart does not mean that we don’t get upset sometimes. Instead, we fully feel our emotions…but without attacking or blaming. Without judging others or judging ourselves. Without closing our heart.
(Ed Robertson on Unsplash)
Allow me to share a personal story. A few years ago, a heated situation arose between myself and a close friend. It was a situation in which two old friends came close to no longer being friends. Both friends felt hurt, betrayed and angry. Both of us had fortified walls around our hearts. And both of us were prepared for battle.
But our long-standing friendship did not fall apart. On a very tense phone call, I suddenly stopped. I stopped defending myself. I stopped justifying my actions. I laid down my shield and weapon. I spontaneously guided us into our hearts. I quietly reminded us of all the challenges we had supported each other through. All of the celebrations that we had shared. Essentially, I reminded us that day of our love for one another. Suddenly we were both in tears and peering at each other through our hearts. Not through our egos and our fears…but through our hearts. This is a beautiful example of how life and relationships can unfold when we engage with an open heart.
(Darius Bashar on Unsplash)
Create space in your week to sit in silence. Place your open hand on your heart. (Go ahead…try this now with your eyes open while you read this.) Now imagine that you are breathing through your heart. Inhale into your heart. Exhale out of your heart. And again — breathe into your heart, and exhale out of your heart. Feel a softening. Now imagine that you see or feel the wall in front of your heart opening. Maybe it crumbles into pieces or simply vanishes without a trace. Or perhaps the walls protecting your heart have a slow-and-steady style of opening. Continue to breathe. Feel into your gentle, compassionate heart.
Feel the emotions that are present. You may feel pangs of sadness or remorse. You may even feel agitation or anxiety. Whatever is present, allow yourself to feel it. With the gentleness that we use to cradle an infant, witness your emotions with compassion. Emotions are energies that are meant to move. If sadness arises, let the tears flow. If frustration arises, exhale the breath from the mouth with a groan. By feeling our stored emotions and letting them go, we are better able to feel the love that is underneath and alive within us.
Now ask yourself:
Am I willing to let love into my heart?
Am I willing to love myself?
Am I willing to surrender my shield and weapon, and walk through this day defenseless (knowing this is where my true strength lies)?
Witness your responses without judgement.
(Kawin Harasai on Unsplash)
The next time you notice your heart hardening with blame or judgement…stop. Breathe. Soften your heart. Let go of your shield and weapon. Feel the emotions that are present. Breathe as you allow them to move through you. Recognize that blaming, attacking or judging others (or ourselves) is a fear-based attempt to keep our heart closed off. A strategy to protect ourselves…but at a great price. Offering a false sense of safety and robbing us of an authentic life.
Fall back on the assurance that true strength lies in our vulnerability. Life is more awesome when we relinquish the ego aggressor and live with an open heart.
To read Rachel’s bio, please click here.