Keeping an Open Heart

Just a few days ago, I read this excerpt in Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott, and I've re-read it several times:

"We try to do our best, and then a whole snowy hillside buries a thousand people. Life is eruptions, spasms, just as in our families. If you keep your heart open, these traumas beat you down. But against all odds, something emerges from the wreckage in our hearts, so we can bear witness...

Love falls to earth, rises from the ground, pools around the afflicted. Love pulls people back to their feet. Bodies and souls are fed. Bones and lives heal. New blades of grass grow from charred soil. The sun rises."

If we keep our hearts open, we will be hurt. But, if we keep them closed, we never truly live or experience the joy of loving...

I remember thinking in my mid 40's, that I had done a pretty good job avoiding severe pain in my life. Up until then, I thought I had lived a pretty easy and charmed existence. Not that I had never experienced pain and grief, but I had been spared a lot of the real pain and suffering around me, which I figured was probably due to accrued "karma" on the part of other individuals. I also believed that you could "control" how much pain actually came into your life. All you had to do - was not open your heart totally. Just keep the blinds partially closed. Yeah, I know - it was a pretty dumb idea for someone that "old" to believe in such nonsense, but it worked for me. I thought to myself that I had made it to nearly 50 following my "rule," so I was probably safe at that point, and so unconsciously I relaxed, and really opened my heart unexpectedly...

Well, the Universe, the Divine - or whatever you want to call "it" definitely had something else in mind. I think "it" had just been waiting for me to stick my toe out of the door. As a result, the biggest growth experiences of my life, the greatest challenges, and sacred moments of connecting, and deepest despair and depression were just waiting for me, right around the corner. But all of these experiences only arrived after the deepest experiences of joy I had ever known... Ironically, I had been told in a number readings, that while I had accomplished much in life, I had never allowed myself to experience real joy...

Life is comprised of a series of lessons. And some of these lessons we must re-learn over and over again. I am so surprised that old hurts continue to re-surface, and ancient wounds reopen every time they do. You'd think I'd get this. The truth is, some of these lessons are carried from lifetime to lifetime until they are resolved...

There is so much in life that remains a mystery to me. I like to think that when I drop dead I am going to get instant clarity on all the questions that have doggedly pursued me, and believe me, I have a huge mental list of them! I least I hope for some clarity and subsequent closure.

There is a wonderful poem by Rumi, where he notes that a heart will break open again and again, until it stays open. Can't say that this sounds like a lot of fun though...

Recently, I wrote a friend that all of my life had been a search for a sense of belonging that I finally realized was not to be found or experienced outside of me, or in any particular place. Instead, I realized this search for belonging was an ultimate search for union with the Divine. But the truth is, we are human - and as humans, it is in our encounters with one another that many of us encounter the Divine. We do need to feel connected. Perhaps some of us more so than others...

When we belong, we feel connected to all there is - and we are in alignment...

For many years I practiced and taught a style of yoga known for its slogan -  "align with the Divine." I truly resonated with this concept - even though it carries some baggage for me now, and the language alienates many of my former colleagues. Still, the fundamental notion of aligning with the Divine does have merit. For some of us - to be in alignment with nature, with each other, with Source, or something greater than ourselves - is important. Being out of alignment, somehow doesn't feel right. When we are in alignment in body, mind, and spirit - things seem easier. We are in an energetic flow that can be creative and that we can harness to experience personal well-being and accomplish much as well.

A week ago I read this message from the Twelve:

All you have to do today is align with Source. Don't try to align with the things you want, just align with Source. You have already launched many things in your imagination which Source has become. But pursue not the things; the money, the food, the relationships - simply pursue Source - and Source will always feel good. Source will always represent an improved feeling, a better feeling place than where you started from. Feel you way."

And some days, that is all we can do - simply feel our way - back into alignment and engagement with the world and those things that nourish us and give meaning to our lives - connection, love, and so forth...

But we must keep our hearts open for all of this to happen. We must ride out the turbulence in our lives and never refuse to love. It really is the only thing that makes sense to me. No matter how dark or difficult life can be at times, it is important to remember these words:

"There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All events are blessings given to us to learn from."
~ Dr. Elizabeth Kuler-Ross

This is true, even when it seems impossible for it to be so. 

So I tell myself, even when my heart does not want to remain open - that I simply must in all circumstances, strive to keep my heart open. I tell myself, to seek alignment always - in my body, in my heart, and in my soul, and with others - most especially those I may prefer to avoid or not be in alignment with. And I tell myself, that to give love is always the better choice, even when it is not reciprocated. Even when we are not seen by another - for I read somewhere recently, that this is what we all truly seek - to be seen and known for who we really are. To keep our hearts open makes us better people. And it makes this world a better place as well. Truly, the sun always rises. Even when it sets, it rises again. Our hearts may close, but the choice to open again, is always there.

"Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them. Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain but for the heart to conquer it. Let me not look for allies in life's battlefield but to my own strength. Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved but hope for the patience to win my freedom. Grant that I may not be a coward, feeling Your mercy in my success alone; But let me find the grasp of Your hand in my failure."
~ Rabindranath Tagore

"And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth."

~ Raymond Carver "Late Fragment"


anna said…
Hi there,

I have a really hard time keeping my heart open - some of the challenges of motherhood with a two year old are the hardest for me when I'm trying to hold my center.

I have started a self-compassion practice for myself. When I'm in the midst of an incident (like... scooping puke out of a car seat with a toddler on the ground beside me wrapped in a towel) I try to repeat "May I be kind to myself."

I don't try to shut down the urge to cry either.

I'm still learning myself, of course, but this seems to be helpful to me.

Hey I love the name of your blog - we are like-minded in that respect.

Take care!
Olga Rasmussen said…
Thanks for sharing Anna!

I love your self-compassiona practice. Being kind to ourselves is often far more difficult that being kind to others!

Blessings to you!

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