Living with an Open Heart versus a Closed Heart
Whenever you feel anything fully—i.e., your parents’ indifference or hate, your own bodily knots and pains—you actually live a bit more free even amidst your pain and hurt. Whenever you practice opening yourself, you add less rather than more self-created suffering to life’s natural and inherent fluctuation of pleasure and pain.
To be born is to be guaranteed some mix of enjoyment, discomfort, boredom, satisfaction, distress, and certain death. Regardless of how much comfort or distress, satisfaction or guilt, you are presently experiencing, you can surrender and open as you are and thus add less suffering to the mix, or you can shrink and knot yourself closed and add more self-created suffering to the mix.
To remain open as you are, in the midst of all experience, both heavenly and hellish, is the way of living that adds the least amount of self-created suffering to the mix. This is what “living the questions” or living and loving on life’s terms is all about.
Regardless of how much pleasure or pain a moment brings you, the truth is you are openness. When you resist any aspect of the moment, when you close to an emotion, a person, a situation for fear of being overwhelmed or being unable to cope with the full intensity of it, then you deny the openness you are and you create and cause separateness which also causes additional suffering.
Your deepest heart always knows the truth of who you are. And who you are is openness—courageous, luminous, free. In every moment of your life, your deepest heart is tacitly comparing the closed suffering that you are doing with the potential bliss of being more open, which is who you are. “This moment can be deeper.” “I can be braver.” “This love can be more full.” “I can be more open and feel more and love more.”
Your deepest heart knows the truth of who you are and suffers the tensions and pain of your lie of closing yourself off and knotting yourself up.
Even though you may have deeply ingrained habits of fear and closure, you can always practice opening to feel. You practice openness by opening up. By opening to feel your breathe moving in and out and noticing when it’s tense. You practice openness by opening to feel the posture of your body. You practice openness by opening yourself to feeling and noticing more and more of the motion and space around you, the sorrow and suffering in the world and in yourself, the lives beginning and ending everywhere, your own fears and apprehensions.
If we are not open, our lives can quickly become the effort to avoid pain, pretend everything is okay, and we can begin contorting and distorting and knotting our lives up mis-shaping them by chasing imagined securities and avoiding imagined fears.
How trapped we feel in life is entirely a reflection of the depth of the openness that we are willing to consistently meet life with. To the extent that we close and pull back from intense and or difficult experiences, we separate ourselves and thus feel separated, knotted, anxious, tense, isolated, and alone. To the extent that we close down and protect our heart and opt for security, we disempower ourselves and feel helpless and small.
Open deeply and courageously and we are free. Give in and close ourselves, and we feel trapped.
We build our own traps in life by our unique patterns of closing.
Whether we open or close makes all the difference in whether we feel trapped by our situation or whether we can open to our deepest heart and live as love’s means and as an offering of love. Only facing ourselves fully fulfills our deepest longing and allows us to be free and alive as love.
The contour of our closing—the form of our suffering—is defined by what we won’t embrace, feel, open to for fear of being overwhelmed, trapped, hurt. If we don’t embrace and open to our desire to be ravished, then that will define itself as tense armor around us.
We feel trapped by that which we are afraid to face or fully feel. We feel trapped by that which we recoil from, only partially feel, or refuse to feel.
As long as we are alive, we can never be free from pain, loss, suffering, death. We feel trapped whenever we try to minimize our chances of suffering, whenever we diminish the full intensity of life and of our emotions.
Whenever we feel trapped by life, we should take it as a sign that we are clenching from within by the confines of our own refusal and stubbornness and neurotic patterns. We are refusing some experience that our deepest heart recognizes might work in our benefit, we are resisting some person or interaction, we are trying to avoid some feeling that we sense to be too overwhelming or we think ourselves to be too ill-equipped to deal with.
Freedom is openness to our deepest heart. The gift we give others is either the gift of our own openness or the clench of our own refusal and stubbornness.
But we can’t actually know and live this if we are still thinking and acting as if life goes on forever.
Every moment of life we live with a closed heart is wasted life.
(Abridged and adapted and riffed on from David Deida’s book “Blue Truth,” pp. 11-16)
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What does it mean to be a “spiritual warrior”?
What does it mean to be a spiritual warrior?
It is the sincerity and honesty with which the soul faces itself in a daily, moment to moment, way.
And it is this courage that keeps us strong enough to withstand the heartbreak through which enlightenment can occur.
Spiritual warriors have a broken heart—and alas must have a broken heart. Because it is only through the breaks in the heart that the wonders and mysteries and depths of life and our deepest self can enter us.
It is by honoring how life comes through us that we get the most out of living, not by keeping ourselves out of the way. The goal is to mix our hands with the earth, not to stay clean.
Until the heart becomes opened, we can not be free.
(adapted from Mark Nepo’s “The Book of Awakening,” pp. 55-56)
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We may insist that we are not in pain, that we are not miserable, unhappy, afraid. But that may only bear witness to how much we have had to become numb, how much grief and sadness we have had to harden our belly to and protect ourselves from feeling. This armoring is the “second skin” we have grown; it is devoid of nerve-endings, it is impenetrable, it allows nothing either in or out. But death can be a gentle kick in the ass if we can still feel it and if we don’t just intellectualize it or compartmentalize it.
(adapted and riffed on from Stephen Levine’s book “A Year to Live,” pg 88.)
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“Dungeon” – Rabindranath Tagore
He whom I enclose with my name is weeping in this dungeon.
I am ever busy building this wall all around; and as this wall goes up into
the sky day by day I lose sight of my true being in its dark shadow.
I take pride in this great wall, and I plaster it with dust and sand
lest a least hole should be left in this name;
and for all the care I take I lose sight of my true being.
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(from the motion picture “Fight Club”)
Scene: Kitchen at night. Jack and Tyler are each stirring a boiling pot.
As the fat renders, the tallow floats
to the surface. Like in Boy Scouts.
Hard to imagine you as a Boy Scout.
Keep stirring. Once the tallow hardens
you skim off a layer of glycerin. . . .
Now . . . ancient peoples found their clothes
got cleaner if they washed them at a
certain spot in the river. Why?
Because, human sacrifices were once
made on the hills above this spot on river.
Year after year, bodies burnt. The rain
fell. Water seeped through the wood and
ashes to create lye. (Tyler holds up a plastic
bottle and shows it to Jack)—This is Lye:
the crucial ingredient. Once it mixed
with the melted fat of the bodies, a thick
white soapy discharge crept into the river.
May I see your hand?
Tyler licks his lips and kisses the back of Jack’s hand.
This . . . is a chemical burn.
Tyler shakes a bunch of the lye flakes onto Jack’s hand. Jack’s whole body JERKS. Tyler holds tight to Jack’s hand and arm. Tears well in Jack’s eyes; his face tightens.
It will hurt more than you’ve ever been
burned, and you will have a scar.
JACK (voice over)
If guided meditation worked for cancer,
it could work for this.
Quick cut to a shot of a bright green forest in gentle spring rain. Resume scene in kitchen. Tyler JERKS Jack’s hand, getting Jack’s attention…
This is your pain. Don’t shut this out.
Jack, snapping back, tries to jerk his hand away. Tyler keeps hold of it and their arms. UTENSILS are KNOCKED off the table as Jack twists in agony.
Look at your hand. The first soap was made
from the ashes of heroes, like the first monkey
shot into space. Without pain, without sacrifice,
we would have nothing.
JACK (voice over)
I tried not to think of the words “searing” or “flesh.”
Quick cut to shot of green forest. Then a shot of trees engulfed in hellish forest fire. Resume kitchen scene:
Stop it! (Tyler JERKS Jack’s hand again)
This is your pain. This is your burning hand.
It’s right here. (Tyler smacks his own hand
on the table getting Jack’s attention)
JACK (voice over, stammering)
(Closes his eyes) I’m going to my cave,
I’m going to find my power animal.
Quick cut to shot of the inside of Jack’s frozen ice cave. Resume kitchen scene. Tyler JERKS Jack’s hand again. Jack re-focuses on Tyler…
Nooo! Don’t deal with this the way those
dead people do. Come on!
(Pleading, bargaining, stammering)
I get the point okay please . . .
No, what you’re feeling is premature
Tyler SLAPS Jack’s face, regaining his attention…
This is the greatest moment of your life
and you’re off somewhere, missing it.
(Pleading, stammering) No I’m not…
Shut up. Our fathers were our models
for God. And, if our fathers bailed,
what does that tell us about God?
I don’t know…
Tyler SLAPS Jack’s face again, bringing him back to his pain…
Listen to me. You have to consider
the possibility that God doesn’t like
you, he never wanted you. In all
probability, He hates you. This is
not the worst thing that can happen…
It isn’t… ?
We don’t need him…
We don’t… ?
Fuck damnation. Fuck redemption. We
are God’s unwanted children, so be it.
Jack looks at Tyler—they lock eyes. Jack does his best
to stifle his spasms of pain, his body a quivering, coiled
knot. He tries to wiggle free, but Tyler holds on.
You can go to the sink and run water
over your hand and make it worse, or—
look at me—you can use vinegar and
neutralize the burn, but first you have to
give up. First, you have to know—not fear—
know—that someday you’re going to die.
Jack spasms, he is a wide-eyed zombie of pain …
You … you don’t know what this
feels like. . . .
Tyler shows Jack a LYE-BURNED SCAR on his own hand.
It’s only after we’ve lost everything
that we’re free to do anything.
Jack slows his trembling, takes the pain. Tyler grabs a bottle of VINEGAR and pours it over Jack’s wound. Jack closes his eyes, holds his hand, and slumps to the floor in an orgasm of relief.
Congratulations. You’re one step
closer to hitting rock bottom.