How did the rose ever open its heart, and give to this world all of its beauty?

It felt the encouragement of light against its being; otherwise we all remain too frightened.”  –Hafiz

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how our relationships are the crucibles within which many of us learn about love and peace, empowerment and interconnectedness.

All kinds of relationships can be our teachers: those between friends and family members, spouses and partnerships, employers and employees, parents and children.

The Dalai Lama himself has said, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

As I drink my morning coffee on my couch, perusing various news sources and feeling a general heaviness about the state of humanity, I notice a homeless man who walks past my home sometimes, wrapped in a new indigo blanket.

A flood of complicated feelings wash through me. Guilt at my privilege, a deep desire to help, vulnerability coupled with fear about helping. Mostly, though, it just hurts. I long for a world in which we all look after one another better. Inequality is painful.

I’m acutely aware of how dependent each of us ultimately is on one another’s open-heartedness, and how much our collective suffering is increased in closed-hearted cultures where policy decisions are being driven by greed.

Imagining someone gifting a blanket to this man, caring for him, stirred me. I felt a deep calling to do more in the world, to take steps in my own circles of influence and actively care for others.

I began wondering about the places in my life where I show up half-heartedly, instead of full-heartedly, and then reflecting on those areas where I live from a full, strong, open heart.

Half-hearted living looks like:

  • I’m ambivalent, lacking commitment, energy or conviction.
  • I find myself responding from a closed heart, harboring resentments, mistrust, and anger.
  • I haven’t yet moved through the healing work that would allow me to melt back into open-heartedness.
  • I’m following a weak heart instead of a strong heart and find myself appeasing others and avoiding conflicts.

Open-hearted living looks like:

  • I’m clear, consistent, and trustworthy.
  • I live from courage and integrity.
  • I engage in creative problem-solving.
  • I defy cultural norms that seem to lull me into accepting a status quo that leaves increasingly large numbers of people on our planet hungry, homeless, or hated.
  • I allow myself to feel the pain of the world and to be moved to alleviate it in whatever way inspiration strikes me from moment to moment.

When we’ve been hurt by others, it can be difficult to approach love again.

Gratitude practices, forgiveness practices, and self-healing work all open the gates within us to radical, transformative love.

As our full, strong hearts open…

  • We stop controlling and possessing other people, and we stop allowing ourselves to be controlled or possessed.
  • We see our relationship as crucibles that mirror and reflect aspects of ourselves – both light and dark – so that we can learn to love up all the parts.
  • We find ways of being in committed relationships while still being free.
  • We stop imposing ourselves and our values on others, and we stop sacrificing ourselves or living into values that are not authentically ours.
  • We learn how to express our anger while remaining loving toward one another.
  • We see our faults and our growth edges while maintaining our sense of dignity and worth.
  • We can be both deeply connected to each other while protecting our boundaries and ourselves.
  • We find ways of being deeply self-nurturing while remaining generous towards others.

To nurture our open hearts, we focus on those people who know how to love us well. We practice receiving love, letting it in, and allowing it to melt the pain within that keeps our hearts closed. As we take in experiences of loving ourselves, we naturally begin extending this to others.

What helps you nurture your open heart? I’d love to know. Leave a comment below.


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