Our dear friend and colleague at Opening the Heart Neil Friedman, now deceased, used to say: “We all long for love. But, we’ve been hurt by life, so we’re afraid.”
It’s probably safe to say that each of us has been, or is, broken in some small or large way by these hurts of life, which can sometimes seem endless! Based on our work with tens of thousands of people since 1976, our observation is that many of us haven’t had adequate resources or support to process these hurts and recover from them.
So, to talk about how to discover wholeness in spite of brokenness, we need to delve more deeply into the nature of our hearts.
There are many principles we’ve discovered over decades of supporting the emotional health and personal growth of our participants and clients. One is this:
The heart is “a package deal.” It’s either open, or closed – there is no in-between. So, if you are not open to all your emotions, you will not feel any.
Unfortunately, we do not get to choose the emotions that are fun, like love and joy, and push away the ones we do not like. “Ok, I like happiness but not sorrow.”
When it hurts inside, and you close yourself off from those feelings to protect yourself, what happens? It becomes hard to feel all the good feelings that you also might have. Most notably, happiness and love.
Then you can feel very lonely and isolated, very stuck and you are always sitting with the unresolved hurts, which tend to play over and over and over again in the mind and heart.
We’ve all been there. Some of you are there right now. This is an extremely painful place to be. This experience of deep loneliness, isolation and hurt is the place where the feeling of brokenness thrives. It sometimes thrives to the point of taking over our view of ourselves. It can be easy to see ourselves as “damaged goods.” Like someone who is not okay, and never will be.
This is what it feels like when our hearts are closed.
Given that we’re not able to fix many hurtful things that have happened in our past, or even sometimes that are happening in our present – how do we open our hearts anyway, and why should we do so?
Here’s a personal experience which speaks to what is behind painful emotions and what can happen when we decide to feel them.
A long time ago, when I was a new group leader, I had an experience which taught me just how a feeling of wholeness can be accessed through opening one’s heart to one’s pain.
I was trying to lead a meditation at a children’s workshop, something I really cared about teaching. One little boy was in general, very dear, but also a tense and disruptive child.
First, we sang together. After the quiet meditation began, because the group was a “safe space,” his tension spontaneously began to release by giggling. Giggles are contagious! Even though none of the children or the staff intended it, long story short, after a few minutes the whole room ended up in belly-laughs and loud guffaws.
All except me. I was actually feeling embarrassed. I knew the laughter was good-natured and not directed in any way at me. But I was the one standing in front of the group trying to lead a quiet meditation, and inside it did feel like everyone was laughing at me.
Even though I did not want this to be happening, I was experiencing the feeling of humiliation. An intense burning sensation began at the bottom of my toes and traveled up to my cheeks and ears until my face felt red-hot and on fire.
This was really painful!
Growing up, I had always run away from the pain I had inside. But, my own natural emotional intelligence was being stimulated that day. I heard a little voice inside which said to me ‘Just stay with this feeling for a moment…. Feel this pain so that you can know it. That way, if you decide to keep running from your feelings, you will at least know what you are running from.’
I gritted my teeth and stayed. I just breathed deeply and experienced that feeling of pure, unadulterated humiliation washing through me. Here is the really interesting part. That intense feeling lasted about one minute – two at the very most. Since I was not fighting it in any way, but allowing it to flow through me, that emotional energy had nothing to get stuck on. There was no Velcro. Just like feelings do when we are little children, that feeling of humiliation passed right through, and out of me.
When it left, I felt a shift inside. Now, I was feeling a deep and beautiful harmony with the moment. Then, a feeling of love for this group of children began to fill me. As the laughter in the room naturally died down, we sat quietly together in meditation for a time, and then went on with our day.
That is what it feels like when the heart is open.
This story also illustrates another principle we’ve learned at Opening the Heart – “the only way out is through.”
One cannot feel happiness and love through thinking. One can only think thoughts. To feel, the heart has to open.
When you choose to open to the pain, that means you will have to feel it. Ouch! But wait – what is waiting for you on the other side? The experience of harmony with the truth of our life is there waiting for us at any moment that we choose to open to our pain and do not try to fight it or run away.
This pathway to an experience of wholeness is right there in the middle of the brokenness. In fact, our brokenness can almost be seen as a doorway to it.
Although we may feel damaged by the world, there is a part of us that is intact, has been since our birth, and will always be. Our hearts are like a shining sun which can at times be obscured from us by the world but can never be diminished by the world.
At Opening the Heart we are always amazed to see how little time it takes for many people to start experiencing this feeling of wholeness right in the midst of their brokenness.
Sitting in the closing circle, everyone can witness the truth of who we all really are. It makes a lasting memory to refer to as we return to our daily lives.
Click on the link to register for our next workshop at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY – September 5th – 8th 2023.
Copyright 2023 Linda Aranda Belliveau