In two weeks, it will be December 21, 2012—the important day that no one understands.
I’m not an apocalyptic sort of person, but I do think something will change. I don’t think it will be something massive like a super volcano (a friend got me somewhat freaked out about this one) or an earthquake. I think it will be a subtle change that involves us loving each other with a greater and greater capacity. Yes, that sounds really Pollyanna, which is my middle name (okay, not really but sometimes it could be),but I whole-heartedly believe it.
It is quite possible that I may be projecting my deepening capacity for intimacy and vulnerability onto the world… and something tells me I’m not alone in this. Everywhere, I meet people discovering the ways in which they too have protected their heart and are unlearning to shutdown at the slightest wince of pain. I’m often reminded of one of my favorite quotes from my other boyfriend (sometimes I need a break from Plato), the dear poet Rumi:
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
I think this is the greatest task of being human: keeping an open heart in the midst of fear and pain. I often wonder when I became so afraid of people and how hard it is to see my own fear and pain. I will be the first to admit I’m guarded; in all honesty, I’m not even sure when it happened.
And yet, I do know. It happened when I got made fun of in elementary school or when my last boyfriend left for three years, never to return. It happened when my grandparents said something judgmental or when my best friend of 12 years no longer wanted to be in my life. I feel it when I care for someone who doesn’t seem to care back or when someone shuts his or her heart to me. And sometimes it happens in everyday moments, like seeing a homeless person or a stray animal.
I’m afraid to keep my heart open to actually feel the pain of the world. I’m afraid it would overwhelm me and I couldn’t function. In Buddhist and activist Joanna Macy’s work, she discusses the deep despair we must encounter before we can begin to participate in the Great Turning happening in our world. It’s a painful process and one most of us would rather avoid all together (myself included). The world needs us to open our hearts, to risk being overwhelmed by pain and suffering. Because we can only move forward once we have fully felt how much we have closed our hearts.
I remember being a child and not being afraid of anything. Then somewhere between then and now, I felt pain and I shut my heart—and it keeps shutting, despite my best efforts. Often I don’t even notice I’m doing it. A closed heart becomes stuck energy and prevents other areas of our life from flourishing. When we close we lock our illness inside and try to protect the sensitive parts of ourselves. We don’t want people to see our weaknesses or pain, but that is to be human. We all have soft spots, and the more capable someone is of showing us their weaknesses, the more capable they are of loving. If you protect yourself, you will never grow.
Apparently this is a quite heavy post, as I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Marianne Williamson:
“Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life.”
How do we know our hearts are closed? How do we unravel and truly begin the spiritual journey of unlearning fear and relearning acceptance? It begins with the heart chakra, or Anahata, as our access point to feeling part of our being. Without access to our feelings we become unable to truly connect with the divine part of ourselves. This doesn’t mean we cry all the time or act out in anger—it means we are willing to feel them and more importantly, actually notice they are there. Here are some key indicators of a closed heart.
Please read carefully, you might find more of yourself in them then you thought:
Distant and detached. This refers to both physical and emotional distance. Only until recently have I been able to express my emotions in front of others, and my friendships have improved drastically. Turns out people want to know you’re human… who knew?
Not wanting to cultivate connections. Being alone is a lot safer than the messiness that can come with being close to others, but ultimately it prevents us from creating or maintaining lasting bonds. (This was a difficult one for me, as I live alone. I see now that a part of this was safety, and of course my Cancer rising.)
Rare to no communication. We communicate with people because we care for them, an inability or lack of communication can mean a sign of avoiding closeness. I have really made an effort the past few years to never ignore any sort of communication, even if I’m unsure how to respond.
Valuing independence above all else. We often pride ourselves on being self-sustaining or unwilling to ask for help. (I would like to add that this has been my largest access point for understanding my own closed heart.)
Being critical or judgmental. The focus quickly switches to what is wrong instead of what is right when we are internally (or externally) criticizing someone. I have found judgment to be the easiest way for me to separate myself from people I find threatening to my sense of well-being.
Demanding with rules or other modes of control. Demanding obedience, demanding submission, demanding perfection can all be signs of wanting someone to be someone they aren’t. (Guilty as charged… I certainly get bossy when I feel unsafe.)
Reading over these really makes me aware of all the ways I close my heart and also noticing how others do the same thing. I hope for humanity to stop protecting ourselves. It doesn’t mean there aren’t dangerous people, or that we should naively open ourselves to a point of danger. It means giving people the benefit of the doubt. I’m certainly not a doctor, and especially not a doctor of love, but I have some recommendations for learning to open those oft-closed hearts of ours:
• Make doing an activity you love a daily practice (writing, jogging, painting, wall climbing, coffee with friends, etc.) Focus on how much you love something about yourself.
• Tell someone that you love them without expecting that love to be returned.
• Share emotional, personal stories with close friends that you maybe haven’t shared before.
• Try a heart-opening meditation such as Metta meditation as a way of focusing on your heart as the center of your being.
As with every time I write anything, my attempt is to be vulnerable as a way of opening myself to those I don’t know and also to those close to me. Ultimately vulnerability happens in moments when we admit our deepest, innermost experience based in fear.
For me, December 21, 2012 isn’t about a fear-based ending. It’s more about a beginning. A beginning of valuing love and intimacy, of no longer fearing our feelings and most importantly, the willingness to be vulnerable with each other as a way of overcoming the walls we have unconsciously built around our hearts. In 2013, I hope we will stop being stingy with our hearts (I would like this part of the world to end) and start opening up to our natural way of being in the world—love.
Rebecca Farrar is a self-proclaimed creative type, stargazer, and lover of life. She currently lives in San Francisco (or Man Franpsycho as she likes to call it) and attends the California Institute of Integral Studies working towards her Masters in Philosophy. When not at the library she can be found doing yoga on her roof, wandering Ocean Beach, or staring at clouds. She believes unicorns and fairies are real and sometimes writes about them on her blog: www.adventureswithstardust.com
Ed. Caroline Scherer