Years ago, I went to a performance/sound art show. On stage, a near-naked man had several suction-cup-like contact microphones strapped onto various parts of his torso.
The piece consisted of bright lights flashing in time with his heartbeat: ka-thud(flash!), ka-thud(flash!), ka-thud(flash!). Sound booming through high-end speakers, the audience was presented with a viscerally stunning surround-soundscape.
This was true art: here we were, strangers going right inside of this person’s body, witnessing the action of his most vital organ. He was bearing his (he)art, fully (talk about being vulnerable).
To show us that this was the real thing, he kept purposefully changing his heart-pace. At one point, he’d slowed down his heartbeat to a crawl, and the spaces (sounds/flashes) between beats were getting longer—maybe even a little too long. The synchronized rhythm of darkness coupled with silence created this sort of multi-sensory drama.
I’m pretty sure the audience was all thinking the same thing: is he going to stop breathing altogether? Is this humanly possible? What if he died right now, in front of us?
There sat the audience, tense in the darkness, awaiting his next beat with bated breath.
Long life, show your face
Slow-heart, curb your taste
Smoke me out of my hiding place
Long life, state your case.
My own heart is naturally (metaphorically) slow. I’ve always been calm, introspective, slow to anger, sometimes slow to love (at least on the surface). I often feel the need to take time out, stop and investigate, process, figure stuff out before I can move forward. I’ve spent enough time beating myself up about this (beat, beat, beat).
Now I’m paying more attention, understanding what the spaces between the sounds mean. If I stop and focus, I get a deep sense of knowing what my purpose is, what the bigger picture is. I can’t actually see it, but at the same time I know. So part of knowing my own slow heart is accepting that this is supposed to arrive slowly.
Long life, speak your name.
I’m so tired of the guessing game.
But something is moving just out of frame
Slow heart, brace and aim. ~ Joanna Newsom (from Occident)
I think of ‘brace and aim’ as taking a slow-heart day: a day (or hour) to explore, reflect, open.
Meditation is a great tool for this, absolutely, but I’m suggesting that we can use other tools and actions alongside meditation to dig around and find your truth, to make sure you are on the right path. It’s about facing towards—instead of away from—what is really going on inside. It might be about forgiving yourself for getting a little off-course, and then getting back on track.
My chosen digging tool is a pen: writing is what gets things looser, lighter, sometimes letting go of a little pent-up resentment. As I write this, it’s a Saturday, and I’m in a local coffee shop with a heavy heart. My ego, my body yearn for the kind of distraction, play, escape that the weekend normally brings.
But my heart screamed louder for attention. Playtime is not a priority—at least, not until I lighten my load a little bit.
“…so when we write and begin with an empty page and a heart unsure, a famine of thoughts, a fear of no feeling—just begin from there, from that electricity…writing from that place will eventually break us open to the world as it is.” ~ Natalie Goldberg (from Writing Down the Bones)
What would the world be like if we were given (or gave ourselves) permission to stop and process regularly in this way?
What if we learned early on how to explore our hearts? If we regularly took an hour or day or week to ourselves to get to the heart of matters, and then figure out what truly matters from there, in order to be more authentic with ourselves and in our relationships?
Let’s just say you manage to deliberately set aside some time for this: what would you do? Maybe resolve a conflict with a relative, leaving some solo time to cry from relief afterwards. Or you have coffee with a friend and actively listen about her life. Or possibly it’s just about doing your favourite creative thing, in public or private.
Whichever method we choose, we can use this metaphor as a means of just slowing down and (re)connecting with the world in an immediate, intimate way.
For me, writing this in a cafe allowed me to unravel my heart and leave my head: I felt the summery breeze flowing through the open-air window-wall next to me, I heard the relaxed chatter of patrons visiting around me. I felt how the cinnamon in my soy chai latte perked up my tastebuds and soothed my stomach.
I checked in with my heart again, and realized that it was not quite broken—just maybe a little cracked. A small crack, just enough to remind me that it’s fragile but mend-able.
I wondered how I would go about mending it, and pictured sewing a careful seam, placing the needle at exactly the right minuscule points in the fabric to eventually create a line of neat, symmetrical, small stitches. That seam would hold steady for a while, but it might unravel. More tears would appear over time, but I could always do this same thing the next time: slow it down, get inside, sew it up.
I visualized this process as a delicate, deliberate act, something not to be taken lightly: our hearts are, after all, our main life source. They need careful tending and mending too.
So, how about letting your heart get slow for a while, accepting its fragility, recognizing its true needs. How about not being scared of the silent, bright spaces between the beats, of accessing that space to invest(igate).
Go ahead, take a listen.
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Ed: Sara Crolick