Choosing an Open Heart (Even when it Hurts). ~ Sarit Rogers

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Recently, my mom was hospitalized for a stroke.

She waited a week to tell anyone about her symptoms; she told the medical staff she’d been caring for herself.

I just stood there in the fire of untended mental illness, delusion, and fear.

I stood there unwavering in my resolve to be kind and compassionate.

I stood there, grappling with fear and anger, but I continued to stand.

I wiped tears from my eyes to look in the eyes of doctors and nurses to advocate for the deluded. I shook off resentment and exhaustion to be an example of self-care. I was faced with one of my greatest triggers and I didn’t succumb to the depth of depression and delusion I once did.

I used my voice in honor of the voiceless, to advocate and to tell the truth only to find it was ignored, placated, and shoved to the side. Medical professionals didn’t want to add to their paperwork. They sought administrative pleasure.

I grew up with a parent lost in the dearth of her own childhood that was fraught with a mentally ill mother and a stoic father.

I spent much of my own childhood growing up too fast in order to be the emotional caretaker. As a child, it was about survival. As an adult, I now look back and see untreated mental illness glaring at me like a heated barrel of a gun. I can distinctly recognize the thief of my own childhood.

I work hard to make sure this thief doesn’t hijack my present.

I found myself in an unshakable situation. My internal compass was fixated on compassion and kindness, my true north, but my heart and mind were tired. I was faced with the child I once was, angry to have to be “there” once again, caring for someone who should have cared for me. It was a level of exhaustion I felt deep in my bones.

I took action: daily metta meditations sustained me, and moving through my yoga practice allowed me to stay in my body.

I was present and grounded in a situation that could have easily taken me out.

This life, this experience we are having, is full of ups and downs, love and loss, fear and pain, placid times and thunderous outbursts. Still, we get stuck in a perceived need to be happy or satiated at any cost: the cost of self-respect, the cost of connection.

Connection with others is necessary.

Touch, empathetic eye contact, a warm embrace or a gentle holding of space—these things are vital. In an example of how sympathy and empathy are often misperceived, I can share this:

Someone asked how my mom was doing but did so with a cheerful, almost carefree tone; it felt empty, devoid of real empathy or compassion because the truth is, there was nothing cheery about the situation. It made me deeply question the common aversion to holding space for someone experiencing difficulty.

Human beings need connection.

The kind of connection that allows us to let go and be present.

The kind of connection that facilitates the growth of the heart and the healing of the soul.

The kind of connection that nurtures our innately compassionate hearts.

Cultivating compassion involves creating connection. It involves opening to the possibility of leaning toward that which makes us want to run. It involves touching the fire and discovering it’s not as hot as we thought it was. It involves loving ourselves enough to know when to step back. It involves creating safe boundaries so we can refuel and practice self-care. It involves loving those around us even when they act like assholes.

There are many ways in which to do this:

• Use our breath: it’s portable; it’s free; it’s a benevolent resource.

• Time outs aren’t just for kids. We need them too. We can take a moment to step away and find our breath, orient ourself, and get grounded. They offer us the opportunity to care for ourself and self-regulate. Time outs are golden opportunities to stop and listen to what we need in that moment.

• Fill our well before we are of service to others. Metta practices, such as lovingkindess meditation.  I am reminded of this Buddhist quote, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” We have to show ourselves love and affection, compassion and kindness before we can share it with others.

Gratitude: In the midst of other people’s difficulty, getting lost and caught up in the darkness is easy. I make gratitude lists. Everything isn’t terrible. There is good everywhere. Find it.

• Asking for help is a form of self-care; it is an act of kindness to ourself and it provides an opportunity for someone else to practice compassion.

I’m grateful for what I have, I grieve that which I lost, and I honor that which makes my heart sing. I am grateful to those who have the capacity to see me for who I am and love me wholly; I am grateful to those who cannot reciprocate kindness and compassion—they are my teachers and reminders of the deep need to keep moving forward with an open heart.

I often say that I would rather have an open heart that gets pricked than a heart barricaded by barbed wire.

I say this because I used to believe the opposite and it caused far more harm than it did good. Cracking my heart open and softening around my own hurts, trials and tribulations has ultimately allowed me to be true to myself, and to understand that someone else’s suffering doesn’t have to be my own. To shed light into the shadows and hold space for those crippled by suffering is an honor and a privilege as long as we are not crippled by it as well.

To love ourselves first and foremost gives us the strength and fortitude to love those around us with a smile in our eyes and joy in our hearts.



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Sarit Rogers

Sarit Rogers is a Los Angeles based photographerwriterNew Media Manager, yogi and founder of the LoveMore Movement. She has photographed the covers of21st Century YogaYoga PhD, and the forthcoming anthology, Yoga and Body Image. She is the Los Angeles photographer for the documentary…but can she play? Her images from this project were featured in Sweden’s Lira Magazine, including the cover image. Sarit regularly writes about mental health, addiction and recovery forVisions Adolescent Treatment Centers.

Sarit completed The Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind 200-hour yoga teacher training with Julian Walker and Hala Khouri as well as Street Yoga Teacher Training. Sarit is currently teaching the yoga elective to 6-8th graders at the City Charter School, and occasionally teaches yoga at Against the Stream‘s Young People’s Meditation Group, where she is also an active member of the sangha.

You can follow Sarit on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram, where you will inevitably see photos of her sonhubby, beloved Pitbull mix, Lulu, and images from her 365 Project.

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anonymous Sep 18, 2014 6:54pm

Such a beautiful article about love – both raw and poised…pragmatic, steeped in heartlight. love! This quote: It involves opening to the possibility of leaning toward that which makes us want to run. <3

anonymous Aug 12, 2014 11:50am

This article brought me to tears this morning as I am finally coming face to face with my mother's untreated mental difficulties. I have never admitted it so clearly before and it is frightening. There is a lot of mourning going on, deep breathing, and compassion while I also face my anger, sadness and deep loss of never being mothered. This article could not have come at a better time. I am practicing Kundalini several days a week and it truly is what brings me back to center. Thank you. I am printing this article to keep on my table for good solid reminders of how to move through this with grace and embrace this lesson.

    anonymous Aug 14, 2014 3:40pm

    Aubrey, thank you. I am really honored by your comment. One thing I'm realizing with this particular piece is how much company I (we) have. We are not alone in this. I wish you well. Sarit

anonymous Aug 11, 2014 11:19am

Thank you so much for this. Your checklist for creating boundaries and practicing self care are both practical and necessary. If we don't self care, then we become resentful and our hearts will close. We want to believe we can automatically become empathetic, but, as you point out, it takes skill and practice. As you point out, there is no "magic" or "talent" required, just intention and preparation.

    anonymous Aug 11, 2014 1:35pm

    Thank you so much for your comment, John. I'm so glad it resonated with you. I am a huge proponent of doing the work rather than relying on magical thinking. The only way out is through, as they say, right? Thank you again. Your words mean a lot to me.

anonymous Aug 11, 2014 11:10am

Hi Elizabeth: Thank you so much. It sure does take every breath and presence in every moment to show up like this. Thank you for your kind and open hearted words of honest reflection. I wish you well. Sarit

anonymous Aug 10, 2014 11:08pm

Thank you for sharing this. You touch on so many complexities of this journey . . . I have chosen to care for a parent under similar circumstances. It takes every breathe and presence in every moment to move through with an open heart.

anonymous Aug 10, 2014 7:08pm

This is such a lovely and heartfelt article really exposing herself to the world and doing exactly as she shares. I have been in the exact same spot over and over. I really appreciate your voice….Take good care of yourself and your family….
xoxo Andrea

    anonymous Aug 11, 2014 11:09am

    Andrea: Thank you! xo Sarit

anonymous Aug 10, 2014 12:22pm

I love this article! It's a virtually untenable situation, staying centered and compassionate when you are challenged from all sides (including the inside). I can't imagine the kind of fortitude and dedication it must have taken to navigate your mother's medical odyssey, coming out the other side of it without leaving yourself behind. I am grateful on your behalf that you were able to get through it, and then write such a beautiful, eloquent and heartfelt article about it.

I have read more articles than I can count about the importance of compassion, gratitude, metta practice, breath, etc., but yours stands out because of your approach: you use these tools to stay grounded in and accepting of reality, rather than as a fuzzy, magical theoretical framework designed for escaping real life by floating above it in a cloud of fabricated equanimity. You are a shining example of how powerful the tools of mindfulness practice are for helping us navigate through – rather than around – the sometimes brutal realities of life. I applaud you for your dedication to your approach. And speaking of gratitude, I have much of it for you, my friend! Keep writing – you speak words that must be heard!

    anonymous Aug 11, 2014 11:08am

    Laura, thank you so much. Your words have moved me to tears of deep gratitude this morning. To be seen and heart in this way has touched me deeply. Thank you. And yes, I will continue to write. I have to…. Love, Sarit

Max Fujs Jun 7, 2016 4:26pm

Hi Sarit, thank you so much for sharing this. I can empathize with you on how difficult it can be to deal with our infirm parents, especially when they are being stubborn or don't know something. My mother has MS and I need to be more empathetic towards her... It's not easy, especially when the easiest response is anger and exasperation, ingrained and entrenched over years. It's definitely one of my greatest internal struggles. Your writing definitely puts my mind more at ease. This piece was beautifully written, full of great advice and raw honesty. Thank you so much for sharing yourself with us.