From the youngest age I recall keeping a tiny part of myself separate. Locked away. Under tight security.
No one was allowed to enter the secret chamber that I explored regularly by myself.
It was my own secret garden, my sanctuary where I would retreat to reflect on the world around me and how I fit into it. Deep in the branches of the trees that filled the garden was where I kept all my most precious jewels, well protected from potential thieves. I would explore the depths, reaching into the hiding places to pick up the things that caught my attention as I moved through. Slowly, gently, I would turn them over in my hands, observing them from all angles before placing them carefully back amidst the leaves.
Over time the entire garden began to glow with the immensity of the treasures held within them. The branches glittered in the moonlight of my soul.
I couldn’t really say what it was that instigated the pattern of hiding. I just know I was desperately afraid of being hurt. The softest, most precious part of my heart would surely have been washed away on a sea of tears if it were crossed.
This was the part that splashed across the pages of my journal and wrote poetry in my teen years—the part of me that shied away from confrontation, sharing my feelings or speaking my truth.
It was the part of me that felt completely misunderstood; I never truly believed that could change even though it was what I most wanted in the world. I’ve always been a heart-driven person. Someone who feels into a situation and moves forward on intuition and gut-feeling.
Last year, I made a conscious commitment to myself to do whatever it takes to keep my heart wide open.
I had begun to recognise that the very mechanism designed to protect me had also begun working against me. The walls had grown so high and become so overgrown that I no longer had access to the secret garden myself. Without the guiding force of this deep part of myself, I had forgotten the sound of my heart.
Decisions, all of a sudden, became very difficult. How did I know which was the right way to turn? What if I made the wrong decision?
My mind would turn in circles, driving me nearly crazy with doubt. I couldn’t trust my intuition because I was so far removed from it. I knew that if I wanted to live from my heart and hear her voice as strongly as I craved, I would need to dismantle my secret garden.
Those walls, constructed so many years ago to protect that sacred part of me from the world, are hard to keep down. I only have to feel strongly for someone or something for them to climb up almost automatically—as if the risk of losing is too real, the fear of insurmountable pain too great.
So how did I keep them down? Before that was even an option, I had to be able to recognise when they were up.
For me, when my walls are up, it feels as though I am disconnected from my body, as if my spirit has ejected under the pressure and is floating around somewhere outside of me waiting to know when it’s safe to return. I can talk about pretty much anything but I don’t really feel the words. It’s as though my mouth and brain are talking while my heart is asleep.
This results in being less likely to talk about my feelings or speak my truth even though I can feel them sitting on the edge of my tongue dying to pour out of me.
Anxiety and doubt each sit atop one of my shoulders, and I hesitate to use my voice in case what I say is not well received.
Ironically, I’m more likely to presume that people around me are being distant, to blame the way I am feeling on those closest to me rather than looking within. This external blame usually triggers my awareness of the walls and allows me to work on bringing them back down.
Once I have the awareness, the real work begins.
In order to keep the walls down, we need to allow ourselves to feel vulnerable. We need to expose that vulnerability: to put those jewels in the hands of our lover or friend or mother/father/sister/brother and let them see every last bit of us.
For obvious reasons, this should only be done with people in our lives we completely trust, who will not intentionally hurt us or hold our jewels for ransom.
We need to speak the truth in our heart, share our deepest dreams, desires and fears, let other people see the parts of us we’re most ashamed of. And keep doing it even when we get hurt.
“You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens.” ~ Rumi
Honestly I can’t yet say it has become any easier for me. I still get nervous when I expose my most vulnerable parts. I still have to pull on my Bravery Pants and breathe through my anxiety, manage my doubt.
But by God does it feel amazing when I do! It makes my heart sing when I show it the respect and love it deserves by honouring it.
And it’s only brought me closer to the people in my life, allowing me to have a kind of intimacy that I only dreamt of. My heart’s voice has also upped its volume, so following it is getting easier and easier.
Of course it has brought pain and heartache along the way too; pain in our human bodies is inevitable. Sometimes the heart takes us in directions we don’t necessarily want to go and it’s hard.
But when we keep our hearts wide open and allow all experiences to pass through no matter how uncomfortable they may be, we learn to recognise that pain is not permanent. It will wash away when it is good and ready.
I understand now that deep within me I was ultimately afraid I was unlovable, that if I let people into this secret chamber, allowed them to walk along the glittering paths and touch the jewels I’d squirreled away, they would see how underwhelming I was and their love would dry up.
I no longer believe this is true. It was just a story I had created about myself to make sense of my secret garden.
I no longer need the secret garden that protected me for so many years because I have broken my heart wide open.
Author: Sarah Kolkka
Editor: Caroline Beaton