“Don’t let life harden your heart.” ~ Pema Chödrön
With July being Pema’s birthday month and the amount of hate and fear being spread by the media, this quote has been bouncing in my head all week.
Life is complicated; it has its twists and turns and constant tests trying to shape us into who we are meant to be, and of course, life is not gonna make it easy for us to get there.
That’s where things can go south, and our hearts can struggle to stay soft.
In today’s cutthroat world, we are constantly competing against one another and trying to have more—more stuff, more experiences, more money—and we let spiritual development fall through the cracks, because it’s not something people can see in the three seconds of attention scientists say we give to each other on social media.
That constant struggle and strive for attention, the rejections we get from those around us, can harden our hearts.
Not caring and staying focused on material goals is perceived as strength these days, so in a way, we are encouraged by society to harden our hearts.
But is that life’s goal? Is that what we truly want for ourselves?
If you are like me and live in fear of not feeling, how do we stop the hardening of the heart?
How can we grow and stay soft at the same time?
I have learned through yoga, meditation, travel, trial, and error that there are five things that can make our hearts softer:
We are social creatures, and we as a species need to connect with others. We want to feel like we belong somewhere and that we are not alone in our struggles.
Please note that I only wrote “connection” and not “romantic connection” or even “human connection.” The idea of connecting with others can be scary sometimes because it implicates putting ourselves on the line. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can connect with the world through a song or a book or a pet or a smile or a click on the internet.
Find a way to connect to another being and learn from their experiences. Give yourself a second to step outside of yourself and into them, and accept that we are all in this together.
2. Find love every day
“Your days are numbered.”
This popular catchphrase is very real. Nobody’s gonna live forever, and that’s why we need to treasure every moment and appreciate what’s around us.
Robin Williams’ character in Good Will Hunting said it beautifully: “You’ll have bad times, but they will always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”
Regardless of what life is throwing at us, there is always something to love; maybe it’s the smell of coffee, maybe it’s the breath through an asana, maybe a good song or a funny post on Instagram. What do these things have in common? They don’t love us back.
Loving without expecting anything in return is the purest form of love, and the hardest when it comes to loving people. Love a moment, pour yourself into it, let yourself be a part of it, and carry that love with you all day.
3. Put breathing on your schedule
Breathing is something we do every moment of our lives but almost never with awareness.
Think about all that has to happen to create breath. The air we share with every single being on this planet goes into us and fills up every single fold in our lungs to a level that’s invisible to the naked eye. We extract oxygen and then release carbon dioxide for other beings to use.
It is a very complicated thing we do without noticing, a very intricate process that we take for granted.
Breathing is a very important part of meditation. Most people think meditation is just sitting around and not thinking, but it is actually observing this magical process of breath and letting it be.
Breathing with intention is allowing yourself to take a moment to just exist, to feel whatever you are feeling without judgment or pressure. Take a moment and dedicate it to breathing. Give yourself that gift of free existing, and let your heart beat.
4. Learn something new
As I said before, we live in a world full of competition. Society tells us that we have to be the best and give 110 percent to everything we do.
This pressure is not easy to handle, and failing makes most of us harden our hearts so we are not devastated every time we fall.
You know who doesn’t put pressure on themselves to be the best? Kids learning how to move. When we are children exploring our bodies, we don’t put pressure on ourselves; we just try and fall and get back up and try again, and every step is full of joy and wonder.
The need to compete comes later when we start participating in society, but before that, we just want to enjoy learning.
This is the mindset that we need to soften our hearts.
Embrace the beginner mindset, embrace not knowing, embrace learning something new, and let your inner child be curious about what’s ahead. Fall down, laugh it up, and try again—it’s your path to walk, and let your heart come with.
Forgiveness might be the hardest thing to do on this list.
Most of us have that one person that we can’t seem to forgive and can’t put out of our heads. Maybe that person is a childhood bully or a coworker that took advantage of you or a partner that hurt you or a family member that failed you, or maybe it’s even moment in life that you just missed or wish you could erase forever.
Forgiveness is not easy and it’s one of the main reasons why we harden our hearts, to not feel the pain those people or that life brought us. Let’s try to make forgiveness a habit. Like with every habit, we have to start small and with intention—and forgiving yourself is a perfect place to start.
Let’s say you forgot to set your alarm, woke up late, and had a rushed morning. Forgive yourself and take on the day. Imagine you were practicing yoga and you couldn’t find your balance. Forgive yourself and move on to the next asana. Start with yourself, and then move on to forgiving others every day—like the lady that cut in line at the coffeeshop; forgive her and enjoy your drink. A colleague made a mean comment about your work; forgive them and take on the next assignment.
Forgiveness is an expensive gift that you need to give yourself before you can give it to others. Forgive yourself for small things every day, make it routine to not hold on to anger, and then move on to the next moment.
Our hearts go through a lot. I read somewhere once that our ribs are cages because hearts are wild things—I believe this to be true.
Our hearts are strong and capable of more than we give them credit for, because even in our times of deepest agony or struggle, they don’t stop beating.
Our hearts don’t need to be hard because they are strong, and true strength comes from vulnerability and from letting our hearts feel and stay soft.
Allow your heart to be what it wants to be, and don’t force it into something else.
Connect and love and let your heart reveal to you its fullest potential.
“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” ~ Pema Chödrön
Author: Alejandra Villacis
Image: Pierre Willemin/Flickr
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Erin Lawson