As mind-oriented beings, it can be so easy for us to get caught up in solely thinking our way through life.
Yes, the mind is necessary. Yes, logic is important. But when the mind is the ONLY force we use to navigate through life, we suffer from a sense of deep unease most of us aren’t even aware of.
When the mind dominates our lives, all mystery and wonder is lost. We tend to separate other people, the environment, and ourselves into neatly labeled boxes and concepts. Instead of seeing reality as it actually is, the mind-dominated person sees all of life through a narrowed lens. Everything is either “good or bad,” “black or white,” “nice or nasty,” “right or wrong,” “helpful or unhelpful,” and so on. As a result of this rigid thinking, we become angry, resentful, suspicious, selfish, and fearful.
Not only is life’s complexity and infinite mystery compacted into bite-sized chunks of “knowledge,” but all of our other senses are numbed. We cease seeing the beauty of the sun’s rays, hearing the pure joyful laughter of children, feeling the gentle whisper of wind against our skin, or tasting the richness of the earth.
When we are mind-dominated, our hearts become closed. We no longer see other people as fascinating expressions of Divinity. Instead, we see them as threats to our job, security, well-being, or unstable ego identities. We can no longer find the courage in ourselves to be open and vulnerable, so instead, we adopt fearful masks that suffocate us.
When our hearts are closed, we are no longer truly experiencing life. When our hearts are closed, we are knee-deep in the dark quagmires of illusion created by thought. The moment our hearts close is the moment when we disconnect from our True Nature, our Souls.
The moment you commit to opening your heart is the moment you embark on true spiritual practice.
Are You Trapped in Mind-Oriented Spirituality?
Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all. — Aristotle
The unfortunate fact is that most spiritual practice these days is mind-oriented.
How many books have you read, or seen, that are focused on philosophizing, theorizing, explaining or detailing certain steps that must be taken to “change your life”?
I’m convinced that a person could truly become mad if they were to read all the spiritual advice out there. There are so many teachings that are based on the premise that we are “broken” and therefore need to be “fixed.” There is so much potential to become a frantic spiritual seeker who believes that there is something eternally wrong, or something that must be learned, or fixed, within them. There is so much advice, so many programs, endless philosophies.
Yes, a lot of this knowledge, theory, and philosophy is helpful. Sometimes these teachings take us to the “next level.” But always, always, always, we have a sense of wanting more. We still end up feeling somehow “lacking” at the end of the day. We still feel a sense of emptiness inside.
We’re all dressed up with this knowledge … but we have nowhere to go.
So we continue the cycle of learning again. We seek out more knowledge; the next idea that might somehow “liberate” us.
We work on our personalities, we work on our fears, we work on our desires, we work on becoming good meditators, we work on our thought patterns, we work on our energy fields … and we repeat the cycle endlessly.
What is missing here? What is the problem here?
We are trapped in mind-oriented spirituality.
Mind-oriented spirituality occurs when we unconsciously believe that freedom, purpose or enlightenment can somehow be found through teachings and concepts. There is the unspoken assumption that the more you “know” the more “enlightened” you will be. But actually, the opposite is true.
The more you unlearn, the more you know.
The more you release the grip of the mind, the closer you will come to your True Nature.
How can your True Nature be confined to a five-step process? How can the eternal be understood through the limited mind?
Theories and philosophies help us to expand, but they do not help us to deepen. The only way we can deepen is through the Heart.
Why Opening Your Heart is the Key to the Deepest Growth You’ll Ever Experience
There are many paths to enlightenment. Be sure to take one with a heart. — Lao Tzu
Theories and concepts will only take us so far: they will instruct us and open our minds, perhaps give us new and fascinating territories to explore, but they will never open the heart.
In order for us to go deeper into ourselves, deeper than we’ve ever gone, we must access the Heart. And there is no any “one” way to do this. Opening your heart will be intimate and unique to your own needs.
In many ancient traditions, the Heart symbolizes the doorway to the Soul. Thus, the more you practice opening your heart, the more you will be immersed in the infinite waters of your Soul.
Unlike the mental journey, the emotional journey of opening your Heart can be extremely confrontational. Only the courageous venture into the waters of the Heart. Sometimes these waters can be frozen over with thick layers of ice. Other times these waters of the Heart can be turbulent, even violent and unpredictable. Still, sometimes the Heart’s waters are still, deadly still, but swarming with life underneath.
But although the Heart journey can be confrontational, it will open worlds within you that you never knew existed.
The reward for opening your Heart is access to the strongest force in the universe: Love itself. The deeper you go into the Heart, the more you will sense this pulsating, overwhelmingly intense energy within you. This energy, this Love, is the fabric of your very Soul. This energy is the source of Life itself; the feeling of eternity.
Can you imagine what it would be like accessing this endless stream of Love within you? Can you imagine how profoundly your life would change if you could love yourself unconditionally, and others as well? Can you imagine what it would be like to heal yourself of every source of suffering you have ever experienced, and will ever experience, all with this source of Love within you?
Love is the most powerful force in the Universe. We call this Love Presence, Consciousness, Om, God, Divine, YHWH, Holy Spirit, Truth, Spirit, and a thousand other names.
Love transcends the mind and its need to control and understand everything. When you open your heart, little by little, you will find that the only true guidance is within you. In other words, your Heart knows exactly what you need let go of and love.
Here are a few Heart-opening practices you can try:
Practice 1 — Spend time in solitude and silence
Make time to spend alone. Ensure that you are completely disconnected from all forms of technology (your laptop, computer, phone, tablet) as well as other people. Solitude opens up space for you to listen to your inner self. In modern life, we are surrounded by constant dramatic external distractions that pull us out of our inner selves. If you can set aside time to sit in silence and solitude, you will be preparing the perfect environment to connect with your Heart.
At first, expect to be bored as your addiction to stimulation emerges. Then, you might feel scared or even sad. Solitude is a space of honesty where our true feelings arise. If you are scared of yourself or feel incomplete alone, this feeling will manifest first. Try attempting the other practices in this article if you struggle with this issue.
Practice 2 —Comfort yourself
Saying simple and comforting words to yourself goes a long way in helping you feel supported in the midst of pain. Remember that your inner child resides within your Heart. Comfort your innocent self as you would with a scared child. Saying small caring sentences such as, “It’s OK,” “I’m with you,” “You’re being so strong,” “I love you,” “I’m here,” will encourage your Heart to open more deeply.
Practice 3 — Give yourself the permission to FEEL
When you give yourself the permission to FEEL whatever is within you — both joyful and miserable — you are giving yourself the permission to grow. Opening your heart is about having the courage to face and fully feel your emotions. Unfortunately, the very reason why we’re so alienated from our Hearts in the first place is because of our denial of certain feelings. When you allow yourself to approach whatever you’ve locked away, you are taking a massive jump into the waters of your Heart. Giving yourself the mental permission to feel will “speed up” the process of Heart opening.
Practice 4 — Connect with your inner Mother or Father
We all have the presence of the divine Mother or Father within us. These forces emerge when the Heart begins to open, and we can call on our inner Mother or Father at any time. Unfortunately, many of us have negative associations with parents, but our inner parents are completely different from human parents. The inner parent is unconditionally loving, supportive, and present with all of our pain. The inner parent is the guardian of the inner child within us. In other words, nothing you could ever (or have ever) done, said, or thought has influenced the love of your inner Mother or Father. This powerful love is known as unconditional love.
Call on your inner Mother or Father in whatever way feels the most natural to you. For example, you might like to pray, speak out loud, write a letter, sing, dance, or any other form of invitation. When the inner Mother or Father emerges, you will feel a warm presence emerge within you.
Practice 5 — Breathe into the pain
As you practice opening your heart, you may come across intense feelings that seem to spontaneously materialize. It’s normal to feel scared or overwhelmed when these suppressed emotions emerge, so make sure you use the breath to ground yourself. It is so common for us to immediately shut ourselves off from any source of emotional pain, but opening your heart is about actively feeling these emotions. One you can feel these emotions, and breathe through them, the congested energy of these feelings will dissipate. A feeling of inner spaciousness and energy alignment will be the result. Make sure you breathe from your lower belly for proper grounding.
Practice 6 — Use the power of prayer
Words are energy, and when you say a prayer of intention, you attract guidance and support. Pray to whomever or whatever you most strongly resonate with — whether that be the goddess, Life, Spirit, God or your own Soul. The act of praying itself will help you to open your heart. When you are humble and sincere enough to ask for help, you will receive guidance bountifully. When I started praying (and got over my prejudice towards it), I experienced immense spurts of inner growth. Read more about the power of prayer. The Universe is always listening.
Here is a sample prayer: “Dear Spirit/God, please help me to open my heart and to have the courage to feel whatever is inside of me. Help me to see what I have been locking away so that I may be free of the burden of pain. May my journey deepen as I learn how to be vulnerable and receptive towards my feelings. Amen.”
Practice 7 — Embrace feeling uncomfortable
Part of the reason why we have blocked hearts in the first place is that we are so averse to feeling uncomfortable. We are taught that uncomfortable is “bad” and must be medicated, brutally picked apart or somehow numbed. But the truth is that whatever makes us squirm is hugely valuable. Whatever we react to, whatever triggers emotional pain or fear within us, is a GREAT teacher. Yet we are so caught up in running away from such discomfort that we never see it for what it is.
Embracing feeling uncomfortable is more of a mindset than anything. You can also apply the other practices in this article to help you loosen up. The mindset that I’m talking about is about becoming receptive rather than reactive. When you are receptive, you are open and prepared to feel what you usually avoid or deny. When you are reactive, you unthinkingly run away like a scared child or react like a wounded animal. Can you see the difference?
Opening your heart is about adopting this new mindset, but doing it in a loving, self-caring way.
Practice 8 — Find the beauty in everything
Seeing and appreciating beauty requires an open heart, but it also requires that you slow down your daily pace of living. There is beauty everywhere: in the faces of other people, in sounds, smells, textures, animals, trees, clouds, food, ideas, even in the most unexpected places like garbage tips, pavement, and urbanized cities. If you can make it your goal to find beauty in everything each day, you will not only be amazed, you will fall in love with life again.
Practice 9 — Learn how to cry
Yes, you heard me. Often, we are so emotionally congested that crying is extremely difficult for us to do. The older we get, the more we tend to “forget” how to truly cry. Our stomachs harden, our throats constrict, and our bodies stiffen. Some of us become numb or completely freeze when we’re overwhelmed with grief or sadness.
In order to learn how to cry again, you need to give yourself some privacy. You might like to watch sad movies or listen to music that makes your heart stir. If your body tenses up, try massaging your stomach. This is what I do when I struggle with emotional stiffness. When you feel sad or burdened, try to cry. Remember, crying is completely normal and something you need to honor. Many of us were taught as children to be ashamed of crying, but as adults, we can now reprogram that damaging teaching.
Practice 10 — Ask your heart what it needs
We are so used to listening to our minds that we forget to engage with the needs of our hearts. When was the last time you asked your heart what it needed to feel better? Our hearts always share honest answers with us, unlike the mind. Sometimes these honest answers are hard to face, which is why most people are scared of their own hearts. It’s much more comfortable to settle into the silver-tongued illusions of the mind. But the heart will never obscure the truth.
In order to ask your heart what it needs, you need to be silent and still. The heart often gets drowned out by loud and external-centered modern living. You might like to ask, “What do you need? Please show me” or “How can I feel better?” Whatever question comes naturally, ask away. Remember, your heart’s language is complex. You may receive an answer through a physical sensation in your body, an image flashing through your mind, a memory, an intuitive sense, or a silent word. Often, listening to what your heart needs will take practice. But as long as you’re receptive, you will quickly receive guidance.
Practice 11 — Learn how to be vulnerable
We’re all, to some extent, scared of being vulnerable. Vulnerability means being open, and being open means exposing ourselves to possible attack. The fear of vulnerability is ancient and embedded within our DNA. After all, we are “half” animal, and being on the defense helped us to survive as a species. The problem is that we have become too defended against others. We have forgotten that we are also one “half” Spirit.
Vulnerability cannot be forced, it must be coaxed gently. The deeper you delve into opening your heart, the more risks you will need to take. But in order to take them, you must feel some sense of security within yourself. The only true security there is, is the Love within your heart. You must be able to see that no matter what risk you take, what people think of you, or what the result is of your efforts, you will still respect and care for yourself.
In order for you to truly and completely practice opening your heart, you will need to be prepared to take risks. Being vulnerable, sharing your emotions with others, following your bliss, and following the guidance of your heart will take your spiritual growth to a whole deeper level. Try taking small steps that will allow you to open to vulnerability. For example, you might like to cry in front of the mirror without covering your face or learn how to laugh freely. Gradually, you can move on to sharing your feelings with others and taking emotional risks.
One final bit of advice: become aware of how your inner critic or judge causes your heart to close. The inner critic is the voice of fear that tells us that we “look stupid,” are doing something wrong or are somehow making a fool of ourselves. Become conscious of this voice, and treat it with love. See it for what it is: the lonely voice of fear, crying out for attention and love.
Tell me, have you ever experienced a heart opening? What advice can you share with others that will compliment this article?