When the Heart Wants to Close
My last article was about centering on Love and the heartspace, but what happens when the heart wants to close? There’s nothing to center on, so where do you go? Where do you find your footing, your foundation?
I am going to share something personal about my own heart closing recently. Most of us have been there. A feeling of being wronged or harmed by another. The end of a relationship. The loss of a loved one. All of these experiences can cause us to want to close up our heart space. Sometimes it’s not even a conscious wanting to close, our body just goes to that state. It’s quite a normal reaction and certainly not something that should be judged. We’re really just protecting ourselves, but that begs the question. Protecting ourselves from what? I can’t say whether or not it’s something you need to change, only you can decide that. But what if you do want to do something about it? To face the fear that’s triggering the need to protect. I did, or at least I wanted to understand it better and not automatically and unconsciously stay in that closed off, protective mode. So I let myself see it and feel it in the hope of eventually healing it.
Seeing it is not always easy. I caught myself only after a bit of indulgence in it and a little help from a loved one. When someone who I’d been very generous and kind to took great advantage of me, I thought for a moment. “Is it really worth it? Trying to help people. Maybe I should just focus on myself and taking care of me and not worry about others? Yeah, I’m done. I’m just not going to do it anymore.” These are the actual words, or at least a close representation of the words, that I uttered out loud when I felt defeated. My partner lovingly responded. “Now it’s not so black and white, you can’t just say that because one person acts badly to you, everyone you are kind to will take advantage of you.” He had a good point. (smile) It was enough to draw me out of the story playing in my head and to realize what was going on in my body. That’s when I realized my heart had closed. It was like a thick suit of armour had been placed around me. How did I not notice that before?
We need to be diligent about watching our thoughts and challenging the stories or “the truth” as we believe it. Because these stories appear so automatically, sometimes we’re not even conscious of them. The best practice I can think of to try and catch one of these stories before they take over is to observe your emotional state. Whenever you have a strong emotion or reaction to something that’s a profound clue that you are believing some story, so you need to then look into that story to understand whether or not it is actually true. A (not so) simple mindfulness practice can help to bring you into the moment so that you can better catch yourself when the mind starts to go astray and begins changing the narrative unreasonably. Once you’ve found the story, then it’s a matter of exploring it. Byron Katie’s “The Work” is a good methodology for that, but there are other techniques, journaling or talking through things with a trusted friend can often help to reveal the truth.
Working through the story may not always be enough to free your heart from its cage. Sometimes we need to go into the body in order to see what it is trying to tell us. This can feel unsafe for anyone who’s experienced severe trauma so finding a practitioner to assist you is always a good idea. In my own recent experience, I noticed a very palpable closing and tightening of my shoulders and chest whenever thoughts of what had occurred re-entered my mind. From somatic experiencing work that I’ve been doing with a good therapist, I knew that I needed to get into those feelings to see what was going on deep inside of myself. This helped me to notice all of the different sensations and emotions that were occuring within my mind and body. Sadness that someone would do this to me. Anger that someone would do this to me. Frustration that I don’t have any control over the situation to make it better. Shame that I allowed it to happen to me. Fear that the repercussions of it weren’t going to end any time soon.
Once I began to see these stories, I began to let myself try them on rather than run away from or avoid them. With each one, I would pay attention to what I would FEEL in my body, noticing if and where I felt anything noticeable, an ache, a tension, an awareness of some sort. You’ll be surprised by what is actually happening in the body once you start to pay attention to it. As I tried each one on and noticed what was happening in my body, sometimes another story would surface. It may be a story that I’ve consciously or unconsciously told myself or an experience from the past. When that would happened I would stay with that story and the feelings as they shifted or changed as a result of my awareness. As if peeling back the layers of stories in order to get to what lies beneath it, what I think of as Divine Truth, I would stay connected to my body and breath until there was nothing more to explore.
Healing it doesn’t come instantly. It takes time and practice. I am in fact still working on it. Allowing myself to see and feel the emotions and storylines and then staying with them, breathing into my body, soothing my nervous system so that it can eventually rewire without this pain. It’s not something I am good at. I am good at staying busy and distracting myself from things. Anger particularly. It’s like this unruly ball of fire that I just want to stamp out. I judge it and dislike how it makes me feel. There are Kundalini Yoga sets that help you release anger. “Fists of Anger” is one of them. The trick to it though is that you have to really let yourself feel the anger, and then you use it to power the motion of your arms and your forceful breath. A different approach, but the same principle applies, noticing the emotion and honoring it.
I think what I fear most about anger is it taking over and leading me to lash out or be unkind to others, so I avoid connecting with it. The same could be said for all the emotions. We all run the risk of avoiding them because they are uncomfortable and we fear what will happen if we indulge in them. Society doesn’t support it either. We’re supposed to stay strong and move forward, not be emotional, but most energy workers and healers would agree, the emotion doesn’t go away by ignoring it. It goes into the body only to resurface later, and sometimes manifests as disease. Avoiding it throws off our body’s entire energy field. We do things like close off our heart without even knowing it. We avoid people and situations. We build a box around ourselves that takes away our freedom.
The yogis say that everything is our teacher. I have consciously looked at this messy situation that I have co-created and wondered what am I supposed to learn here? I believe it is a new awareness of my heart and how I relate to it. That I DO want to keep it free and open and that I need to listen to it more regularly regarding my owns needs as well as the needs of others in order to do that. We all do.