We’ve arrived at “heart of the matter,” the middle of the chakra system, the energetic center point of the human experience.
Here is my talk on Chakra 4 from the beginning of the workshop at Prema Yoga on Sunday, January 7, 2018. The recording is 26 minutes long.
The next workshop is February 4, 2-4pm at Prema Yoga Brooklyn. Sign up under the "Workshops" tab on their site.
Often you'll find the heart associated with the element of AIR. Sometimes, as in Tarot and Astrology, with WATER. But, based on my research in multiple traditions and most of all my on own personal experiences of an awakened heart, I have assigned the heart the element of LOVE.
You can think of LOVE as a kind of energetic currency that relates us to everything around us as a sort of bridge between the many parts of one whole. Once that vibrational relationship is established we can put anything that feels appropriate on that bridge--you can send another being thoughts, words, actions. Though we usually focus on the ways that love shows up, it's important to remember that in its subtlest and truest form, LOVE is the connection itself.
Every chakra is necessary, of course. But there is something special about THE HEART and its element, LOVE. You might sense this intuitively or, as the saying goes, “just know it in your heart.” But if you’re looking for evidence, it’s all around you. Note the countless idioms and cliche’s about the heart that are living through everyday language. Tally the popular songs and stories about love. Observe how people gesture to their hearts when they are being sincere (or pretending to be!). Reflect on the most famous religious traditions, each one built around a particular human avatar of love—Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed. It’s in popular culture too.
Heart energy is the uniter, the relationship expert. It flows between the physical, emotional and mental aspects of ourselves, helping them work in symphony. It flows between your own heart and the heart of your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues and all fellow creatures. Start paying attention to the space between two hearts and notice the vibration there. It is more powerful than the two separate aspects which it unites.
It connects the lower 3 chakras with the upper 3 chakras. If the lower chakras give us life itself, and the upper chakras give us life with meaning, then the heart really makes life worth living, for love gives everything VALUE. Without love we don't care what happens. And if we don't care then there's no reason to do anything at all.
When your heart center is strong and well-balanced, you know what is imporant and what’s not. Your loving heart guides you to take actions that matter and it doesn’t get twisted around whatever isn’t important. When your heart is healhty your inner world is harmonious--no parts of your person are ill-judged, rejected, neglected, shamed or exiled. And your outer world reflects this inner experience. Your relationships are healthy and nourishing, filled with compassion, joy and healthy growth.
So why, with all this emphasis on the heart both in popular cultural and in spiritual traditions, why are we living in a world that feels so devoid of acceptance, love, harmony and peace? Why are we living in a world where people take actions that cause damage to themselves and others and to the planet which we all share? It has to do with emotional wounding and mental stories.
Music has been known to awaken the heart. This month I invite you to check out my CHAKRA FOUR: BE LOVE playlist on Spotify. Or chant along with the video below:
BROKEN HEARTS and BROKEN STORIES
"Heart break," or deep emotional wounding, is a natural part of life. When the heart is healthy we find that suffering is not in opposition to love. In fact, suffering is a call for love! A call for the heart to awaken, activate and move in to embrace and heal that suffering. If we can move forward through heart break we end up feeling grateful for it in the end. It helps us grow our compassion and our wisdom. It makes us wiser and stronger and grows our trust in the power of love.
But if we have absorbed some false stories about the nature of the heart we find that it shuts down and shuts out exactly what is needed to turn heart break into growth. We can gather clues about the heart's nature from Chakra Four's Sanskrit name, anahata. It actually means something similar to how it sounds in English: an = un, hata = hit or struck. So it means that which is unstruck, not hit, not harmed. The nature of the heart is that which cannot be wounded. It is forever undivided and unconquerable. So, though you may experience personal grief, the love that runs through you is always ok. It always survives.
When we are having trouble healing it is worthwhile to look at our stories about the healing process, regeneration and the permannece of wounds. For a long time I told myself that I was "damaged goods," as if I had once been perfect and pure and full love, but now have become broken and devoid of goodness.
The word anahata also makes reference to instruments which must be struck to make sound. You can think of this chakra like a drum that needs no drummer. It is the original vibrational energy of you and the center point of your relationship with all beings. And this reminds us that the heart does what it does without manipulation. It has an action all its own--the action of connecting and healing. If you sit still long enough and really tap into this space in your body you will eventually start to feel it yourself. Often when we are trying to "show" love or "give" love we are unknowingly obscuring this natural action of the heart.
But how often do we tell ourselves the story that we must DO something to deserve healing, love and connection? That we must FIX ourselves or our circumstances before we deserve love and healing?
When we tell ourselves false stories about the nature of love, the heart closes down around the wounds. I think that we all know what that feels like. We are stuck in our own little story without the ability to honor the experiences of others. We feel small and shut down. Any other chakra at this point might migrate to the CENTER, replacing real value with false value. We might become obsessed with the physical or the mental. We might find ourselves constantly doing, consuming or producing, lower chakra stuff, so that we don't have to deal with the hole at our center. We might end up living in the mind, in stories and beliefs, abusing word and thought to distract from our lack of emotional connection and/or to justify it.
Now, I don't exactly believe it can be TOO open. But, if we don't understand how the heart works it can really seem like that. If we buy into false stories about love then we may end up continually looking for love in places where it doesn’t live. Then we grow hungrier and hungrier for the nourishment of real love. More and more desperate for others to feed us love in forms which are inherently unsatisfying and set us up for a kind of addictive searching.
For a while I was like this. I hadn’t healed my own heart wounds and kept looking for others to feed me the love that ultimately I needed to find inside. The stories we tell ourselves come from Chakras 5 and 6, not from the heart at all. In this case I was imposing upon my heart the story that I needed to “earn” love by being a “nice” person. I invested my energy into actions and words that wore the outer outfit of kindness, but were actually just demands for others to show me love. The truth is that I didn't do these things because I genuinely wanted to make someone else happy, but because I wanted praise, accolade, positive public acknowledgement.
The less connected to my authenticity and love, the more desperately I needed others to vindicate my story of being a nice person. I needed them to convince me of something that deep down I increasingly feared might not be true. So I grew worse and worse at listening to the heart space and more and more fearful of saying "no," building healthy boundaries, being direct with myself and others. I wasn't willing to do the hard work that sometimes love requires. I just wanted to be all smiles and rainbows and unicorns 24/7. It was false, exhausting and led me further and further from love.
Below are some exercises for examining your own stories and healing and empowering your own heart.
HONOR THE HEART
The heart respects all beings naturally. So any time that you are respectful, any time that you honor someone or something, the heart is strengthened. Here's a simple exercise.
Place a hand on your heart and take a deep breath in. As your lungs expand and take in fresh oxygen, that supple and powerful muscle between them moves as well, graciously accepting the nourishing gift of breath. As you exhale allow your shoulders and face to soften. The heart softens too. Now feel the energy of the heart ride around on the breath, harmonizing all your parts.
Notice whatever is present in the heart and give it permission to be there. Whether it is ease or tension, tenderness or anger, numbness or aliveness, meet it and welcome it. You can even say, "You are welcome here."
Return your awareness to this physical space as often as possible. I highly recommend doing this alone in the quiet. But once you have done that a few times, try bringing it out into the world in the following exercise.
HONOR THE MOMENT
Give your time and attention to whatever is before you--be it animal, vegetable, or mineral, be it a computer screen, a glass of water, a beloved pet or a stranger passing by. When your mind starts to comment or your body starts to become restless, take a deep breath and return your time and attention to what is before you. LET IT BE EXACTLY AS IT IS. This is how my teacher once defined real love: letting everything be as it is. Not coincidentally, this is also how he describes meditation.
Yes, there are times to assess and situations that demand action. But if we don't allow the heart to do its work of accepting and caring, where are our assessments and actions coming from? What are they moving toward?
When inner commentary arises, when you start to hear the mind say things should be different, when you feel the body start to "fix" the moment, try to soften. Can you let even your resistance to this practice be how IT is? Without grabbing onto any of it, just sofen and let it swirl and move and, eventually, settle.
CONNECT TO WHAT IS MOST VALUABLE
The heart holds our deepest values. What we care about most deeply. When we're suffering or acting in ways that we're not proud of, usually we are fretting unimportant details and failing to connect to what really matters.
When we connect to care it not only ensures that we don't lose track of what this life is all about, it also gives us a kind of rocket fuel for achieving our goals. In moments where we remember what's at stake, that what we love needs us to step up and serve it, nothing can stop us from getting there.
Go to the heart and ask, “What do I most love? What do I most value? What is it that I care about so much that I’m doing all this self-exploration, all this spiritual seeking?”
If you get stuck, ask yourself WHY do I love that? Ask that again until you connect to something that feels powerful enough to build your practice on.
Now ask “To what am I giving my time and attention?”
Now ask, "How are these things lining up? How much am I giving my time and attention to what matters?" "How much am I giving time and attention to things that distract me from my values or fly in the face of them?"
Now, "How can I begin to close the gap? How can I honor what matters most to me every day?"
Continue to contemplate this as long as you need to. Once you get in touch with whatever your core value or values, find a way to connect with it each and every day. Is there an image that you associate with it? Or a word or phrase? Maybe there is a physical feeling that you associate with your heart value. Maybe some combination of visual
Set yourself up for success in your spiritual practice by giving yourself regular reminders of what matters most to you.
HONOR YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
When connected to the heart, we sense the importance of relationship; we realize that the space between two hearts creates a vibration greater than the two individuals and we learn how to create, protect and utilize the beauty of that space. There is that subtle giving and receiving happening all the time and we are a part of it. THAT is love.
But most of us have unexamined assumptions about what love is that limit and frustrate us. Maybe we think that love is only being "nice" or being in a romantic relationship. Maybe we think that some people are loving and others are not. But everyone's heart chakra starts the same! Everyone wants to give and receive love.
Contemplate: what is love? Go through your day finding examples of love. Try to find funny ones, surpirsing ones, touching ones.
Think of someone who shows up for you with real love. who meets you and honors and cares for you just as you are? humans are all fucked up in some way or another so you might want to choose an animal. once you got them in mind, just feel at your heart level. what does it feel like in their presence?
When was the last time you felt emotionally wounded? what were your expectations around how love was supposed to show up for you? what were your expectiations around how you thought you were supposed to be loving?
Make a list of the 4 most surprising ways that someone has showed you love.
HONOR YOUR CONNECTION TO THE WHOLE
Feel yourself as an embodiment of love, accepting everything and everyone, honoring and healing by your very presence.
The heart is unstruck vibration. This vibration builds a bridge between you and everyone around you. This vibration brinigs interconnection, wholeness and balance, just by being that bridge. But when we are too busy thinking and doing we interfere with that simple vibration. So the most powerful thing you can do for the heart is just to trust its endless song, to get quiet and present and allow the heart and everything around it to simply be.
Sit and imagine the vibration of the heart extending out in all directions to everyone around you. Then send it out further and further.
Treat everyone and everything like family. Yes, even inanimate objects. Ask them how they're doing. Compliment them. Tease them. Ask for their help and thank them when you get it. You don't have to be precious with everything to show it all love. Just treat it all like you treat your family!
HONOR YOUR EMOTIONS
Once we establish a connection to the heart, a natural emotional intuition starts to guide us. We usually are trying to control our emotional experiences, labeling some good, some bad. But in reality they are all here to tap us into deeper wisdom. Sometimes they are giving us information about the emotions of others in the room, the city, the country, the world. Sometimes they are giving us information about old wounds that it's time to confront. In all cases, it behooves us to listen.
Next time you have a decision to make, pause and drop into the heart. Ask, Try it with small things at first, then bigger things.
Next time you find yourself swept up with an emotion, drop into the heart and ask, "What information is here for me? Where is this emotion trying to guide me?" Try it with pleasant emotions and with less pleasant ones.
HEAL YOUR WOUNDS
The energy of the heart is subtle like the upper chakras, but it is still works spatially like the lower chakras. This means that your heart energy wants to heal what is closest to center FIRST and then expand, kind of like a light bulb’s light dissipates as you get further away from it. Your heart wants to heal and harmonize all of the parts of YOU first. Once it does that it grows stronger and can extend to heal others. If you really want to help others, do everybody a favor and don't neglect your own wounds. Doing your own heart work only increases the powerful light of your loving heart and makes it stronger for serving others!
You know what your wounds are. Go in gently, with patience and with love. Get help as you need.
I leave you with a quote from the enlightened sage, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj:
“Let go your attachment to the unreal and the real will swiftly and smoothly step into its own. Stop imagining yourself being or doing this or that, and the realization that you are the source and the heart of all will dawn upon you. With this will come great love which is not choice or predilection, or attachment, but a power which makes all things love-worthy and lovable.”