One of the subjects I think about most is how to keep an open heart. With life so full of suffering, how do we keep our hearts open amidst the violence, poverty, injustice, environmental destruction, abuse and so on...?
I don't have an easy answer. It takes hard work, patience and a commitment to re-commit, over and over again even when we feel that we cannot possibly muster up the courage or energy to take another step, to trudge through the thick, viscous muck that we co-create. This requires daily practice. When we practice with the little things then we have a better chance of maintaining our ground when we're hit with something big: a death, a diagnosis, terminal or chronic illness, your partner packing a bag and leaving you on a Monday morning.
Spiritual bypass has no place in this deep work. We can't just hang on to and chase the good. Or blame another. It simply isn't effective and it doesn't keep our hearts open. True equanimity means being authentic and in touch with all of you: the light AND the dark, the sweet and salty. And, when we stay present to the most unbearable feelings and sensations we often find that they shift. They aren't just huge dark blocky masses, they have shapes and edges and possibly even a softness that can be explored with curiosity as opposed to pushing it away with all our mighty resistance. Nothing is permanent.
There is a story from a fabulous book called 'The Trauma of Every Day Life' by Mark Epstein that helps me keep my heart open. It's about a Thai Buddhist teacher who held up a glass and said ‘Someone gave me this glass, and I really like this glass. It holds my water admirably and it glistens in the sunlight. I touch it and it rings! One day the wind may blow it off the shelf, or my elbow may knock it from the table. I know this glass is already broken, therefore every minute with it is precious.’”
This is the notion of impermanence. And, perhaps, with practice and patience we can all learn to keep our hearts open not despite of, but because of, the impermanence and inevitable suffering around us. Because, seriously, what else is there to do? And maybe we can start to enjoy each other a little more because for all we know we might be dead by tomorrow. Listen to Soko preach it...
And let me know, what do you do to keep your heart open?