What are some tools, techniques, and practices you have employed that have helped you open and touch your heart, compassion, and self-acceptance more deeply? Maybe it is ecstatic dance. Or Somatic Experiencing. It may be volunteering at a soup kitchen.
Although these experiences are somewhat ineffable, please share a moment when you did one of these practices and what it felt like when it opened your heart to some degree. Give specific stories and examples.
This is not meant to compare/contrast, one-up, and not measure up, but rather to show simple things we all might do to open our hearts.
Just yesterday on my lunch at work I did the ‘Just This’ meditation and expanded to the point I was experiencing the universe expanding and contracting with each breath. Out breath, big bang and expansion, in breath, contraction to singularity. It was the most far out experience I’ve had to date and was not able to come completely back to earth for the remainder of the day. Everything felt alien and familiar, new and old all at once. How extraordinary this is the question for today after that experience just yesterday.
I was making life harder to live from the heart by beating myself up over every misstep. So I started trying two things. In the morning, I would look at myself in the mirror and simply say “You got this, girl.” And the second and much harder one - in the evening, I decided not to review the day and second guess everything I said or did. This one is much harder to do because it was a habit deeply ingrained in my brain. “You shouldn’t have said that.” “You should have been more productive.” It’s taking time, but encouraging myself in the morning and not beating myself up at night is giving way to more self-acceptance. And, I find this leading to more acceptance and love for others!
One simple practice that I’ve found incredibly calming and effective is that, when I am at a loss or don’t know what to do, to remember to ASK FOR HELP. To simply put it out there and say, “Help, please.” In my case, I often ask Hanuman. A specific story: Last night I was winding down and knew I’d be hosting meditation and kirtan in my small eastern Ontario community this morning. I did a quick check of my social media stuff (BTW, not recommended before bedtime) in case anyone had reached out for details / to RSVP. In doing so, I discovered that someone from a local group had replied to my event posting saying that while they thought I “meant well,” that chanting was dangerous because it could call up demonic energies, that they could help educate me further about this, and so forth. Sigh. While I did not reply, mind / emotions began taking me through all the reactions… truly, can’t list them all, but the usual suspects from annoyance to anger to feeling wrongly accused, to the fear that someone might actually show up to disrupt kirtan. At the same time, the inner witness was watching it all unfold. Even though on one level I was aware that all was well and ego-mind was going through its song and dance, I wasn’t able to get to sleep. So I asked for help. PLEASE HELP me find peace, know that I am held, and get some rest, even though I’ll need to continue working through this. I added chant to that - om hum hanumate nama. And finally, I was able to sleep. Super cool thing: continuing with meditation this morning, I heard the invitation to bring loving awareness to the situation. I was able to begin to feel less insulted, less threatened, less ego-identified, and hold the soul who had made the post in love. Just a little. Enough to see that they are where they are, and I am where I am, all in the same great big cauldron. And low and behold, I might add, there was no wall of demonstrators wielding “Kirtan is Satan-Worship” signs to prevent me from entering the meeting place, no one standing there to confront me or accuse me. We had a lovely kirtan. Aside from the hyperbole, I can see the gentle invitation in this to continue to expand my capacity for love, to practise not ‘otherizing,’ and to let go of my clinging to the negative emotions and perceptions I was bringing to the situation. I am feeling strangely blessed with the ‘help’ that I asked for. Jai, jai SitaRam - and thanks, Monkey Man.
Transcendental meditation has been a big part of my journey before discovering Ram Dass about a year ago. TM just gets to me a place where I feel so connected to everything and everyone, with such loving, blissful energy pouring out of me after I come out of it.
Externally, mountains and stars (or any awe inspiring nature) always makes me feel connected to the universe in such a profound way. You feel so small yet so grateful and loving to be a part of it.
I was dealing with a somewhat difficult family situation where there was a lot of tension and disagreement. I had some time alone to digest the situation, and while I knew not to get caught in the drama (and that I was a spiritual being having a human experience), it was still difficult to experience the pent up energies in my body. I started feeling resentful towards whoever put me on earth to live a human experience, especially if it was my higher self, OR however the process worked. I didn’t know how I got here on earth, but I was very frustrated and resentful that I didn’t feel like I understood any of it. Noticing this frustration, I remembered the possibility of transmuting the frustration into a gateway for loving and excited energy. I was able to sing, dance, and chant my frustration, a powerful energy, into a more loving energy, that still had the same excited frequency of the frustration. It helped me remember that when I feel deeply, it is often the best gateway for spiritual growth.
Doing the little householder type things and chores, like dishes, reading stories to my kids, singing them songs to sleep, weeding the garden. Karma Yoga seems to be my best method, using ‘the stuff’ to get free.
The dishes always seem to be the highest mountain I need to climb over.
So I think of how I’m loving myself and loving my family by giving them clean dishes. And just meditate while I’m doing them. I just concentrate on each dish as I do it and focus my awareness on that and breathe.
I’ll go and tend to my children as they need, then just get back to the breathing and washing and breathing and drying.
Then before I even realize it, I’m done.
The effects are profound when I stick to the practice. My highs and lows are noticeable but in a really gentle way that’s fleeting. They become those clouds and I’m ‘flickering’ in between the blue sky of the painting and the grayness of the cloud.
But more and more it gives space to that blue sky.
Yes, karma yoga seems to work well for me too. Taking care of an infant and all that entails as a solo parent means that I can be I left without much ‘space’ and ‘time’ for sitting in silence or deep contemplation.
The decision to use these daily interactions just being with my child has been a complete game changer for me.
At my last duty station there was not a lot to do out in town, so me and a few people in my training group ended up putting a lot of hours into volunteering at a dog shelter nearby (because it was a good thing to do, but also because it looks good on an evaluation ). We would mostly walk them and give them social time outside their kennels.
My first reaction was feeling a lot of empathy for the dogs, seeing their little kennels and their “yard time” and overall prison-like existence - and comparing that to the lower-enlisted housing that me and my shipmates were confined to at the time (tiny! So tiny!! We were living in closets!) and our demanding training schedules… It was easy to consider the dogs our fellows! The shelter for a lot of us was a good reason to escape the military environment and spend some time outdoors, so we were essentially getting the exact same benefits as the dogs
I’m not much of a dog person though, and even if you are one you can admit that they can be messy, chaotic creatures at times. Over time, even walking in each day with the attitude of “I’m here to serve these creatures”, I’m not proud to admit there were things would put miles on my heart and wear at my good will… The dogs you encounter working at a shelter, as you can imagine, can vary greatly - from the sweetest gentlest empathetic little darling to the hyper-dominant energetic alpha type that drags you around on the leash during walks (I can still feel my shoulder joints aching!). And then there was the deafening cacophony of competing barking that would start up as volunteers began to arrive - as you would walk past each kennel to get to your dog of choice (we would always choose based off of time since last walk), even with ear protection you could feel the power of some of the more aggressive dogs’ barking vibrate through your body, smell and feel their hot breath and get hit with flying bits of spit, slobber, and I don’t even want to describe what else.
And in the chaos of getting a dog in or out of that environment, you could never predict how any one of them would react. After securing the leash and opening their pen, most would just wildly scamper toward the door full of adrenaline. Others would do all sorts of wild, better-left-undescribed things… but needless to say it was a lot for a cat/ bird person to stomach, and I found myself regarding some specific dogs with a certain amount of disgust. But even still, I would never avoid giving walks to any specific dog.
Near the end of my time there, I made a connection - in the same way that these dogs are shown grace irrespective of their temperament and behavior, grace does not discriminate with us either. There is no karma that disqualifies someone from receiving love from the divine, in whatever form it comes! As a thought experiment I would imagine God looking at sinful people the way I would look at some of the ‘unsavory’ dogs: perhaps with a little distaste but full of compassion and understanding. It’s a beautiful simile that I still think back to whenever I find myself slipping into judgement. ALL dogs go to heaven!
(Excuse the Judeo-Christian terminology, that was my main operating system at the time!)
But on a less heavy level, spending time helping animals will quickly fill your heart - I never volunteered much at shelters before that so that was a nice little discovery process for me. If you don’t receive a lot of external gratitude during your week, go walk a couple dogs!
I was teaching fourth grade early in my career (20 years ago) and a student of mine was being abused by her foster mother. This mom was a bully and I was a new teacher. I felt a lot of pressure and fear to not do the “right thing.” I believe the foster mother found where I lived and followed me in my neighborhood. I loved this child and believed in her spirit. I couldn’t believe she was dealt this hand in life…twice! (her birth family and now her foster family).
I made the call. Held her in my lap while she talked to Child Protective Services interviewed her. She was 10 years old. She told the truth, probably because of my support. I felt conflicted though, because she would be moving to a different school and not have the love and support she was used to at school. They took her away. I don’t know where she went or what ever became of her, Carrie.
I remember the Friday of that week at school as I prepared for the next weeks lessons. I lost it, driven to my knees, sobbing…and I looked up toward the back of my classroom. There was a vision of Jesus, clear as day. I’ve always held that vision. Held that love in my heart. I’m a Buddhist and Bhakti at heart, but Jesus was my Christian roots. This changed me. I’m eternally grateful…and think about Carrie always.
omg…Zach! that was beautiful, I’m completely a “dog person” and I love you inter-play with the comfort versus (mostly) discomfort. lol. All beings are to be cherished in their own way and respected as sentient beings on Earth…so I truly appreciate your heartfelt effort and actions with these appreciative doggies.