Opening the Heart

Tucson, AZ. 2018

I recently came across an old CD of mine, a piece of music—a chant actually—that I used to sing regularly in the past. This piece of music, more than any other, had the ability to move me deep into my heart. 

I was curious: would this change still have the same impact on me now? I decided to play it. I turned on the sound system, waited for it to warm up, and then I pressed the “play” button on my CD player. I quickly took my seat opposite the speakers. The music began. 

With the opening chords, I felt as if I were being propelled directly into the center of my chest. I could both “see” and feel my heart open wide, much like a stop-action film of a flower opening to the sun. The feeling that came with it was intense.

But that was just the beginning. The center of the flower then opened up and revealed an immense space within it. I was pulled into this opening and I felt myself descending into a limitless space. 

Suddenly an image started to form in my consciousness. As it appeared, I was overcome with emotion. I fell forward off my chair and onto my knees on the floor. The inner pressure was unbearable. I started to sob, and the crying helped release the pressure. When the tears were over, I returned to my seat.

My eyes were closed, but still I “saw” it. There appeared a vision of a path. I understood it to be the path of our life’s journey. But it had a strange shape. It was unlike any configuration or representation of the life’s journey I had seen before.

Most representations I have seen, including my own, depict the path of life in a linear configuration. There are variations to this theme, most notably, the idea that our consciousness grows and expands and we become wiser with age. The journey is usually portrayed as an upward slope as we develop “higher” or more loving characteristics.

The figure I was now seeing was completely different. It was circular in shape. I was confused. What kind of journey is circular? What kind of change does it depict? 

What was this image trying to tell me? 

This experience occurred in 2017. I have gotten used to having my heart communicate directly with my head, but this experience was more dramatic than most. It culminated in a realization that life might be seen from a higher view, i.e. from the perspective of that which we are before we are born and to which we will return after the body has died.

The body dies. Consciousness does not. Where does consciousness go? 

Since this experience of the heart, I have mused over this question and come up with some answers which I call the Circular Journey of Consciousness. (I plan to spell this out in a website in 2023).

This is an example of how the heart can work with the mind to open up new insights into our life. There is no way that my mind could have come up with the insights I now have. This concept of a circular journey has no direct connection to the life I have lived. It is not an extension of, or an extrapolation from, my physical existence here on earth. It came from a different source which remains a mystery to me. I only know that it was not derived directly from my life on earth.

For years now I have used music to open up my heart. 

In the past I would play specific music that would move my heart.  I would wait until the rest of the family was out of the house, then I would put on my music. I would often experience an outpouring of emotions that had moved my heart. My wife learned to respect my need for moments like this and would stay away until I finished. She got used to these emotional outbursts. Tears were common, although I rarely experienced any direct connection between my tears and the current events of my life. It was as if there was a pressure chamber in the middle of my chest and the pressure needed to be released every now and then, something like an orgasm of the heart. 

I have no idea if the heart works like this for other people, although I assume there must be some common characteristics that all hearts share. I only know my own experience.

I felt like there was a door over my heart which could open and close. For most of my life this door was closed. I think this is true for most of us. 

The cover is a protection for the heart. The heart is very strong but it is also very tender. The heart is sensitive to the harsh edges of our modern life.  Anger, hate, hostility penetrate the heart that is open. These strong emotions take a toll on us. To protect the heart from the harshness of modern life, most of us keep our heart covered for protection. Of course, we are not consciously aware of doing this.

(Note: this changed after my “awakening”.  My heart opened and has remained open ever since).

It is hard for us to experience the warmth and love of our own heart when our heart is covered over for protection. It is hard to express any warmth and love if we do not feel it.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that our hearts are not filled with love and joy. They are. But that does not mean that we feel this love and joy. We have to remove the protective covering which prevents us from enjoying the love that is there. 

We need to know how to open our hearts and also how to protect our hearts when the outer world is demonstrably hostile.

Before the Heart can help us to feel safe, we have to help the Heart to Feel Safe

Here in Tucson we have weekly ceremonies that combine chanting and meditation. It is called Global Chant and it is something like church for me.  Before covid, I went every week. 

Global Chant was a laboratory where I could explore the conditions under which my heart opened—or didn’t. These ceremonies gave me an opportunity to observe more closely how—and under what circumstances—my heart opens. Some of the chants had the effect of opening my heart wide. I could literally feel my heart opening up—like a flower unfolding to the morning sun. 

I doubt that it is my physical heart that is changing. I assume it is heart chakra (part of our energy system) that is opening. Whatever it is, there is a pronounced feeling of something opens wide in the middle of my chest.

There are two things that have to occur at Global Chant for me to have this experience. The first is the choice of the chant itself. There are only a small number of chants that open my heart. If we have one of these heartfelt chants then the possibility is good that my heart will open. 

The second factor is the safety in the room. Some facilitators are sensitive to the chanting environment. When I facilitate, I constantly monitor the room to work to keep the environment safe. Some facilitators appear not to be sensitive to this need and allow cross-talk or movement during meditation time. When this happens, my heart stays closed—even if one of the heartful chants is sung. 

There has to be a safe environment before the heart can open.

I believe that most of us do not feel our hearts today. This is the foundation of humanity’s dilemma. We live life from our head and approach our problems with logic and rationality. But we feel too little connection to our hearts.

We need to make the world safe for the heart. And when we do, the heart will help make the world safe for us. When we move around the world with our hearts covered over for protection, collectively we create a cold, impersonal environment around us. There is warmth and love on the inside but it stays inside. We do not let it out for others to feel. 

We are caught in a self-reinforcing loop. Protected hearts are cold hearts to other people. There is good reason to keep our hearts closed and safe, but it comes at a cost to our society. We each have to break free of this self-reinforcing cycle and to learn how to keep our hearts both strong and loving. 

This is a challenge that we take on individually at first, and then after enough people have learned how to make their hearts safe, we take it on collectively.

The world awaits us.

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