Heart Breaks Open

As I reflect on my experiences over the last few years, the process of change and transformation is often connected to the choices we make. Many of us set intentions about the qualities we wish to cultivate or invite into our lives, and in the process change our patterns and behaviors by making choices alligned with those qualities. In this state of becoming, we are what we chose and accept, what we settle for and what we hide from, what we break open into, and what we choose to carry forth.

Often we’re presented with an experience that lies at the intersection of paths, capable of being felt and interpreted a number of different ways. Do we see it through the eyes of our past, colored through our conditioning and defenses? Do we process our experience on an intellectual level, devoid of emotion and separate from our heart? Do we project our best intentions onto what we see and shape it into what we want and what we think we should be?

Many teachers describe the necessity of being present in these moments, able to be in them with everything that comes up and not get swept away with the judgments, projections and fear. Of course, this is all part of the human experience… it continues as long as we live, never to be mastered and often to be surrendered to. If we can find a way to softly return to the moment, no matter if it’s during work, our commute, in meditation or in love, more and more we can be with what’s actually coming into existence.

In my own experience, this practice is closely associated with letting go, as so much that I have learned has outlived it’s usefulness, and now forms the layers of protection that need to be surrendered or broken. In these moments of challenge and mystery, despite my best intention not to put what I feel into an organized structure (the illusion of the known and no longer needing examination), I often feel I need to make a choice as to how I will interpret my experience and into which narrative it fits.

Recently I’ve felt a pain in my chest, an ache in my heart that seems to pull itself towards a story of sadness and heartbreak, all within an antiquated narrative of love. That I don’t accept it and search for the truth beneath those labels is a grace and source of gratitude. As I settle deeper into the experience, it’s undeniably powerful, yet free from value judgments like good and bad, what can I learn sitting quietly with it, breathing it in, crying it out?

I’ve heard it said that when we feel heartache, the heart and the body are betraying us, but what is the function of the heart if not to feel? Wouldn’t we be more deeply betrayed if we felt nothing in the face of great love and heartbreak? Would we not have already slipped closer to death and away from the essence of life?

I choose to believe that when our heart breaks, let it break open. When the power of the experience exceeds the hearts capacity, the old layers ineffectively trying to hold things together break apart. In this moment, it’s so important to keep our heart full. The old story that says the heart betrays us with emotion would also say to cover it back up more closely, guard it against the possibility of pain and further injury, but how can that produce anything other than a diminished capacity to feel, to hold and to love? Full with the power in the emotion… love, grief, pain, fear, joy… the container is big enough for it all as long as we don’t run away, breathing it deeply, letting the tears flow, doing our best not to hide. I choose to believe that when we sit with our experience, heart wide open, we grow. In vulnerability and in pain, in grief and in joy, in love and in life, my heart heaves, swells and smashes me with wave after wave.

In the midst of all that, I’ve had moments where I begin to let go, and surrender to it all. In choosing to accept the experience, I find freedom from the intellectual mind that is trying to cultivate, to rationalize. This moment of surrender is the heart of transformation, and had I simply tried to do it, tried to let go, tried to do anything, I would have remained stuck. There are some places we can’t set a course to and find. For some of us, we need to be battered and blown far off course until we let go, give up, and in the depths and expanse of our solitude see what is.

These are the choices I can’t fully describe. Somehow the agency in making a choice and taking a stand shifts the spectrum of possibility away from those that would manifest had we collapsed, accepted the old story, and retreated into the false sense of security and victimhood. The choice is only a facilitator, not a guarantee of a destination, but vital in the process of self-understanding and growth. You don’t get to choose your destination, but you can choose not to sleep through the ride.

So the next time your heart breaks, let it break open. There is nothing more you need to be before you are good enough, worthy, and precious. If you are in the midst of your own storm and have lost your way, know that there are other people who are out there with you, who care about you, and have a heart big enough to hold you in it, even if you don’t know them and will never meet. May we be courageous, may we be kind, may we be compassionate, may we be comforted, may we find peace.