Keeping the heart soft

It is not easy to keep ones heart open in every circumstance. Each day we can have experiences with people who cause us to become anxious or afraid; at other times we protect ourselves by becoming angry, or blaming others. We throw up walls and barriers because of our deep fear of being hurt. And if we want to, we can allow these walls remain for weeks, months or even years, as something inside us closes down and we withdraw. It is natural to contract from frightening events, and at times we cannot see all the reasons why something or someone bothers us. The first response therefore can be sometimes instinctive and unconscious, or based on schemas which are below our awareness.

However, as the previous post reminds us, underneath the fears there is something deep and warm in all living things. We all dream about love and belonging, and, in reality, they are never far away. It is our fears which make us doubt. Living a full life means trying to act in accord with our deep capacity for loving and tenderness even  at those moments when our instinct is to shut down  and we can get stuck.  Sure,  we may wonder about this,  when we struggle  or search for some meaning to this life. However, beneath the surface of our fears, goodness and tenderness is always slowly coming into being. We all need to remind ourselves every day to  trust in this deeper reality.

We have a choice. Often our first thought is to withdraw. But if we can recognize that movement, acknowledge it and not necessarily identify with it, our heart can soften.  Often getting unstuck means that we can stay with the anxiety which arises, fuelled by  energies and memories beneath our conscious awareness. If we can do this, what we see is that there is a link between being kind and our ongoing happiness. Our practice helps us keep the heart open and stop the process of fear from becoming too fixed. Sometimes this is easier said than done. But even when my first reaction is fear, and I forget the soft place within the heart, what I find  is that I recover quicker and remember sooner, and am better able to leave the sadness of such occasions simply be sadness. I do not need to blame or withdraw more. I can trust in the deep goodness in myself and others. Sadness might remain, but without giving in to judgment or recriminations, the mind  is free to allow space for new possibilities to come to birth.

We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.

Pema Chodron

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