By Bianca Ricoy
March 5, 2019
Right after New Year’s Eve, my daughter became really ill with a virus that resulted in four weeks of coughing, congestion, and many sleepless nights for the whole family. My husband and I take a holistic approach to health, so we believe in the healing power of food and supporting the body with natural remedies. This has worked well for us given the fact that she’s never been sick in all four years of her awesome (obviously healthy) life. But after four weeks of watching our girl struggle to clear out her airways, I started to question all of my beliefs and whether or not I was a good parent for letting her go the natural way.
The worry and questioning continued despite the fact that three different doctors confirmed it was a viral infection and traditional medicines wouldn’t be the solution anyway. While this was/is happening at home, I’m also approaching a writing deadline for the biggest project I’ve ever undertaken, and I’m having to cut work days short in my attempt to show up for my daughter and juggle a multitude of other responsibilities. With each day that passed, after two weeks of rocky sleep, my heart became burdened with worry and I grew more tense and irritable by the minute. In a subtle way, perhaps not to my husband and the outside world, I began to close my heart.
Although your day-to-day life might look different in the details (maybe you don’t have a daughter named Mila), we’re all living in the world of time where many of us are juggling families, careers, school, philanthropy, creative pursuits, LA traffic, and the list goes on. And, open heart or not, people are counting on you to show up.
Here’s what I’ve rediscovered this week about the importance of engaging the heart.
Without an open heart, it’s actually impossible to show up. Sure, your body might… But without the presence of your heart, actions become mechanical, words become empty, and the attitude of service is lost.
And, where there is no heart, there is no creativity, no ingenuity, no play or imagination… Imagine that!
I also came to these two awarenesses in my personal life that I hope inspire you to look at how engaging the heart can shift your external circumstances.
- After observing my reactivity in the face of a sick child, I asked myself, “Wow. Could all of my worry, stress and fear be contributing to the length of time it’s taking my girl to recover? Is it possible I can just open my heart and allow love to heal?”
- After observing myself trying to ‘get through’ the weeks, I reflected, “I’m not a cog in a machine; I’m a spark of the infinite. If this is true, as I suspect it is, I should create more time in my busy schedule for just ‘being’ (human being, I get it now!), so that I can infuse all of my work with the energy of love that I would so love to give it.
So, back to the original question. If we want to show up fully in our lives, for our families and those we serve – with deep presence, joy, and awareness – how do we engage the heart?
I’ll walk you through this very simple visualization you can try anytime your heart needs a little resuscitation.
Find a comfortable seated position. With eyes closed, place your hand over your heart, and feel. Breathe naturally.
The mind may try to distract you with stories about the emotions that arise. Instead of analyzing what comes up, simply acknowledge it and offer it to the divine. By doing so, we transmute them into fuel for uplifting our consciousness.
If any emotions or thoughts arise, visualize each sensation as if it were a ripple of water moving across a lake. Each feeling and thought creates a tiny wave, moving across that lake. As you continue to stay present and breathe, the ripple moves further and further away from the heart center and slowly dissolves back into the water.
As the waves dissolve, dive into the new feeling of absolute stillness and calm. Allow yourself a few moments to rest here in the calm lake at your heart.
Now that the heart is calm and receptive, you can bring in an affirmation to awaken more love. It can be as simple as “I am Love”. Or maybe a line from your favorite chant: I am but an empty vessel, filled with the presence of God.
Mentally affirm this affirmation 3-5 times, or until you feel you’ve successfully planted a new seed of devotion into your heart.
When you’re ready, slowly open your eyes and try to consciously contain this energy of receptivity and unconditional love in your body and into the room with you, wherever you are, remembering that you’ve planted the seed of devotion but now it’s time to water it by sharing your presence and love generously with others.
Remember, you can try this practice the very moment you feel emotions arising that cause your heart to feel tense and constricted, or even with eyes open during a busy work day. No one will know that you’re visualizing a lake! You can also use this visualization as a nighttime practice to help clear the heart and reset to your default factory setting of unconditional love. Think of it as necessary heart hygiene!
Why This Works
Many of us have heard about the power of ‘positive thinking’, so we try to recite affirmations in an attempt to change our negative thoughts and emotions. But trying to pry open the heart with affirmations when there’s zero receptivity can feel like an uphill battle. It can even compound existing feelings of frustration. Like I mentioned in my story, most of us experience blocks in the heart because of the daily wear and tear of stress. By visualizing a calm lake, we start bringing the body out of ‘fight or flight’ (the sympathetic nervous system) and activate ‘rest and digest’ (the parasympathetic nervous system). Once your body is out of ‘survival’ mode, you can introduce the mind to the affirmation. At this point, your body cells are no longer in resistance and you have an opportunity to plant the seed of devotion. Energetically, it’s much easier to win love with love, than to try to win love with force!
A Journal Practice
Sometimes it’s hard to engage the heart when you’re unaware that it’s closed in the first place. Writing is a great tool for ‘dispassionate self-analysis’. “True self-analysis,” Yoganandaji shared, “is one of the greatest arts of spiritual progress.” To familiarize yourself with the textures and gradients of your own heart, I encourage you to journal on the following questions:
- Think to a time when you poured your heart into something you were doing, or a time when you felt your mind and heart on the same page. How would you describe your state of being?
- What kind of activities/hobbies/projects do you enjoy when your heart is open?
- What do you believe to be true about yourself, others, and your life when your heart is engaged?
- What is one thing you can do when you feel your heart beginning to close?
- How can this practice of engaging the heart positively transform your health, relationships, career, etc?
Love and Joy,