You can read all of the books about spirituality, you can take all of the workshops, and you can discuss what you learn with all of your friends for years, but true spiritual understanding will not come until your heart is truly open, and it can communicate with your head. Intellectual understanding is not a bad thing, and it is often the first step on the path. But in order to progress, we must take it further. We must integrate our mental knowledge with our emotional selves. We must know it in our heart.
What does it mean to have an open heart? Most people believe that their hearts are open, when in fact they are barricaded in some way. This doesn’t mean that people aren’t kind or loving. It just means that they are still protecting themselves by shielding their hearts from the things that they believe will hurt them emotionally. Everyone learns to do this; it’s our natural defense mechanism. Our challenge, however, is to un-learn it.
Fear makes us close our heart: fear of rejection, fear of being wrong, fear of failure, fear of ridicule, fear of not being loved or lovable. If we fear that we are not lovable—and most of us do at one time or another—we internalize it and come to believe that it is true: we aren’t lovable. Our heart closes some more, as we try to keep out anything or anyone that we believe will threaten this view of the world or reinforce this belief by rejecting us. In effect, we close our heart to make our world a smaller and “safer” place.
Erecting barriers to others does not make you any safer, but it will isolate you and cut you off from other people. It is certainly possible to have so many barriers in your heart that your own spouse and children don’t have a way in. This is not unusual, but it does have painful consequences for everyone involved. When we close our heart, we fool ourselves into thinking that we’re keeping all of the painful emotions away, but they are still there. And worse still, if we maintain this lock on our heart, love can’t find a way in.
Love is the only healer that there is. It is the only thing that exists. It is our connection with Source, with each other, it is literally who we are. When we put roadblocks in the way of it, we inhibit our connection with God and with who we really are. To heal, we must find the barriers to love and remove them, thereby opening our hearts. Of course, if this were an easy thing to do, we wouldn’t need all of the books, workshops, and friendly discussions with our friends. But we do, because the process of opening our heart can feel very painful at first. Why?
When we begin to open our heart, we must allow ourselves to feel everything, including the painful emotions we’d really prefer to forget. But painful emotions don’t go away because we wish they would. They stick around in our subconscious and in our bodies until we allow ourselves to express them and feel them. So the first step to opening our heart is to reconnect with our emotions.
Once we have reclaimed our emotions, we can work on breaking down the barriers we’ve erected over the years. This is not going to happen all at once. Healing is a process, and it’s important that you be gentle with yourself. Opening the heart isn’t just about loving others; it’s primarily about loving yourself so that you can give that love to others. Paradoxically, when we begin to open our hearts and let love in, it can hurt. Love is intense and powerful, and we’re just not used to it. We have to become comfortable with feeling love, with living love. This, too, is a process.
When we open our heart, we are expanding ourselves. We are removing self-imposed limitations on who we are, how our reality looks, and what love really is. This requires us to stretch far beyond the borders of our comfort zone, which can be pretty scary at first. As with anything, however, practice brings comfort and confidence, and eventually our fears fade into nothing, which is all they really are—nothing.
Opening the heart leaves us feeling vulnerable at first. We worry that someone will “get to us” or hurt us. But as we journey toward our true center, the heart, we find our strength and power, not weakness. What is weakness? Is it knowing and understanding our Oneness, our personal power? Or is it living in fear behind our limitations?
When our heart is open, it can work in harmony with our head. Our mind is not the ruler of our heart, or vice versa. They must work together and balance one another, but this can only happen if our heart is open. When we reach this place, we can communicate from the heart, and we can heal ourselves, our society, and the earth. There are people alive today who still know how to do this, who still know the language of the heart. Often, they are described as “primitive,” or unadvanced, but the truth is that they are our teachers. They know, and they remember.
Opening our heart isn’t something that is idyllic or that “would be nice.” It is imperative. Our future, our survival, our happiness, and our joy depend on it. Let go of your fear and find where your true freedom is.