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Weekly Practice in Conscious Living

802nd Week: Cultivating an Open Heart

During times of extreme stress, such as those we collectively and individually face as a global community at this time, it can be a challenge to move through daily life with our hearts open. It can also be a challenge to feel centered and grounded, and I’ve written a few prior practices to support returning to a grounded center. 

One of the unfortunate side effects of the level of stress we collectively experience at this time is a tendency to constrict our hearts. More than ever, this is a time when, because of the pandemic and also the challenge of climate change, we need to awaken our hearts to ourselves, to one another, and to our planet. 

For this week, I’d like to offer a practice for cultivating an open heart. Many years ago, back in the early 1970’s, my first therapist often drew on approaches drawn from Psychosynthesis. Created by an Italian psychiatrist, Roberto Assagioli, Psychosynthesis is a transpersonally-oriented psychotherapy which uses guided imagery and work with symbols, among other approaches.

One of the early practices my then-therapist taught me was to imagine a flower bud opening in my heart as a way to communicate to my body-mind that it was not only safe but possible to dare to live with an open heart. Drawing on that practice, I’d like to offer as this week’s practice in conscious living a process not only to support opening your heart but also to support deepening grounding and stability during this time. Please feel free to alter this practice in any ways that make it more powerful for you…

  • To begin, take a moment to feel your body settled on, and supported by, the surface under you.
  • Notice how your body might settle even a bit more when you take time to sense the support under you right now.
  • Also take a few moments to sense into your skeleton, noticing that it represents your internal infrastructure of support.
  • Notice how your spine supports your back, connecting from the base of your skull to your tailbone.
  • Notice what you experience as your stay with an awareness of your bones for a few moments.
  • Next, bring your awareness to your internal home base, your internal center of gravity, wherever you notice that lives in you in this moment.
  • Notice what happens if you were to follow the next out-breath down into your body. Do you naturally land in the place you’ve already identified as your internal home base?
  • Take a few moments to sense any deeper settling that may be unfolding in your experience.
  • Now, notice that there, in the core of you, is an ever-present steadiness. You may not notice it all the time, but it is always there. 
  • This fundamental, underlying steadiness cannot be disturbed. It is always just what it is—steady.
  • Notice the quality or tone of your core presence.
  • Simply being you, right here, right now, what qualities do you emanate or radiate into yourself and your environment?
  • Now, bring your awareness to your heart space, that place in you where your heart energy lives.
  • Notice if your chest is tight with tension or loose and open.
  • If you notice that your chest is tight, take a few moments to invite it to settle, to loosen up, to let go into this moment where you are supported by your own awareness, your core presence, and the surface under you.
  • Imagine now that there is a flower bud in your heart space.
  • Notice what you feel if you imagine that it is ready to open, ready to unfold.
  • It doesn’t matter what kind of flower you discover. The key symbolic offering here is for you to be able to observe its slow opening.
  • Take whatever time you need to imagine, now, the slow and gentle opening of the flower, representing the flow and gentle opening of your heart.
  • Notice what happens as you imagine how the petals open, their slow and gentle movement. Pay attention to your body and notice whether any part of you tenses as the flower opens.
  • Now, sense the radiating fragrance of the flower and notice how that fragrance flows out into the environment around you.
  • It represents the tone and frequency of what you radiate into your own body-mind being and into the world through your heart.
  • Also remember that your heart space includes your heart brain, with a perception and intelligence that are distinctly different in quality and awareness compared to what you perceive with your head brain.
  • Notice what you experience once the flower is fully open—what sensations arise? What do you notice about the quality of your thoughts and feelings as you sit with this experience?
  • Again, notice the quality and tone of what you radiate into yourself and your environment right now.
  • Take a few moments to imagine what your experience would be if you were to move through your daily life with your heart as open as the flower is open.
  • What might be different in your experience?
  • What might be different in how you express yourself when you talk to yourself and when you encounter others along the way?
  • Now, come back to a sense of your core presence, your internal home base and again sense into the steadiness that is always there.
  • Resonating with the impression of an open flower in your heart and the ever-present steadiness in your core, begin to close your experience, noticing the radiating tone of you, radiating essence of you that you offer to yourself and the environment simply by being.

I recommend doing this visualization exercise perhaps once a day, in order to reinforce your ability to move through the world with an open heart. It helps to remember that an open heart is much stronger and more protective than a heart that is constricted and closed. Think about a tree in a storm. The tree that can bend and sway is much more likely to survive the storm than is a tree that is rigid and tends to break because of its resistance to the wind.

Also, please remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and to pat gently on the head any judgments that may arise as you do this practice. And, remember to welcome mixed feelings, as they are a natural aspect of working with practices that ask you to live with an ever-expanding open heart.

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