Investing the Heart Wisely
It seems each morning, I awake with an inspiration in my mind, as if it has been churning all night in my sleep and the urgency of it seems to bubble over (unintentionally?) into recognition. However, it only lasts a few moments and then I have to coax the idea into the daylight, so hesitant these ideas are to come out of the dream state, it must be incredibly comfortable in there.
Anyway, this morning, as I awoke, I thought of the urgent demands that seem to occur on multiple levels in my life, how I am responding to these demands and what that is doing to me over time. In other words, there are questions deep within as to how I am investing my heart. Certainly, there are just normal demands that come from the job that I do, I am a minister in a local parish, demands for which I am paid. But the deeper question is at what level is my heart engaged in these demands in ways that are counterproductive for me and for the community that I serve? There is a saying from the sacred text of my tradition, “What does it profit a person to gain the world and lose your soul?” In what ways are these “demands” simply my own projections of the need to be acceptable and accepted? Are these demands that are really there or am I creating them to fulfill a need for acceptance? Am I investing my heart in projections? I know I am not alone in this, the deep human need to feel accepted is what drives us to find it and we are anxious until we do. Paul Tillich said, “we are anxious unto our death.” We are unable to accept ourselves and so unable to receive acceptance by God and others. Or, we are unable to accept God within ourselves
My self is beginning to question me in these early waking moments. Exactly what am I investing in? Is it all a projection? The inspiration that bubbled over into my waking moments was that perhaps I am investing my heart in ways that are harmful for it, or my heart was invested in these ways of being before I had the ability to understand or choose them for myself. Awakening or enlightenment is the ability to choose how you invest your heart and the alignment with honesty.
In yoga, we practice vulnerability through poses that open the heart. “Heart openers,” we call them. The idea is to open areas that have become sealed off to movement, stuck, as it were, in a perpetual state of shock or immobility. This comes from burying pain, resentment, hurt, memories and other unpleasant things deep within the body, stored there for an indefinite period, so that one can mutter through life. It can also come from severe overextension of oneself, over investment of the heart. Over time, (this is my particular belief) as these things are buried in the body or the body has written checks on the spirit and mind that it can no longer cash, the body becomes weary of carrying the burdens around and has a tendency to send messages as physical or emotional pain or just the plain sensation of becoming “stuck.” As a friend of mine once put it, “my body just gets all stove up, ” slang for “mashed, broke, destroyed or otherwise damaged.” An expression of becoming mired in the constant doing that our 21st Century lives seem to require.
As one practices the poses (they all have names I can’t pronounce or remember) one begins to pay attention to these messages, to the ways in which the body has become “stove up” and becomes more open to communicating with the body. The layers are peeled back and one is able to identify the areas of pain and begin the path to healing. At least, this has been my experience. I have often had to stop my practice for a couple of weeks so that the healing of my body can catch up. I have found that this is a common reaction.
As one begins to heal physically, the spirit comes along and we begin to seek out ways to heal the spirit as well through spiritual paths. We see this pattern over and over again in Jesus’ actions and teachings. First, he would heal the body, then provide a pathway of healing for the spirit. His work is about identifying suffering, providing healing and offering a pathway to the resurrection of the spirit, this is one of the reasons we refer to it as salvific, it saves, restores, preserves the soul. Always pointing us to the work and presence of God in the world (and in ourselves) and getting us to invest our hearts in it …in benevolence, compassion, kindness, peace…these kinds of things.
On the path to healing, you may seek to go deeper into your own religious tradition (as the Dalai Lama told Thomas Merton) or locate a new tradition to become a part of. Ideally, healing is found in a healthy community that practices compassion, love of God, self and others. In my particular location, I practice Christianity, it is a tradition that I know deeply and I belong to it, I follow the teachings of Jesus and my yoga practice seems to be a good companion for the journey. Yoga enables me to identify those practices that are healthy for me. Just like any religious tradition, Christianity is susceptible to unhealthy leadership and inauthentic community practices, it is important to be able to identify these and feel a sense of freedom or ownership of your choice. Yoga teaches you that you are in charge of your practice, it gives you a sense of responsibility for your choices. This is a tenet of sound spiritual teaching.
As one trains the body, mind and spirit to cooperate together in a practice of doing and being, tension and release, action and meditation, one comes to know oneself in deeper and more meaningful ways, trusting your choices of how you invest your heart, a courageous vulnerability to the world rather than a life of enslavement to demands. I am working on this.
This poem, by one of the Sufi poets, Hafiz, was particularly meaningful for me about ten years ago when I was going through a life transition and I have recalled it lately. I was on a spiritual retreat at Gethsemane, a Trappist monastery in Bardstown, KY, and the home of Thomas Merton. I was staying at an inn that was provided by local nuns and one of them was offering daily consultation. She shared this poem with me for my journey, I copied it in my journal and I share it with you:
We have not come here to take prisoners
But to surrender ever more deeply
To freedom and joy.
We have not come into this exquisite world
To hold ourselves hostage from love.
Run, my dear,
That may not strengthen
Your precious wings
Run like hell, my dear
From anyone likely
To put a sharp knife
Into the sacred, tender vision
Of your beautiful heart.
We have a duty to befriend
Those aspects of obedience
That stand outside of our house
And shout to our reason
O please, o please come out and play.
For we have not come here to take prisoners
Or to confine our wondrous spirits
But to experience ever and ever more deeply
Our divine courage, freedom and