December 2004

How do I Open my Heart?
by Ross Bishop

I am asked this question frequently. People want to know what I mean when I urge them to "Open their hearts," and "Love everything." Most of us spend a good part of our days being closed down, and being open can feel pretty threatening. Some people have never really opened their hearts, and they honestly do not know what it feels like.

Having an open heart is our natural state (if you doubt this, spend a few minutes with a small child). Closing down is a learned response. We have all been hurt. So opening back up requires us to "unlearn" what our life experience has fostered in us. When people ask me about opening their hearts, what they are really saying is, "How can I allow myself to be vulnerable in a world that has been hurtful and cruel?"

These feelings are so prevalent that many of our social conventions exist to create the appearance of openness while actually providing protection for our sensitive egos. Someone says, "How are you?" And we reply, "I'm fine," regardless of how we really feel. We all do it.

Our culture is built upon secrets. We do not disclose our innermost truths. I grew up in the 1950's and my parent's culture was a mass of secrets. It was shameful to go into therapy. You didn't ask for help. Gays, minorities and spinsters were looked down upon. The society was full of closet drunks, neighborhood gossip and family secrets. Putting on a good face was very important, no matter what was going on inside. If you went out, you dressed up. The only time you saw jeans in public were on a workman. Every neighborhood had its resident gossip who kept tabs on the smallest of social infractions. If you slipped up, the whole community would know about it.

Males were not to show pain or emotion. Women were refused anger and power. There was a higher value placed on personal integrity (or at least its appearance), but too often it became a false front. I remember a childhood friend of mine who used to complain that on steamy August afternoons his parents would make them roll the car windows up so that everyone would think that they had an air conditioned car.

We have come a long way since my parent's time, but secretive behavior has been institutionalized in society for centuries. What we call "power" in is built upon having secrets, i.e., the manipulation of information. This is inevitable whenever power is concentrated in a few hands.

We expect that politicians and business people will lie to us. We know that athletes use performance-enhancing drugs, and that a new toothpaste really won't change our sex life, but we tolerate the social dishonesty. We would be bowled over if Bill Gates came out publicly and acknowledged that Microsoft was a monopoly that crushed small competitors and overcharged its customers. Military contractors have recently made billions through the modern equivalent of war profiteering, but it won't be on the agenda for political discussion anytime soon.

I lived with native people in the jungle for a while and was introduced to a very different way of living. My tribal friends simply did not have secrets. In their community everything was out in the open. Even though I considered myself pretty open, I was struck by how much even I had to change. I felt rather naked at first, but once I got the hang of it, it's a pretty remarkable way to live. When the truth is out in the open for everyone to see, there isn't a lot of "wiggle room" for a person to manipulate or deceive. It is much harder to do something selfish or dishonest when you know the whole community will know about it. If "X" and "Y" aren't getting along, the community can bring its insight and a multiplicity of resources to the problem and it gets resolved! And when done in a loving way, this process focuses the group (not just the individual) on what needs to change. My native friends taught me just how powerful the truth can be. It is a remarkably freeing way to live. I have often wondered if the designation "primitive" that anthropologists give these people was because they hadn't learned to lie yet?

As I said, many of our cultural values derive from the fact that we've all been hurt. At some point, every relationship has bitten us. Parents, friends, relatives, siblings, lovers, fellow workers and even the 7-11 clerk at some point will all be having a bad day and will want to dump their stuff on you. At any moment the phone could ring and the relationship monster could bite.

Our natural response to these situations is to either shut down and withdraw or attack as a defense. We are reluctant to become any more vulnerable than is absolutely necessary. We don't want anything to be used against us. For example, to admit that you are hurting or depressed is to invite comment or worse, criticism. It feels like you will appear weak; and you do not want to be the weak one in the shark tank. If however, you are amongst loving friends, it is wonderful to "let your hair down" and be yourself and be vulnerable.

We learn to close off early in life. Most parents have a difficult time with their own emotions, much less those of an exuberant child. Intentionally or not, they shut us down. Take your clothes off in front of company or ask aunt Martha why she's fat and you will receive the meaning of "social convention" very quickly. We call social dishonesty "being polite." But as Shakespeare wrote, "A rose by any other name . . . " There is never a justification to hurt another person, but when it reaches the point of outright dishonesty and manipulation, we leave the arena of manners and enter a realm of what could be considered a social felony. We call it politics.

The feelings driving our need to hide the truth did not originate in this lifetime. In the past we have felt abandoned, punished, neglected and judged by God. We have stood waiting for redemption while everything around us fell apart, and He never came. Never mind that our egos were running rampant and that we had effectively closed ourselves off to the God-space. We felt abandoned! The seventeenth time that a life fell apart, you decided that this openness business was a load of manure. The silent painful residue of a hundred difficult past life experiences permeates the present when you attempt to open your heart.

So, when I say to an audience, "Open your hearts!" there is an inner rumbling, an echo from the past, that you can almost hear. "He doesn't know what he's talking about! If I do that, I'm going to get screwed!" And, that is a reasonable conclusion, considering that your pain has been very real. It's not a very positive context for growth and development, is it?

So, what do you do? You want to open your heart, but the prospect is scary. If you have been reading these writings you have learned that we never take these issues at face value because there is always something deeper driving them that we can use for our personal growth. The more powerful the issue, the more profound the potential growth, and that is certainly true in this case.

First we have to look at the underlying assumption that you can be hurt. Now, I know that it feels that way, but that is your ego protection in operation. Setting physical violence aside, another person cannot hurt you, only you can do that to yourself. Whether you like the idea or not, emotional hurt is a self-inflicted wound. It started out with actual wounding from a parent, but that was 40 years ago. If what someone else says to you today causes you pain, it is because you have created a vulnerability to their criticism. Otherwise, they are just a person making noise in a corner of the room. It may not be pleasant to be around, but you could walk away knowing that what they are saying is untrue.

Consider this: what if I tell you that your hair is blue? Unless you have a nose ring and your tongue is pierced, your hair is probably not blue and you know it. So it's no big deal. You know the truth, and what I say, being clearly wrong, is irrelevant. But, what if I say something like, "You are not worthy," or what if I call you inept or insensitive? That's harder to walk away from isn't it? Why? It's not that what I say is true; this situation has nothing to do with the truth. In fact, what is interesting is that the words I say have really very little importance. However, the fact that I am judging you is important, because it correlates with how you already judge and condemn yourself. If you already feel inadequate, then when I call you a name, my words go in like arrows and IT HURTS!

But, it only hurts because you have previously concluded that you are not worthy. In doing so, you create a "sticky place" within you for my words to attach to. Otherwise my words are just vibrations in the air. THEY HAVE NO INHERENT POWER OR MEANING THAT YOU DO NOT GIVE THEM! Now before you spin off into "Here's another reason why I'm not good enough," there is something very important that I want you to consider.

Unless you are Donald Trump, you will accept, I am sure, that there is too much ego running your life. You do not spend as much time as you could in the God-space. You do not love yourself. Given that this is true, what is the Universe to do about that? It just cannot sit idly by and let you run off willy-nilly down the road. It is obliged to help you to see what you are doing to yourself and to motivate you to change.

How do we make you aware that you do not love yourself? We stick you with a pin. That pin is called a hurtful comment from a friend, a slight from a lover or partner, an unkind or insensitive word from a co-worker. Now for the moment, I am going to ignore what they say, because for our purposes their words are not important. You will either accept what they say and make changes in your life, or disagree with them. So, I am going to separate content from process, because what is important is what you do with the slight that you have received.

I want to encourage you to see that this is the Universe's way of showing you that there is a sticky place within you. The Universe has created a "mirror" - other people - to reflect back to you (to make you aware of) the places where you do not love yourself.

So, when someone takes a shot at you and it sticks, try and step out of the moment and recognize that an important learning opportunity is at hand. After you finish nuking your partner, friend or child for hurting your feelings, recognize that you are being asked to look at a place where you do not love yourself. And here's the key: if you did love yourself, you wouldn't react! You certainly wouldn't like what had happened, but like the blue hair comment, it would roll off you like water off a duck, because you would know the truth. And, because you knew the truth, you would be able to calmly look at what they were saying (instead of just reacting) and take apart what was really going on, i.e., to see that they were afraid, that they were threatened or jealous, etc., etc. It puts you in an immensely different place! Instead of being forced to beat them up out of fear, you have the option of opening your heart to the pain and fear that is driving them. You are no longer a victim. That is the essence of what the Christ and Buddha sought to teach us.

OK, so now that you understand what is going on, what do you do about the sticky places within you? First, recognize that the emotional charge comes because this situation opens an old and unresolved wound. This event resonates with the sort of thing that used to happen at home when you were a powerless child and were subject to the emotional whims of your parents. And here's the hook: as a kid, you didn't do anything to deserve the treatment you received. No kid does. Kids are just kids. So what you have been carrying around all these years began with a very important misunderstanding. And by the way, this is the same way that the ego makes you feel in relation to God. (That's a very important point, but a bit off-topic at the moment.)

The good news is that misunderstandings can be rectified. In Healing The Shadow, I write about how to do this at length as a part of the Shamanic Journey healing process. I also provide a good bit of information about how to journey back into your past lives and resolve the issues that are still hanging around from those experiences. The purpose of the Shamanic Journey CD is to guide you through that process.

In brief, what you want to do in a situation like this is to put yourself in a position to help your hurt inner child to see the origins and foundation of the misunderstandings that she has been carrying. Then work with her so that she can learn to accept the truth about who she is. It's not a simple thing to do, but done well, it changes the sticky places that make you vulnerable to other people's criticism. It dramatically changes your life.

When you are unable to open your heart it is because you are afraid to let other people see your "flaws." You may be so closed down that you have trouble finding your heart, but it's there. It's who and what you are, so it cannot be lost, only temporarily shut down. Remember that the Universe got hard-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge to see the light, and so there is obviously hope for you. I don't mean to infer that this aspect of the work is easy. It is not. It is one of the most difficult things we do on the spiritual journey. That's why God created lots of other people, so you could get plenty of practice.


©2004 Blue Lotus Press.
Reproduction is permitted with attribution.

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  2006  
April: Islam and the West
March: Why is Spirituality so Difficult?
February: Loving Yourself
January: The Corporation and Society
   
2005  
December: Finding Faith
November:  
October: Living Wills
September: When did God become a Fundamentalist? II
August: When did God become a Fundamentalist? I
July: John of God
June: Accepting Love Part II
May: Accepting Love Part I
April: Relationships II
March: Who's Running Your Life?
February: Spirituality and Life
January: Why is Life so Difficult?
   
2004  
December: How do I open my heart?
November: Why can't I meditate?
October: What's the truth and how do I get there?
September: Why can't I heal?
August: The Yuppie Paradox
July: Dealing with Dragons
June: Healing
May: Are you happy?
April: Relationships
March: Shamanism
February: The Loss of Spirituality
January: The Evolution of Faith
   
2003  
December: The Rise of Rational Thought
November: Rationality and Universal Thought
October: Business and the Paradigm of Opposites
September: Institutionalization
August: Domination
July: The Web of Connectedness
June: Depression - Part 3
May: Depression - Part 2A The Aminos
April: Depression - Part 2A Treating with Amino Acids
March: Depression - Part 1