What’s heart? another part of my story…

Most of my life I didn’t understand what people were talking about when they talked about heart. It seemed like a sentimental and poetic conceit, a symbol for a certain type of altruistic or touchy-feely kind of thinking. It wasn’t that I acted mean or selfishly, I was the same person, but I understood things in logical terms: helping people was about justice as an objective standard and worthy goal, not compassion and love.

Lofty goals can be tyranny too when they lack the animation of true feeling.

Somewhere along the line I was blessed to meet someone…he didn’t accept my perfectly reasoned and logical answers to his questions about my dreams. He asked me, “What else?” In this single question and his tone he transmitted to me the undeniable knowledge that indeed there was something else and that he had experienced it. The awareness dawned that I was indeed longing for something more, but that I had no framework for understanding what that something more could be. It seemed to be beyond the tightly reasoned world of cause, effect, and logical progressions. I was truly confused, at a loss, and humbled. I longed for it yet my brain was no help. Whatever it was, it wasn’t stored away up there waiting for me to discover it through deduction and intellectual conquest.

I’m not sure how it happened but another awareness dawned that there was a tension, a tightness in my chest. I had heard of chakras and one day musing aloud to a roommate I mentioned that I thought my heart chakra was blocked. It was said in the way someone might pronounce a long word that they’d never heard said aloud before. I had no idea what I was talking about. With my forehead and nose crinkled  I entered conversational territory that was foreign. In a halting tone my hypothesis clawed it’s way out of my mouth punctuated by question marks as though it was a telegraph correspondence;

“Uh, I think there’s energy, stuck? in my chest? I don’t know why. But sometimes I get short of breath? something with the heart-chakra? I don’t know what that is though. I think I need a heart-opening? I have no idea what I’m talking about, but something is stuck…in my heart. I think.”

This conversation was amusing to me even as it was taking place because I was really muddling through towards something unknown informed only by a longing and questions that I had no answers for.

It must have been amusing for my housemate too because she was a massage therapist and probably knew exactly what was going on. She asked if I wanted to see if it would come out. I was a little afraid, but mostly skeptical, but I said okay anyway hoping it could be something easy and I’d be fixed! If I only knew. She took me to the living room, had me lay down on my back, knelt behind my head, and asked me to breath with her while she held some pressure points on my chest.

We lived in an old Victorian house that we both loved. There were eleven foot ceilings and the living room windows all faced South and filled the house with bright light all day. I lay on the floor bathed in all that fresh January morning sunlight. I was looking up at the maroon ceiling and chandelier, breathing, and thinking “this isn’t going to work, this isn’t going to work, this isn’t working.” And suddenly from a part of my body that had never spoken before I said “But I really want it to work.” That voice was strong, clear, and full of the longing I had tasted before. I did hesitate for a split-second, but how can I describe this? The voice that said “But I really want it to work”, that voice resonated with me, a part of me I was unfamiliar with but hungry for. In a way I chose to go with that voice, but in another way the voice was simply me, it was as though I had emerged, I didn’t feel like that other person anymore. I felt like this raw, shivering, wondrous, thing. I pulled these onion layers off all at once from over my head as though I was watching it happen, but it was me doing it. I saw a small new person pushing those layers off, as though coming out of a really cumbersome chrysalis. It stepped out, and I was different. Suddenly images were flashing through my mind.  Images from my families past pains, my dad losing his father, my brother losing his first love, my cousin feeling rejected in our friendship, my mom working in a job that didn’t satisfy her, all these painful moments of isolation, abandonment, all these desires to be loved, to be held, ran through my mind and my body shook with crying. As I saw how each of them, and me, had contributed to our own suffering I began to laugh and see a strange kind of intricate beauty, our mutual humanity. I saw the river in the om chapter of Siddhartha where all the sounds blend together and he realizes that they are all the same.

After the crying, and the laughing, I got very cold and began to shake and my housemate took me outside to sit in the sun on our front steps. I had literally never seen the world before. Every sensation was entirely new, every color, every sound, the birds, the breeze, the sun, the color of leaves, the person in front of me. I was laughing and crying at everything, amused, childlike, in awe of humans and their subtleties of speaking, interacting, feeling, I had never experienced any of it before. I went through all that I had been carrying and I told my housemate, with eyes wide with amazement that I couldn’t do it anymore. That I couldn’t help them, not in that way. That I could love them, but they were on their own journeys and I couldn’t be the person I imagined they wanted me to be anymore. I felt very strongly that I my most important job was to learn how to carry the soul that was inside of me. I couldn’t go to work for days, and in reality, I never went back to work. I gave notice within a month, and two months later I was done there. But that day she and I set sail by foot. I couldn’t even ride a bike, everything was so vivid the bike would have been too fast. I wanted to plant a tree. I could barely eat. I was so awake I was almost paralyzed by it. I spoke slow too, it must have been annoying to some people!

I was so afraid that I would lose this opening that I made several immediate and drastic changes to my life. I began to rise with the sun to meditate, write, and read, and touch base with myself to see what was “alive” for me that day. I would spend from approximately 6 am to 10 am in silence with myself examining my thoughts, my actions, and most importantly my feeeeelllllings. I wanted thorough change. I went through my closet, my books, my music, my stuff, my friends, my obligations, everything that didn’t feed my heart or resonate with me, out it went. I quit my job. I knew that this would be ongoing and cyclical, and to this day it is ongoing.

Looking back I see that this event is the central event in my life, other than being born. There was life before, and LIFE!! after. The path has been incredibly winding, and shot through with magic, love, mystery, beauty, and all kinds of things that I would have bah-humbugged just two years ago. It’s also been full of mistakes and pain, that I honestly, and humbly, can only smile at in my desire to adore it all. I want this for everybody. I want this feeling of struggle, joy, peace, pain, sensitivity, humility, and hunger, I want this for everybody.

Since then I fell asleep again, last spring. I was caught in an idea of what I ought to be doing and what was good for me. I was in a relationship that I felt grateful for but that was no longer making me happy. But I felt committed to it and I couldn’t make the hard decision to leave it. So I stopped listening to my heart’s subtle messages about what happiness means. One day I was meeting with somebody for work. He told me that he had met with me because he saw something in me. And then he broke me open. He asked me over and over and over again what I loved, saying “no!” when he sensed that it wasn’t true. He asked me why I was doing what I was doing and gently led me to the realization that it was logic, and not my heart, that had led me down the path I was on, and that it was, once again, time to go back to the path of my heart.

Heart. What an incredible gift. Just no way to express the gratitude I have for each of those people that with their time, care, patience and love held my hand through the shaking and tearing down to build up. The same sense of gratitude for all the other people that pass in and out of my life, and for the blessing of getting to be alive in this magical and brilliant world. Oh.

4 thoughts on “What’s heart? another part of my story…

  1. Dashielle, This is a beautiful piece of writing, I think it could be in Orion or The Sun. Your experience reminds me of what the practitioners of Zen call Satori – a short period of enlightened mind that lasts up to three days, usually with lots of laughing and crying, and heightened awareness of ones connection to all things.
    Your essay reminds me of what Carlos Castineda calls the “path of heart,” which is following a path that doesn’t divide you internally; and generally you don’t find that path using logic. At the same time, not all feelings are created equally, there are strong feelings coming from lower stages of ones development and there are “feelings” that correspond to higher stages of realization (love, compassion). Regardless, as you say, we can be led astray by all the logical “shoulds,” but we can lose touch with the primary deep urge within us, if we aren’t listening carefully. That deep urge is always to find out what the truth is, whether it be about life, God or happiness. Generally, you can’t find such things out if you’ve lost your sensitivity (especially to how you feel internally). Your “heart opening” just shows that this insane culture hasn’t smothered your sensitivity, and that can become a powerful signpost for others wondering what they should be doing in this very confusing society.

    1. Thanks Dan, I really appreciate that. I’d like to do some work on it, but I dream about publishing stuff some day. I believe shoulds are very destructive and I advocate for a “should” ban. 😉 I am really interested in the Carlos Castaneda you reference, we talked about it before, which book is that from?

  2. Hi Dashielle, I’d like to echo Dan’s sentiment. This is a touching, courageous and beautifully written post. I love your line that “Lofty goals can be tyranny too when they lack the animation of true feeling”. You just may have hit the nail smack on the head in terms of what’s wrong with our modern Anglo-American society: lots of head but not enough heart. I hope you realize your dream of getting your writing published and that one day this quote passes into common usage.

    You made two other points that struck a deep chord with me.

    A few years back I had an experience that has some parallels with yours. After decades of being a thoracic breather, someone helped me to relearn how to breathe abdominally. I had my own Om experience and felt myself melt into the universal wave of being. As I surrendered to that deeply profound existential feeling, the dam suddenly burst and I was overcome with a massive flood of emotions that I had been repressing for decades. At that moment I made a decision that I wasn’t going to live like that anymore. I would follow my heart in all areas of my life. Prior to that experience, I had lived a somewhat schizophrenic life. I followed my heart in my love life and my head in all other areas. This didn’t work out too well. I made some horrendously bad decisions in my love life. It became an emotional roller coaster while feelings of emptiness pervaded the other areas of my life.

    I’m still struggling with finding the right balance between the head and the heart. Following your heart doesn’t mean you have to stop using your head. For a while I overcompensated for my emotional repression by overvaluing feelings and undervaluing logical thought. It’s a constant challenge to walk that razor’s edge. I’m getting better at it but there are still times when I slip and fall.

    Your second point that struck a deep chord with me was when you wrote “I could love them, but they were on their own journeys”. This has been a recurring issue in my life. For far too long have I been confusing love with responsibility. When I loved someone, I felt responsible for their wellbeing. This backfired on me in two big ways. It drained me mentally and emotionally, and it also stirred resentment from those whom I cared about the most. This started a self-reinforcing dysfunctional cycle of emotions and behavior. My relationships would sour as I became resentful myself.

    Even though I now consciously recognize the difference between love and responsibility, my patterns of behavior are so ingrained that I often catch myself acting in ways that ignore that distinction. By reinforcing this point, your post has already helped me.


    1. Yes, oh my I still get into situations where I find myself starting to make suggestions and offer my own time and resources or energy before someone has even asked me (usually it’s my mom that I want to bail out). And of course you’re right, this often stirs resentment from them. Who wants to feel like their problems have, without their knowing it, become the weighty and bothersome obligations of a person they perhaps only sought sympathy from? So when I catch myself getting tight in the chest listening to my mom talk about money, I take a deep breath and remind myself that for some reason my mom has come here in this life to have issues with money and I cannot and should not try to “save” her from that path. Those are her lessons, and my lesson indeed is to love her, and support her, and allow her, and others, to fall sometimes, and to pick themselves back up.

      I also know the piece about the over-compensating for the emotional repression. But I think there needs to be that pendulum sometimes, it’s gives us the experience of the heart in some kind of pure way, all heart for a little while. For me that made it easier to come back into balance through fully understanding what the energy of the heart meant for various parts of my life, career, love, family, etc. That balance process is perpetually ongoing though, in my experience.

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