[Originally published on Thought Catalog]
An open heart is our greatest strength and it’s been written and re-written for as long as human’s have been on this earth.
Rumi said it, in the 11th century when he described the importance of keeping our heart open after it breaks, instead of protecting it for future encounters:
“You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens”
The Dalai Lama described it as an infinite resource;
“A heart full of love and compassion is the main source of inner strength, willpower, happiness and mental tranquility.”
“An open heart is an open mind.”
Brenee Brown gave it a different name in her talk on venerability.
“Most people believe venerability is weakness, but really venerability is courage.”
But the clearest, simplest, argument I found for the importance of keeping your heart open at all times was in a book I read recently, called The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer.
“By closing your heart, you are not really protecting yourself from anything, you are just cutting off your source of energy and locking yourself inside.”
It was a timely recommendation I received while working in Sri Lanka, because it this country was teaching me something I hadn’t grasped before; the power of the heart.
The locals inspired me with their capacity for generosity. There was no sense of individuality, it was always “we,” and every expat I met reported the same thing. Strangers on the train and tuk tuk drivers would feed me chocolate and chickpea snacks, I was invited into their family home for dinner, treated to rice and curry from strangers on the top of a mountain and tea from taxi drivers. The biggest thing that struck me was that their goodbyes were as heartfelt and venerable as if they were old friends; the locals I’d met were unafraid to show that they cared, even if they didn’t know when they’d see you again. Their loving culture was the perfect backdrop to reinforce something I’d began to notice before I arrived. Although a broken heart is often associated with a bad thing, after I experienced it, I genuinely felt like I opened up a greater capacity to empathize and feel love and kindness.
Singer gives so many convincing arguments for why it’s important not to close our heart. One being, that it’s energy giving. That same fulfilled energy that keeps us going without needing to eat or sleep when we’re in love, is a side effect of a temporarily open heart. As a yogi, I’ve learned to call it the heart chakra. The problem is, we only reserve it for few people in our lives, but Singer argues we can always be this open and as a result:
“You get for free what everybody else is struggling for: love, enthusiasm, excitement, and energy. You simply realize that defining what you need in order to stay open actually ends up limiting you. If you make lists of how the world must be for you to open, you have limited your openness to those conditions. Better to be open no matter what.”
He argues the only reason we don’t feel this energy all the time it because our knee jerk reaction is to protect and block it by closing our heart and mind in situations where we feel threatened. The side effect of this is we feel low energy and unmotivated.
“The most important thing in life is your inner energy. If you’re always tired and never enthused, then life is no fun. But if you’re always inspired and filled with energy, then every minute of every day is an exciting experience. Learn to work with these things.”
In that space of love-filled high energy, we have greater reserves and purpose behind what we do. I’ve found the best way to cultivate this, is first practicing unconditional kindness towards myself. From this space I feel nurtured enough to share that energy outwards.
I began to try and encounter everyone with the same love I’d give to my family.
If a driver tried to charge more than what we agreed on, in the past I might have closed off to him and tried to defend myself, but this time, with an open heart I tried to imagine where he was coming from and why. The result of this was not an argument, but a pleasant exchange and a compromise where instead of antagonise and defend, I tried to make him feel understood. I could tell this took them by surprise, in a situation where they might’ve expected or been accustomed to an argument with a tourist. The outcome was most often a compromise, but if it wasn’t, I was okay with that too.
This is one minor example of a powerful practice that I’ve tried to continue in all situations and have since felt a huge improvement on my sense of peace, wellbeing, my relationships and my relationship with myself. I became more interested in understanding people than being understood, because I already knew what I stood for was enough, because it was based on love.