For some of you, the first thing that may pop into your head is the infamous Madonna song where she sings out, “Open your heart to me, baby, you hold the lock and I hold the key.”
Here in the west, relationships can almost seem transactional, I will do x, if you do y. However, once we realize nobody owes you anything and the real work is keeping your heart open, no matter what, we can loosen the shackles the judgmental mind and ego place upon us and instead, allow our hearts to crack open to all of life experiences and all beings.
Even to that person who let us down in some way or broke your heart fifteen years ago or last month.
The real work is to keep our hearts tender, open, and awake. In this way, we make contact with our own Bodhichitta, excellence of the awakened heart.
How do we remain open and tender amidst difficulty? How do we create openness in the heart when we feel it closing to something painful to bear?
At some point in our lives, each and every one of us has experienced heartbreak and loss of many kinds. The sting of it makes us feel like we will never be able to be vulnerable again and open our hearts again. We can too easily let the circumstances of our lives harden us so much that we become a shadow of the person we used to be. We find ourselves increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can allow life to soften us and make us kinder to ourselves and others. We always have this choice and I happen to have studied a Buddhist meditation called lovingkindness, metta, or maitri.
During the fall, I had reached a point in my studies where I felt kindness and compassion were characteristics which resonated deeply with me, but I had a true desire to delve deeper and studied “The Way of the Bodhisattva.”
The text on the Bodhisattva is a very old guide meant to cultivate the mind of enlightenment, and foster the qualities of love, compassion, generosity, and patience. The Bodhisattva also aspires and vows to work for liberation for all beings. Shortly thereafter, I committed to practice and train in Metta Meditation. There are also verifiable clinical studies of what a Metta practice does to the human mind and body. In order to teach about this tender and awake heart, I wanted to make full contact of open heartedness from the ground floor up of my entire being. I equate Metta meditation as the tip of the iceberg, and underneath it lies a body of teachings that gave rise to this beautiful practice.
As we practice lovingkindess, we are experiencing the conditions to have a direct experience of our own Bodhichitta, a tender and awake heart. This Bodhichitta is the quality we are drumming up and systematically unpacking through the practice of loving kindness. It is our tender spot.
Ever see a puppy or kitten and the feeling of “how cute” or the dog rolls over and exposes his or her belly? That sense of tenderness that we all have is our Bodhichitta.
Chogyam Trungpa has said that real fearlessness is the “product of tenderness, this raw and beautiful heart.” This willingness to share our hearts with others. That experience of feeling teary or choked up, witnessing or performing a random act of kindness, that real heart connection.
Our tenderness is there, it just gets covered over. The greatest obstacle to that open heart is fear of our own vulnerability, so we stay guarded. Another obstacle to touching our own Bodhichitta, the primary quality we meet our world with are our opinions, our binary thinking of this is “right or wrong.” Our opinions can show up and separate our experiences into one of two buckets. This is where mindfulness practice can support metta and get that binary thinking out of the way. We likely have an opinion about anything but it can really go into overdrive and we end up judging all of our experiences and sending energetic messages to others, “I don’t want you in my space” and the heart just closes.
How do we keep it open?
Lovingkindness becomes the mechanism or the way to access our open heart. Yes, open your heart, baby! Let’s sing it like Madonna did! To be able to open the heart and access our own Bodhichitta allows us to get in touch with the BEST of who we are.
Who are you when you're in full participation with the best of who you really are? When you touch into that soft spot and dare to be vulnerable with the world, notice how others respond….
Metta is a continuity of love. This embodiment shows ups with “4 faces,” or in Pali called the Brahmaviharas: lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. For me, one quality which stands out is to develop boundless friendliness for everyone, regardless of their actions. We will explore more about these qualities in my next blog post.
By virtue of being human, we all have access to and to turn up the dial on our impulse to be loving, understanding, kind, and helpful.
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, How can you show up in your world with one of these qualities each and every day? What ways can you demonstrate love with a more difficult person in your life? Just something to chew on until next month. Think of the puppy rolling over and smile.
Let’s turn the dial up on love,