Take a moment to stop, find stillness, and then place your hands over your heart. Softly shut your eyes. Don’t clamp them shut, just let the lashes flutter gently together, quivering between open and closed. Release your jaw. Soften every muscle of your face. Then press more firmly your palms to your chest. Feel the beating beneath your hands. Feel the subtle rise and fall of your front body as you slow your breath enough to really feel the beating. Stay here for a few rounds of breath. Acknowledge the magic of this electrical system within you. Acknowledge this thread of physical sustenance that keeps you going. Acknowledge this gift of a rhythmically beating heart, pumping strong and fierce beneath your flesh. Then open your eyes, slowly, letting the light flood them and a new perspective slide over your gaze like lenses.
The heart can be thought of in many ways. The electrical pump that keeps our physical body alive. Our emotional nucleus. The passionate mess that has the capacity to rock us to our core. The bliss-station that can radiate all things wonderful and delicious. The space from which compassion and empathy flow. The center for sorrow and mourning. The most fragile part of our being when fractured; our strongest, bravest, most resistant component the rest of the time. The driving force of our dream-chasing. The most human element of our being. The place love calls home.
I could go on and on. There are many a context in which to view “the heart.” One’s description or conjured imagery depends on the day, perhaps even the hour. Certainly the mood. In this moment I’m asking you to take it all in, holistically, as one. Because it is one. I’m asking you to be grateful for your heart, in all the many hats it wears.
Your heart is what keeps you alive, in every sense of the word. Today, as I climbed a mountain with a girlfriend, I brought this up. The two of us, hiking boots lodged into the hillside, stopped to place our hands over our chests. Slack smiles and dreamy eyes, chests rising and falling as our rapid breathing came round and round. Two things that never stop, respiration and heartbeat. Just take a moment to think about that, I mean really think about it. No matter where we are, what we’re doing, whether we’re asleep or awake, happy or sad, in love or completely wrecked…this remains. Clomp clomp goes the heart, in and out goes the breath.
What a blessing. Everything in the world might feel strange and unfamiliar, but the heart beats on, the breath threads in and out of the body. We are taken care of. Whether or not we choose to emotionally, mentally and spiritually bolster ourselves with self-love, inquiry, fearlessness and passion, we still have this. We breathe in, we breathe out. The heart makes its music. We are held.
Have you ever had your heart broken? I have. It fucking kills, doesn’t it? [Pardon my French]. Like, really kills, as in sometimes you truly wonder if you’re going to make it out the other side. Heartbreak comes in many packages, love lost, lives lost, loss itself comes in many packages. But the ability to break, shatter, positively explode, showering the ground with shards of heart…that very ability to fall apart in a million pieces, that’s what makes love possible. That’s what makes it possible to be whole, plump and juicy, beating strong and fluid, emanating bliss absolute and love unconditional. There cannot be one without the other. One without the other is merely a flatline, a boring monotone, a limp and lifeless in-between. There is no duality. Heartbreak and aching love are one. To feel truly great love – I mean truly great, all-encompassing, make you want to climb onto the roof in your underwear and fall to your knees, arms flung wide in rapture, joyous tears streaming down your face great love – you must know the gloomy, lonesome, bone snappingly horrific place of total heartbreak.
I can say this with certainty because, well, all of us reading this made it out the other side. Right? It still hurts to remember our bouts of heartache, our encounters with tragedy and loss and sorrow. But we survived. We endured. This too shall pass. And it did. We felt joy again, love, bliss, ecstasy, wonder, hope. We found our way to the other side, and probably back again. We’ve gone coast to coast probably more times than we can count in this life.
Yin and yang, I speak of it often. All is one. Life is one grand pendulum, swinging from one end of the spectrum to the other. Back and forth and back again. Ideally swaying, with grace and ease, rather than swinging with reckless force. Swaying back and forth, lingering in the good spots, but eventually inching back in the other direction. Such is the nature of life, of gravity, of existence. Movement. Growth. Regression. More growth. Change. Evolution. And shouldn’t it be? Would we want to live in a world where the sun shone every single day, where the temperature never fluctuated, water never spilled, glass never shattered, questions remained suspended in the air because perhaps the answers aren’t always rosy? I’d never wish such a pulseless existence upon anyone. Certainly not you and I.
Wisdom is gained through experience. Physical wisdom, emotional wisdom, spiritual wisdom. What is intellect without experience? Life is where we get our hands dirty. Climbing mountains to the soundtrack of thundering heartbeats. Hummingbird pitter-patters in the two chest cavities bearing the weightlessness of a first kiss. The long, languid trickle of a heaving, splintered heart. The soaring hopscotch tune of a ride on the wild side, a fear met head on. The thunderous call of courage.
So many hats our little heart wears. So many shoes it fills, so many roles it plays. So many emotions it carries on its back, so much pressure it bears, so little credit its given. Have you ever chided yourself for loving someone too much? For being too sensitive or too giving? For running too slow or getting too excited? For being too broken or too nervous? I have. I absolutely have. But you know what? That’s complete garbage, and I will never mindfully do it again. I will never reprimand my beautiful human heart for doing exactly what it does best…beat for me. I will never take for granted the thundering in my chest when I crest a steep hill; the rain sprinkling the rooftop on a sunday morning sensation of falling in love; the aching, cavernous echo of grief; the synchronicity of one sweaty chest pressed to another, misaligned beats making perfect music like drumming in the dark. I will never, ever again take for granted the myriad of ways my heart holds me together, lets me live this life of mine in vibrant color. I promise to never see my heart as a weakness. Vulnerability is not akin to weakness. Vulnerability takes courage, heaps of it. Vulnerability is the stripping away of the layers, the veils, the coverings that hide hope, faith and trust. Weakness is the ladder on which fear climbs and waves its ugly flag. I have sold that ladder and given the proceeds to the fund of vulnerability. Translucent and ethereal, vulnerability is what makes a human heart strong. It’s what takes the power away from the pendulum. Vulnerability trumps fear.
So return your hands to your heart. Be at peace with the way life is, the way things are. Call to mind the reason(s) you’re grateful for your heart, the gifts your heart gives you, what its beating brings to your life. This is one of the simplest, rawest, most basic practices of gratitude I’ve ever encountered. Acknowledge that, through it all, regardless of circumstances or context, the beautiful mess of our heart beats on. The heart beats, the pendulum sways…and life goes on.