Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Defending An Open Heart

So much of my practice and teaching, daily life for that matter, is related to right action and an open heart. This way of being has long been a part of my basic character, or nature, but I have had a bumpy ride with it. There has been a lot of suffering, let's just say, and misplaced trust, disappointed hopes, and tremendous energy expended in ways that seemed to dissipate into nothingness.

I also grew up feeling that other people's happiness was somehow my responsibility, though I have long since come to understand that it is only through a person's own awareness and being that the freedom of joy can emerge. That joy can be shared, which is something I definitely do. Somewhere along the way I have learned that I can live with my compassionate heart available to share joy and sorrow, yet feel safer, and can even at times offer a safe space for others to experience themselves more fully too. It is my yoga practice that seems to have shifted me here.

It boils down in some ways to releasing attachment to outcome, making the offering without the goal of making the offering, rather by simply being available to be offering. In this framework we cannot give away anything, nor lose nor gain. Oh that doesn't sound easy, does it?

It is not impossible to practice strengthening this sense of safety in openness. Just as we might practice sending compassion in a meditation towards someone for whom we have not always felt positive feelings, or we might now see others' behavior in terms of conditions of pain and suffering rather than letting it jerk our reactive nature around; we can learn to see and label dangers, and get more familiar with recognizing and using the strengths within us.

It all begins with the breath and cultivating awareness. That really is a simple exploration that can last your whole life! The physical yoga practice helps enormously with this, in my opinion. Breathing is a mechanism of balance, and balance offers the equanimity of a much wider range of motion whether it is the heart or the feet in motion. Through a sequence of Asana, tensions can be released that allow access to muscular strength and flexibility. The movement of the muscles and deeper support they can offer the bones, the greater a sense of foundation to every posture, every action. The process of gaining awareness, of stretching and strengthening, of focusing on moving within the movements of the inhale and exhale, produces a most amazing increase in the body's ability to feel ease with what is actually so. This enables movement in the emotional world as well as the physical one. Access to strength while remaining relaxed is a beautiful way to describe how the heart can be open, yet not be subject to changing conditions or harmed from operating without foundational support.

There are spiritual and other energetic practices that strengthen the heart and its ability to let go of the attachments that cause so much pain. Something as simple as a Mudra (hand posture in this case) of balance and grace as with Anjali Mudra (fingers gently resting upon each other, base of palms touching loosely resembling "Prayer" hands), of protection, as with Vaikhara, the shield (thumbs tucked into fists, forearms crossed in front of chest with hands held against the body), can help marshal the energy body's resources. I also find Garuda Mudra, (Eagle) of hooked thumbs, crossed wrists held with palms facing the heart to be particularly healing for feelings of being trapped in conditional nature. This is just one more tool to help balance energies, balance out the mind-body authority struggles, and give heart energy a little more support!

Locking up the movements of the heart will not hold them, just like holding one's breath will not stop the moment. As awareness grows, attention becomes more focused, breath becomes more available to the energetic needs of the body, and the body can develop in its ways of supporting alignment and finding balance. In this way the heart can also begin to feel more freedom. It is not something a person makes happen, it will happen on its own as the practice supports that opening.

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