Opening the Heart to Love
4 Heart Practices Meditation
I think when I first came to practice, probably for the first couple years, I sat there and I thought about meditation. I thought that was what I was supposed to be doing. To imagine: what would it be like if I was meditating? It would probably be like this. It might be spacious, it might be beautiful. So I was imagining practice, instead of actually embodying the experience, which is breathing, sitting here. Which is a direct experience of ourselves.
Because I had closed up so many doors in my heart, I didn’t want to feel this pain, it was too difficult. Maybe there’s some trauma that I was working with. Armoring the heart is something that comes with the territory of a difficult life. It makes sense to me, why we protected ourselves. Whenever we had to survive, we did what we had to do. But I think it’s easy to end up feeling somewhat exiled or estranged from our own experience.
So how do we acknowledge what has served us and let it go? Armoring is a fantastic asset for survival, but it might be a liability for our freedom and happiness. So how do we come back to the table, and have a full contact experience of ourselves?
How do we give ourselves that backstage laminate to the whole show? Because when we cut off any part, we cut off from the vitality of our life. It’s not like I just cut out the pain, I cut out part of the joy, part of feeling like a sense of belonging.
Because when I close off I’m just in here, by myself. I’m safe, but I’m alone. And they say that all paths have the same aim: to save us from the calamity of a separate existence. So we come back to the table, back to our hearts, and say, I’ve abandoned you for a long time. But I’m ready to come back. I’m ready to try to make myself at home. And that takes practice, to access the heart that we have turned away from.
So that’s why we have do these heart practices, because we experience the world through the mind. So it makes sense to me that we imbue our vision with wholesome qualities. With some practice we see that we can make the awareness itself like that golden honey sunset light, that makes whatever it shines on beautiful.
We sit down and get to show up and care about what arises. We have got to give up a lot of our demands of this moment being a certain way. Otherwise we’re just lost in the conditions. Oh I feel good I must be doing it right. If it doesn’t feel good, maybe I should go do a different practice.
Be in a long loving look at the real, moment by moment.
This is again being battered around by our preferences, with not much tolerance for states that are not a constant onslaught of pleasurable feelings. Anybody who has practiced even a little bit knows that this is not what practice is. I want to be in a long, loving look at the real, moment by moment. And then can I trust the trained heart? Because we’re training the heart. Can I trust it to respond with one of the four flavors of love? When there is something painful, is there compassion that arises? Yeah, naturally. When there’s something beautiful, is there joy? Yeah. When I think about the heart practices, I liken it to the alchemy of presence, where we bless things with our presence, by paying attention to them, and trying to be intimate with them.
When I think about the four heart practices: these qualities of loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity, it’s like the four chambers of the heart. Right? These four flavors of love, that we’re training ourselves to respond with. Whatever comes up, we’ll be able to trust the heart’s response, when we get back into relationship with it.
So lovingkindness sees what’s beautiful. Compassion sees what’s difficult. Joy sees people’s successes and wants that to continue. And equanimity holds the whole thing in gear. Because any one of those, if they were out of balance, loving kindness could easily tip over into over sentimentality. So what holds it in gear is the equanimity. My understanding of equanimity is being near to all things.
And we know that the more we practice something, the easier it gets. And it doesn’t mean that it is linear, that it is easier every time. This isn’t a Rocky montage. It’s more like: Can I show up and care about what arises? Can I actually be present in my experience and tend to what’s happening? Not my ideas about it, not my hopes, not my fears, but allowing things to arise and die a natural death. You don’t have to jump into the river of experience and push it, to make it go by faster. You don’t have to jump in the middle of it and stop it so we can get to some imagined peace. We see things as they arise, almost effortlessly. Things arise, we note them and allow them to pass through. Not personal, not permanent, not perfect. Right now it’s like this.
The mind is so busy trying to categorize everything, this is good, this is bad, this is skillful, this is unskillful. The practice is asking us to lean past the labels and look into the nature of experience itself. What is this? This constellation of feelings that I’m calling anxiety, or boundless joy, or whatever it is? And really get curious: We can open up to the actual experience of it. Because as Rudolf Steiner said, ‘Unless I love something, it will not reveal itself to me.”
Part of what makes this possible, is sitting long enough so that we have enough stability of mind, that we get to connect and sustain our attention on one thing, so we’re not all over the place trying to find something comfortable.
I think when I came to practice, I was starving for an experience of myself. This gives me an experience of myself, when I practice with the heart in this way, and I meet whatever is waiting for me in that space.
This article is excerpted from Vinny Ferraro’s Mind Talks on Mindworks progressive series of online meditation courses. For opening your heart we recommend our in-depth online meditation course series on developing compassion.