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author, A Theory of Everything

Open Heart

By Joanne Hunt

It is a funny thing to speak of opening one's heart as though we can do it on command. We have all been raised with our own stereotypes and biases and I can honestly say that if it is late at night and I am walking down a street alone and a man steps out walking toward me, I am not working on opening my heart. In that moment, I am vigilant. I am calculating how many steps between me and my car. This is a natural reflex built through decades of cultural training from when I was a little girl being told not to talk to strangers to a grown woman who knows more of the details of harm that is possible.

So: when is it appropriate to open my heart? Only when it feels safe? When it feels as though I won't be harmed? Or maybe just when I want to feel good about myself: Oh, wasn't I so generous at being able to open my heart with that person who clearly gets under my skin? As though somehow we are so much more developed (maybe true) and hold ourselves as superior (perhaps not so developed) when we are open to those who get on our last nerve.

I have the most difficultly opening my heart when I feel anxious which often accompanies a sense that I am going to be consumed by others' needs. There is a sense of drowning, like I won't have time for myself if I respond to the desires of another. In these brief moments of engulfment, I have a hard time opening my heart. Even to myself. I push on. I shoulder the load. I do what I need to do. There is no heart opening toward myself as I chain my best energy to my To Do List.

I want to more skilfully open my heart to myself with compassion. I generally have more compassion for others. Sometimes I attend to my care with skill and discernment but, more often than not, I get down to whatever is waiting to be done. The ever expanding To Do List. Body suffers, loses sleep, gets tired, and I become not so open-hearted.

Lately, I have been working with a circular, coincident notion of giving and receiving. Can I feel the flow between when I am giving versus when I am being replenished? Can I hold them in light balance? A sort of Yin and Yang of the day. I am also playing with the question, "When you are giving, what are you also receiving at the same time?" I tend to hold a binary definition of giving and receiving as though they are mutually exclusive events. As I am "pushing" through a particular task in my day, is there any part of me that is not in the act of pushing? Is there some part of me that is actually soft, yin-like, receiving the all of it regardless of what the hell I'm paying attention to? I think there is. I really do.

And I would like to know her name. Her open heart is not soft and mushy. It is skilful and wise and discerning and quiet. Yes, very quiet. She opens up most when I am alone. Often when I am writing. She isn't so black and white. She is wide and has a long view. A view that takes in lifetimes, not days. And she is infinitely patient. She is in no hurry for me to pay attention to her and when I do, she says, "Welcome back." No recriminations. No accusations. And she has been feeling fed all the way along whether I am paying attention or not. Like a silent Witness, she receives and smiles. Like a silent Heart, she neither loves nor hates any particular moment. With non-grasping mind, she just Is. Such that she is, there is also nothing she asks.

Quietly, I pay attention. And right in the middle of the most challenging task, the longest To Do List, she is there. Not holding to this or that. The wide Yin of receptivity smiling at Yang action in the world. Feminine meets Masculine.

My heart opens wide with no effort.

© Joanne Hunt

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