From Talking Head to Living out of My Heart
Always, always, it seemed that my mind was over what mattered, without a hint of heart.
As we all are, I was born with a beginner's heart: a baby's open, vulnerable, curious, accepting heart. But, as in all humans, pieces of my heart were snapped off, frozen black, scarred, and lost altogether in the process of surviving. It became too risky to greet the new day in full heart throttle. Bam! Something always happened to drive the baby heart back into its shell: stretching, like a snail with its permeable antennae delicately up and out, only to discover the world is nothing but life-sapping salt.
After many years of believing that all valid things, all important things, were quantifiable, visible, and sensible, I woke up to a confusing, disorienting wonderful truth: it was all illusion and I was miserable...ah yes, that also is illusion, isn't it?
I was holding on for dear life to fantasy! All the books, files, software, life changing (hah!) projects and jobs, righteous mind (the default setting for right mind for most of us), judgments, assumptions, and expectations equaled zip, zero.
The only sure thing I had was the capacity for LOVE, but what a bungle I was making of that! Love with reservations; love with conditions; love that waned when I felt neglected and rejected, which was often; love that waxed when I found material possessions I wanted, thought I needed, or when I found approval.
In love with feeling good; in love with feeling up; in love with being competent; in love with life when it was going well; in love with the weather when the sun was shining; in love with myself when I accomplished great things.
It wasn't really love after all, but an emoto-meter that went up and down as I judged things to be good or bad. Up and down as I measured whether "they" approved of me or not, whether they liked me or not.
Some days I despised all humanity for the meanness and greed in some; other days I mourned for all my fellow humans, for all my fellow suffering creatures on the planet. Then I would recoil and retreat from people, thinking how limited, shallow, lifeless, and ugly they were (I was also they.) Back and forth, practicing half-hearted compassion one day, passing judgment the next. I cast the most contorted, truncated shadow of love as I walked through my life.
One day, I realized that all the charms and security blankets of the intellectual life, the achieving life were gone. I stared at my file cabinets, bulwarks against being caught off guard, against ignorance. What a mess. A fire hazard, at best. A dust ranch at worst. No sanctuary from doubt or uncertainty.
I clutched my naked flesh to my chest (lacking anything else to clutch.) Now what? None of this stuff was going to save me from living. I lost my cave.
Dedicated hermit (trying to live out of reach of emotion) that I had become, I suddenly found myself smack in the middle of feelings. I felt the most pure, piercing dread. I no longer believed in the sacred truth of left brain driven activities. I began to blame my mind for all maladies, physical and spiritual.
Unfortunately I was throwing the baby out with the proverbial bath water. No Mind and a lame Heart, I no longer had anything to believe in. And I most fervently want to believe in something.
I screamed and dove deep into the icy chill of depression. Ah. Stillness, sleepiness. I was safely cotton wool gray in my head. Immobile, safe in inaction. Felt like crap, not nice steaming, well-formed crap, more like fuzzy green, moldy, splats of crap. But that was a small price for not having to be responsible any more.
On top of the depression was layered anxiety. Or was the depression layered on the anxiety. It was a bad juju sandwich in any event. Its symptoms of fatigue, pain, stomach ailments, and dissociation were distracting! I couldn't move, thank heavens. I didn't have to move. I was unaccountable.
Of course, it was my mind that yanked me out of this sordid, self-indulgent zombie state. My mind with its impeccable logic: if you are going to sit around sucking up limited resources and feeling sorry for yourself, you should just quit. Quit. Die. Become one with mother earth. Or, get off your sorry, chicken ass, follow your Heart, and get back into the game.
But, I whined most piteously, it is too hard. I am afraid. I am not good enough. I am impaired, less than perfect, clueless, map-less. Follow what heart? Mine is an amateur heart. How can I follow a rookie heart? Then I launched into my favorite routine keeping me in the status quo: how can earn a living with my Heart? I don't know how, I wailed. I don't get it. How can I go out and say, "Let me teach you about Heart?" How can I pay the bills with that? Besides, how will I know I am following my heart and not some impostor? I want someone to light the way for me, I am not an expert on this. I am not perfect. I cannot teach what I barely know. I want a guide, a teacher, someone to tell me when I am right and when I am wrong.
It can't be up to me, alone, to live my life, can it?
Tied up, can't move, thank goodness
As we moan about our bondage (could be our marriage, our job, our illness, our looks....), we also welcome it. It constrains us, limits our options, reduces our choices. It comforts us to feel our familiar pain.
There is nothing more frightening than to suddenly stop hurting when the pressure is released. When Chinese women were finally permitted to unbind their feet, they experienced horrible, searing pain. Nothing prepared their nerves for being free. Not only did each individual foot hurt, but society itself recoiled in agony at the new-found freedom of its women able to walk their own walk.
Our lives are built around supporting our pain, our self-declared deficiencies. Nothing is more scary than just being Now. We need self-help. Quick self-help. Different self-help each week. Popular culture holds up images of the Ideal Life, the Ideal Person. Each week that Ideal changes to reflect the products being hawked.
We are so unsure of ourselves that we get in line, again and again. We queue up for another set of answers that will be a balm for our pain. Another set of answers, this time better, slicker, quicker, easier. Another set of rules and constraints that promise perfect happiness for $25.99.
Instead of letting go, we hold on tighter. The winds of uncertainty shriek louder, and we clutch whatever is at hand. Our fingers stretch out and out, flesh popping. If we would let go, if we could surrender, the wind would take us where we need to go. The pain would stop. But, if we start to unwrap the bandages, the infinite beckons and our limited ligaments shriek from the blast of unaccustomed possibility.
So we cinch up our restraints and hang on harder.
But, but, but
In order to live in the present moment, we have to let go.
We have crafted our past into a story that comforts us, explains us, excuses us. We tell our story in how we live and eat and dress. We tell our story in whom we embrace and whom we spurn. All the time believing we have chosen our lives freely. But really being simply actors in our own larger than life, outdoor theater, passion play.
Our stories stand in for life.
Consider what we tell others about ourselves. How quickly we slip in explanations for why we are victims of awfulness. Changing our tunes if we sense rejection. We want Them, All of Them, to approve of us. If not approve, than at least understand that it isn't our fault we are such losers. We also have our pride and wave our successes around as if they really define us as good and worthy.
Of course, some of us take the contrarian course and loudly proclaim that we don't care if anyone approves of us. So what if someone thinks we are rude or foolish? We make a pre-emptive strike. I'll be surly first! I'll judge first! I'll condemn first.
It is all so much window dressing. We have dragged expectations and assumptions around for so long we wouldn't, can't recognize the Moment. We don't feel Now, much less live there.
If now is Now, and we live in that tiny droplet of time, can we fit all our illusions in with us? A pretty tight squeeze, I'd say. I discovered that there was no room for all my well-considered opinions and zealous (but well intentioned) need to "correct" all the mistakes in the world (except my own arrogance.)
The droplet of Now has infinite room for love, but the space diminishes exponentially with every illusion, every wish, every what-if, if only, should, could, would, and regret.
Then Now becomes a black hole. Dense, lightless. Yanking in anything orbiting too close. No air. No light. No love.
Don't worry, be happy?
I have had many "a ha" moments recently. But my first "oh no" moment came the other day. The process of gaining insight is marvelous. A door opens, some unseen hand pushes your back and while you are stumbling to regain balance, the door "clicks" and, like it or not, you are in a new place.
I understood in my talking head that my monkey mind thoughts were making a mess of my holy temple. Between the monkey shit, banana peels, and orange rinds, I could hardly walk without stepping in goo. Mental goo. Globs of images, ideas, thoughts. But I still thought there were "good" thoughts and "bad" thoughts. I thought if I could keep pleasant thoughts, constructive ideas in my head, I'd be OK. Be happy! I'll train myself to be happy and everything will be wonderful.
Sure I read a hundred books on meditation. I meditated. Practiced mindfulness. Still I was weighing and valuing. I didn't quite get it: let them, go and go. Little clouds, little words, little phrases. Somehow I kept thinking if I could just keep the good thoughts, I'd be where I needed to be.
How can I let go of the bad and hold onto the good? I was stuck on that for months (years.)
Until I saw that it was all bubbles, just bubbles. Thoughts and feelings were bubbles. Transient states.
Each thought, each feeling, a bubble spit out by the always churning brain. Big ones, little ones, ones that pop before they float, ones that float high overhead, out of sight. Others crowd together, forming wiggly masses.
None of them matters! Each is a soapy, slippery interface between me and the Moment. But my brain, your brain, is so good at churning out bubbles. We hate to give up our bubble machine even when we discover that it is all illusion. We feel naked and vulnerable without the bubbles that distract us from living in the present.
I got booted through the "a ha" door: no thought is better or worse than any other! They are all flakes of paint, flotsam, jetsam, stuff. Bubbles. Just head stuff. Mind lint. Bubbles.
Many thoughts and feelings are hot buttons to knee-jerk reactions. Push here, make your blood pressure go up, up and up. Worse than idle worry, they instigate a series of bodily reactions making you sick, too! So my bubbles had the power I gave them. Bad bubble, go away. Good bubble, encase me in a dream-world.
Making happy-talk in my head just made me a happy talking head. An improvement over my past state, to be sure, but still based on the false premise that my thoughts were reality.
Imagine my surprise as a life-member of the left-brained, talking head club to realize this. But, but, but...I felt a peculiar shift. My talking head continued to hold up thoughts: what about this insight? This is HUGE, right?
Well, no, dear head, it isn't huge. It is a thought. Another bubble. And you are attached to it in a big way, but that doesn't mean it should take up any room. Let it float off.
Attached to your insecurity blanket
Well, you can't walk around without thinking, so says my talking head. Maybe those feeling bubbles are optional, but everyone HAS to think, needs to plan, watch, worry....otherwise the world will fall apart!
Or at least our own worlds will fall apart without the bubbles. We cannot simply be in the Present all the time. It is too hard! We have to be attached to something!! So says my talking head.
Talking heads are persistent, reluctant to let go of their thoughts. Afraid of being in the unguarded moment. Life seems too free, too unstructured, without the constraints of thinking all the time.
Talking heads spew out an endless stream of thoughts. They don't see the connection between the bubbles and the hard lumps of self-judgment, perfectionism, saviorism, good-girl and good-boyism, congealing into aches and pains throughout what they regard as their nuisance bodies and foolish, sentimental hearts,
The flesh always tells, but our talking heads will try to convince us that all will be well, all our pain will vanish, if only we can figure out why we hurt and devise a strategy for dealing with it. Our talking head will say, Think harder! Our talking head will urge more reading, more classes, more gadgets to rid us of pain and heartache.
Get busy! Take another seminar on stress reduction. Get another video on meditation.
Oh, yes, the bubbles will pour furiously out now. And we venture further and further away from this simple reality: our hearts have been broken and can only heal in the presence of unconditional love.
First, we must learn to accept ourselves, love our quirky, flawed, lumpy selves. Turn the eyes of compassion inward. Be aware of how life strikes us. Pay attention to our fears. What hurts? Where do we find joy? We need to wake up. We need to be conscious. Then we need to be compassionate. We are as we are in this moment.
At first, we resist feeling compassion for ourselves. We can probably find a hundred reasons why our parents couldn't possibly have loved us.
We will find a dozen reasons why we are inadequate: containers of moldy food in the fridge, messy closets, divorces, warts, farts, fat, too much hair, too little hair. But that is all of us. We all have too much or too little. We all have lists that stand between us and our authentic self. We are all self-centered toddlers throwing tantrums because what we think we want and can't live without is beyond our reach.
Some of us make the tantrum into a way of life. Others of us grow up a little, but still feel unwanted and unloved and that drives our every choice. And we tell our story, over and over, about how no one really loved us. How our parents never understood us or wanted us because our tiny soft, rosebud baby self was flawed in some dreadful way that marred us for life. We were broken. They should have sent us back. Instead they kept us around because no one else would have us......and it was too shameful to admit that an offspring of their was so imperfect.
What if we weren't flawed? What if our parents were incapable of giving unconditional love? What if their hearts were broken and suddenly there we were, reminding them of all their unmet needs with every cry. Tormenting them with every happy baby giggle?
Every legitimate human need we had reminded them of how many unmet needs they had, beginning with the most basic -- feeling safe and full and loved. Their inability to give unconditional love made us feel unworthy and ashamed. But it had NOTHING to do with who we are.
It was as if they gave us all permanent insecurity blankets.
Our cries were their cries of hunger and loneliness. Each cry echoed in their hearts, but they were as uncertain as we feel now. They were as guarded and brittle, as fearful as we feel most of the time.
Is it any wonder we feel like failures, unloved and unlovely failures? When we begin to softly moan about how we feel rejected by our parents or family, stop and ask this: are they capable of reaching out and loving? Or were they also rejected and thwarted?
Perhaps we feel they never really saw us, never really embraced us for who we are.
Pretend we were raised by wolves or prairie dogs
If our parents seem incapable of the love we need now, how could they have ever been able to give us love?
Consider that they were already busily feeling unloved and unappreciated when we came along. Did we even have a chance not to have ours heart broken?
And if they were limping along, themselves feeling unloved, when you were born, then all the insecurity we've carefully carried around with us as a substitute for feeling wanted had NOTHING to do with us.
It was as if we had been raised by wolves who made sure we were warm and fed, but had not a clue what else to do with a human creature. Is it any wonder that we don't recognize the language of fully alive human love? We are still tearing raw meat from bones, waiting to go on the next hunt.
Pretend we were raised by wolves who did the best they could. Now it is time to claim our heritage as a humans, not one of the instinctive pack.
We will have to learn the ways of a new pack. Perhaps we can look around and pick a substitute family. Maybe we were raised by prairie dogs that rushed under ground at every cloud shadow that reminded them of a hawk. Maybe we were raised by squirrels who couldn't rest until every nut was safely buried, just in case. Perhaps we were raised by cows whose sole destiny was to become hamburger...and it was inevitable that we would become hamburger, too, after a life of regurgitating our cud.
Is this who we want to affirm us? To see us? The squirrel? The cow? The wolf?
Shouldn't we stop looking for approval and affirmation from the outside? Revel in the unique, marvelous, perfectly imperfect beings we are -- whether raised by wolves or squirrels or some other creature -- but fully human in all ways.
A tiny step
You may feel confused at first because much of what you have taken for granted is not the way of the fully alive, the awake, human.
Stop judging yourself and others. You are not a melon or a car. Comparison shopping? Do you look at your happiness and your pain and say, "It is better or worse than his or hers?" Joy and pain are both transient states. You place the "better or worse" label on them and then mistake that judgment for reality!
You are who you are, and your feelings ebb and flow unceasingly. Even if you've worn a mask and body armor for many years, even if you have labeled yourself as happy, sad, organized, talented, all-thumbs, brave, funny or whatever.......under it all, the essential person you are is alive and well.
Reach into your heart and share compassion. They are and you are. Begin with yourself. You don't need to fix yourself. Or find yourself. You need to learn how to let go all that is not helpful, all that is not your true essence. There are no demands on you to fix others, either. Learn to see and accept.
Let your compassion for all suffering flow from your heart. Compassion can heal your own wounds as well as sending warmth and love into the universe.
Try to be present. To be aware. To be where you are. Slow down. What is outside your window? What is flying overhead? What is at your feet, looking for its breakfast, too? Look at the other living creatures we share the earth with. We are not alone in either our joy or our suffering.
Feel where you are, not feel where you were, and project it into here and tomorrow.
Learn how to make your life mindful as well as heartful. You are the teacher and the student. Can you reach out, explore, and welcome heartstuff no matter what it brings?
It is so simple, but the hardest thing you will ever do. Get help if you need it. Find a teacher, a coach, a friend to share with. Don't give up. Even the talkingest heads among us can live out of their hearts.
Then turn the eyes of compassion outward. You heal as others heal with you. You feel as others feel with you. If you are afraid to change, simply concentrate on compassion. As you work to understand and love, you will find that you are courageous. You are not afraid because you understand that you are one of many. Not alone. Not ever disconnected.
copyright 2002 constance lee menefee all rights reserved