This whole month at Trust Tending has been focused on love. I’m not sure about you, but for me, maintaining that focus post-Valentine’s Day has felt a bit like holding a tough yoga pose: the far more natural instinct is to shift to something easier. Something like slippers and sweats after a day in fussy clothing (or after an early February dripping with hearts and sweets and sentimentality…).
I’ve been learning something this month, though, that makes that very analogy – the one of a tough yoga pose – perfect, and altogether trust-inducing, for love.
Historically, I have been both slow to trust and enormous-hearted. I haven’t trusted easily, but once I have, I’ve TRUSTED. Which of course has set me up for enormous disappointments, since TRUSTING – expecting a person or thing to forever be everything (and more!) you want them to be – isn’t fair to any person, place, or thing. Buddhists say all is in flux, and I really think they’re right. People and things will change – will evolve and devolve, will delight and disappoint, will prove more predictable and more puzzling than ever we imagine they can be. And, given enough time, our perceptions of them will change, too.
So the disappointments that my TRUSTING caused made me guard my heart more and more carefully. They made me assume that soft-and-unguarded-heartedness were actually synonymous with naivete, at best, and stupidity in all other cases. A set-up for being hurt and scandalized, both.
I’ve had a slow dawning this winter, however, of a radically different view of soft-heartedness (the flux strikes again!), which crystallized during my interview with Rachael Maddox. Rachael and I were talking about how to move from being hurt and holding a grudge to a place of softness again toward the person (or, I might add, group or institution or divinity) that did the wounding (that segment of the interview begins around the 9:30 mark). And at one point we asked the question: How does it feel to hold the grudge? Does that feel better than the alternative?
Something about asking that question ran cracks through the wall I hardly knew I’d constructed around my heart. It introduced into my understanding of love a brand new possibility that changes so much for me: maintaining a soft heart, no matter what, because it feels better than the alternative.
But this isn’t just any sort of soft heart. To go back to that yoga pose analogy, there’s a lot involved with this one.
Here are some things that this type of soft heart isn’t:
- An expectation that the person or institution you’re directing it toward will be safe or trustworthy or kind.
- A type of payment that obligates the recipient to be grateful or respectful or soft-hearted back.
- A willingness to be used or walked on.
- A free pass for the other to treat you poorly without consequences or tension being held right back by you.
- A force field that keeps you from getting hurt or disappointed.
- A numbing out or suppressing of your anger or frustration.
And here are some things that it is:
- An intentional and repeated holding down/peeling back/unbuilding of the wall that instinctually wants to form around your heart when you’re hurt or afraid or angry.
- A visualization, repeated often (as necessary!), of your heart being soft, open and receptive.
- An awareness that all people and all institutions will disappoint and frustrate you. Period. If they haven’t yet, give them time and they will.
- In light of that awareness, a shrinking back of judgment, condescension, and feelings of indignation when a person or institution angers or disappoints you. (Of course! This is one of the things that people and institutions do! I have and will do these kinds of things, too!)
- An acknowledgment of life’s perpetual flux, which can include the surprise of something or someone who has hurt you changing, growing, evolving into something new. And your perceptions of them, too.
- A visceral remembrance of grudges you’ve held in the past, of times when your heart was closely guarded, of times when your heart itself felt (or still feels) like a fist: tight, rigid, ready for a fight. And a growing ability to compare what those things feel like with the feeling of a soft, unguarded, receptive heart.
I’m not sure how to express the profundity of this pose. How much it changes how I feel toward other people. How much less dependent it makes me on things outside myself to get to the kind of inner peace for which I long.
This heart? This unguarded one that can say no and that hurt me and I can’t let you do that around me again in the very same breath as I love you and I’m open to hear what you think; this heart that can beat freely and unscandalized in the face of meanness and hostility; this heart that requires no apology or promise of change to stay open; this heart that begins to “get”, in an ever deepening way, what compassion is, and love, and being truly, deeply at ease: it feels so good. Almost too good to be true, but for the fact that I’ve been feeling it a lot this month. Practicing the pose. Testing it out in a number of relationships and discovering – to the surprise of the parts of myself that have always advised more, rather than less, bricks to be added to the walls around my heart – that instead of opening me up to greater hurt, it’s actually healing my greatest hurts. Instead of making me more vulnerable to life’s inevitable punches, it’s giving me a kind of suppleness and flex and strength, that can handle life’s punches far better than any wall or tensed-up fists-up ever could.
My TRUST, with its all-or-nothing, ultimatum-laden graspingness is turning into a deeper, more open-handed trust as I practice maintaining this natural, unnatural pose. Me, who, truth be told, has never tried yoga once.