The essential nature of every human being is deeply sensitive, gentle, peaceful, loving and caring.
We can observe this most easily when we come into contact with the innocence of a newly born creature, like a child, a tiny lamb, a puppy or a tiny kitten. Something in our heart is touched by the total vulnerability of such a creature, and we feel moved to behave in a very gentle and careful way, as if we are in the presence of the most delicate thing in the world.
But what about ourselves? We also were once an innocent newborn baby, in need of delicate care and gentle loving treatment. Has that part of us disappeared? No, it is still there. That part still exists within us. It is our heart, which still needs to be treated with gentleness and kindness as much as it did in our early years of life. Our heart has not changed at all. Of course, many people lose touch with that part of themselves, due to the seeming “toughness” of life, the competitiveness of living, encouraged through schooling and hierarchical societal structure, where we are told must obey those above us, and encouraged to command those below us.
Yet the heart thirsts for equality, for mutual recognition of the deep value of kindness and humility. These are the most precious qualities in life, and we all possess them, because they are part of the language of the heart. But have we become too tough to be gentle? Do we believe that vulnerability and gentleness are a sign of weakness? Because the opposite is actually true.
It is easy to be tough, cold, uncaring and so on. Our society encourages it, and it means that we don’t need to be in touch with our heart. We can forget our heart and go through life with this tough-minded attitude, arrogantly and uncaringly teaching people the lessons we think they need to learn, toughening them up in the process. Because many people believe that you need to be tough to survive in this world. To get anywhere, to make any progress, you need to be a little bit ruthless, able to disconnect from your heart at will.
Yet what does such a belief system do to us? It makes us believe that we are stronger without our connection to our heart. But again, the opposite is true. Strength comes from our willingness to empathise with others who may be experience deep suffering. It takes great courage to do this, because in doing so, we feel the pain of another, and we share their burden. Who is willing to do this? This is the courageousness of the open heart, which does not close itself to anything, but just cares, and it cares unconditionally.
In society, the norm is to care only for the people close to us – our family and close friends. But what about the homeless person you may see crying in the street? Do they not also need a caring arm around their shoulder? Do they not also need some kind words of support and encouragement, to prevent them from giving up on life?
Many people in this world do need this, and often it is the people who may smile at you and tell you everything is fine. When you really open your heart and your ears to that person, you may find out that they are struggling to stay afloat in life, as strong currents of change buffer them around in ways that they do not know how to cope with.
We all need support, but we don’t always realise it. And we all need support to remain open, to remain vulnerable and caring when the world around us seems to be such a hostile and uncaring place. In the midst of this, it can be so easy to say to ourselves “what is the point in being kind, what is the point in being caring when I just keep getting hurt?” And this is where we need our strength and courage the most, so that we can remain open to the world and not hide the fact that we feel vulnerable or threatened by circumstances.
It is okay to be afraid. It is okay to be insecure. We do not have to be “strong and tough” and tell ourselves to stop being pathetic. Because this is how the harsh, uncaring mind speaks to the heart. It has no tolerance for insecurity, for the delicate nature of the heart, which needs the right conditions to open up, blossom and flourish.
Would an orchid or a rose deliberately open it’s petals in the face of pressure hose? No, it would wait until the right conditions are present, when the force is not so strong, so that it will not be damaged in any way. This is natural, and this is what human being need also. We need supportive conditions, a supportive environment so that we feel safe to open up and show our true beauty.
Because this is what our heart longs to do – to open up fully, to feel the freedom and liberation of doing so, so that it may experience the warming rays of the sun shining upon its very core, and so that it may give its beauty to the world, which is its purpose in life.
If the heart remains closed, it simply remains unfulfilled. Therefore, if we are experiencing a lack of fulfilment in our life, it is not because we haven’t achieved what we wanted to achieve, or we haven’t attained what we wanted to attain. It is only because we have not allowed out heart to open to the degree which it needs to (and truly, it needs to open fully).
This may sound scary to some people – to open their heart fully – but if we can allow ourselves to create or perhaps discover an environment in which we feel safe to do so – which may involve disconnecting ourselves from certain groups of people and certain activities – it is not remotely scary. In fact, it is very exciting, because when the heart begins to open, what happens? More love comes into our life. More beauty is perceived in the world around us, and within us also. Life becomes richer and richer, and we feel more and more enthusiastic about sharing who we really are with the people around us, about dropping our barriers and pretences and letting more of our innate joy flow outwards in our communications and interactions.
It is really only the mind which holds on to fear. It always foresees further suffering, further disappointment and pain, and thus our heart naturally closes in response to what we mentally believe we are sure to experience. But even if we have experienced disappointment many times in our life, even if we have been hurt by others time and time again, the suffering only occurs when we close our heart. It may feel like the words or actions of another are responsible for our pain, but what has actually happened is that we have attached our feelings of love and inner happiness to the words or actions of another person, which – as we all know – are not 100% reliable.
How can we keep our heart open in the face of unkind words from another? Do we just stand there and take it? Because it does hurt when someone is cruel with their words, or hostile with their behaviour. This is a dilemma that many people face, because sensitive, heart-centred people want love to be a constant in their life, not something which comes and goes, so easily influenced by external occurrences.
This is why strength of heart needs to be developed in us all, because there certainly are challenging environments and challenging people that we will encounter, if only to show us the degree to which our peace, love and inner-freedom are still dependent of external circumstances.
So how do we develop our strength of heart? And what do we do when subjected to hostility or unkindness from another person? How do we keep our peace and our connection to our sensitivity, without experiencing pain?
We must be very careful with our choices. For example, if you know there is a person who wants to be unkind to you, to hurt you (either physically, emotionally or mentally) would you go knocking on their door? Probably not. What if you bump into this person in the street? Do you stand there and engage with them, while they barrage you with their unkind energy?
Because to be strong in your heart does not mean to just take whatever is thrown at you. Would you subject a young child to a person who was being unkind? No, the sensitive and caring thing to do would be to remove that child from the situation, and we must treat ourselves in the same way, to protect ourselves as much as possible from hostility and unkindness, because it does hurt. Even if your heart is strong, it hurts. There are ways to deal with such energy when it is directed at you, but the most intelligent thing to do is to not choose environments where this is likely to happen. Again, remember that your heart needs a safe and supportive environment for it open up and show it’s beauty.
Imagine for a moment that you were in a beautiful natural place, enjoying the cooling breeze, listening to the beautiful bird song. Then along comes someone with a really loud ghetto-blaster (a portable sound system!) and they are playing very loud and aggressive music and they have no desire to reduce the volume at all.
What do you do? Stay there and be subjected to this unpleasant noise? Or get up, and go and find somewhere else which is more peaceful? You are free to choose.
Why do people put up with unkindness? Why do they stand there and let people be hostile to them? The intelligent and more loving thing to do for oneself is to remove oneself from the situation. Because often, if we do not, our buttons get pushed and we find ourselves reacting with anger, or perhaps even with tears. We must protect ourselves from hostil energies as much as we would protect an innocent child, because deep inside, that’s exactly what we are. We can remember this by nurturing, caring and protecting ourselves to the degree which we really need to be. We have to help ourselves to remain sensitive, by choosing appropriate environments, surroundings, social circles and so on. This is why it is very good to join a meditation group, for example, because the people who attend are interested on peace. If you join a karate group instead, the people who you gather with may not be so peace-loving! We are for more sensitive than we realise, and we are influenced by what is going on within other people, even of it is not outwardly evident. Even if someone is having angry thoughts and we are in their presence, it will effect us on a subtle level and make it that little bit more difficult to be open and vulnerable with them.
But what about our own mind? We are in the presence of that all day and all night. There is no running away from our own mentality, so how do we deal with harsh thoughts about ourself, especially when they never seem to stop, always judging us, criticising us relentlessly…
Firstly, it is important to understand where such voices come from. It is often the voice of a critical parent which we have adopted in our own mind, and continues to speak to us even if the parent is no longer present. It could be the voice of an unkind teacher we once had. It could even be the voice of a peer group, who perhaps in the past (or in the present) judged us, mocked us, criticised us or humiliated us. Such things are often carried within the mind of a child into adulthood, without them even realising it.
Yet within our own heart, we know what we truly need. We know we need to be treated with tolerance, with patience, with kindness. We need to feel that we will not be judged for expressing our feelings, but rather, be encouraged to feel safe to do so. Everyone needs this, because everyone has a heart, and every heart has a gentleness, an innocence that it must feel free to express. This is the delicate vulnerability that exists within the heart of even the very toughest and strongest of people we see. It is there and it needs to be recognised. It needs to be allowed expression.
This is why artists and creative people often seem much more sensitive than others, because they are more in touch with this part of their being. They allow their sensitivity to flow into their work; in fact it is essential if they are to feel creatively inspired. This is often the problem for people who have uninspiring jobs, or lives which contain nothing that really speaks to their heart. They have no way to allow their innocense and vulnerably to flow outwards.
Of course, loving relationships are often sought by people so that they can show the innocence of their heart and their vulnerability. If just one other person in the world can see this precious aspect of us, we feel deeply satisfied and fulfilled. We know that who we truly are has been seen, and that it is okay. What a beautiful feeling.
So it is important that we show others that it is okay to be vulnerable and sensitive by being that way ourselves. It does not mean we have to be insecure or nervous. It means we have to show our heart, without hiding it. We have to allow others to see our innocence and our naïvety if it is there.
People are so preoccupied with appearing knowledgeable, detached, to be in control and cool – untroubled and untouched by emotions. So masks are worn, and the heart is not seen. People subconsciously pick up on this and sense that to be acceptable, they must also wear similar masks. This is like living in a theatre, surrounded by actors, with no true depth of feeling present in anyone, because it is carefully hidden behind a very convincing façade. This is not a remotely rewarding way to live, and simply creates a sense of falseness and alienation within all who participate in the charade.
But when you find a group of people with whom you can show yourself – your innocence, your playful inner child, without fear of judgement – then this is a very special thing. Sometimes it just takes one person to be courageous enough to show the others that it is safe to be real, and everyone relaxes. No pretence is needed. Phew! Thank God for that!
Really, within the heart of each person is the need to smile, to be playful and happy like a child. Because our heart does not “grow up” like the rest of us does. It remains innocent. All that happens is that we learn to suppress it and override it with our sophisticated and complicated adult mind, which plays so many clever games to prevent us from truly being seen.
The truth is that many people feel vulnerable. Many people do feel scared of being seen for who they truly are, because they were not treated with the gentleness they needed when they were young. They may have had a highly critical parent, who scorned self expression, vulnerability or even joyfulness and happiness! The result is simple an adult who learned long ago what behaviour is acceptable in the world, what behaviour will gain them approval (often in their own mind).
Because the prisons we live in are those created in our childhood, where we learned what was allowed and not allowed. We may have a deep desire to sing out loud or express our happiness in some other way, but we do not allow ourselves. Many adults will not allow themselves to be child-like, foolish, silly, playful expressive and so on, simply because they learned that to progress in the adult world, one must behave in a certain way. Otherwise people may just think you are an idiot, a fool or perhaps even crazy. But who cares? Your freedom must take priority, becaue it is you who must live with the frustrated energy that is the result of holding yourself in, keeping yourself in a socially acceptable box. It is not worth it.
Many people on the spiritual path overlook (or choose to ignore) the fact that liberation will not come about through becoming more serious. We have to set ourselves free from the limitations created by our controlling mind. Young children do not have to become enlightened, to spiritually awaken, because they are not limited. The adult mind has not been developed in them, therefore the prison has not been built. They are free, they feel free. They don’t know the meaning of restriction and limitation, until it is imposed upon them by adults who believe they know better. We have much to learn from children, and the greatest thing we can do is to drop our gravity and seriousness, and allow our heart to become playful again.
We will never be free “in our mind”. We must remember ourselves beyond the mind, find our innate joy and happiness once more and realise that we have been given the most glorious playground we could ever wish for; Planet Earth. Because this planet is essentially a place of joy. The fruits hang from the trees as gifts from mother nature, to energise us and to make us happy. The sun shines, the cool breeze blows, the vegetation grows, the waters run… all with an innate sense of deep harmony.
The only problem is that humankind has overridden this harmony – which should also flow through us – with a more dis-harmonious energy created by our thoughts. We worry, we fear, we imagine things going wrong, and sometimes they do. Sometimes we lose things that we valued deeply. Yet is there anything more valuable than the unconditioned happiness, peace, joy and freedom within our heart? Can they be replaced by anything in this material world?
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