Wise Words – Your Most Important Spiritual Task: Opening Your Heart

“If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

C.S. Lewis

A sadness comes over me as I read these words and recognize the truth of it in me. Over the years, I have learned how to protect myself by armoring my heart.  

We all do, I suppose. Shortly after our birth, the world began to show us it can be a hurtful place. One moment, we felt a sense of union and safety with our parents, and the next, we felt the devastating ache of absence. So, we learned to shield ourselves from painful feelings by shutting off the heart. 

These preverbal lessons embedded themselves in the first layers of our psyche. And perhaps the most painful early scar was to adopt the false belief that somehow the fault must be in us, that we are not lovable. In various ways, we all share the early tragic misconception that we are not okay as we are.

A closed heart offers protection, but deep down, we know there is a terrible cost. That is what Lewis is describing. The armor deadens us so we cannot feel the flow of life. And it is the flow of life we want, even more than safety because that is where we feel the belonging, love, and union we crave.  

As we age, we reach a point where the weight of the armor is no longer worth it. The armor has become more an anchor than a shield, and we realize we would rather swim than drown.

Dropping the armor and opening the heart may be the most difficult task on the spiritual journey and the most important. The heart is more than just the seat of our emotions and the foundation of meaningful relationships. It is an organ of spiritual perception. Opening the heart activates our intuition and inner knowing, giving us access to a wider world of information than our normal senses allow.

I disagree with Lewis on one count: a closed heart is never irredeemable. No matter where we are in life, we have the ability to begin the difficult, courageous act of opening the heart and facing the flow of life. We have worn the armor for so long it seems the only normal way to be. But creating the armor was really just a stage in our growth, a cocoon we can shed when we are ready.

We become aware of when our heart is closing when we feel it constrict, when we are irritated, frustrated, or fearful. Because we have so many memories that contributed to the armor, we have lots of triggers that cause the heart to constrict. This is good! Each trigger is a new opportunity to revisit an old lesson and approach things differently, opening our hearts to feel the discomfort and see what is there to be learned.

And at its core is the deepest wound, the false belief that you are not okay just as you are.

You are deeply loved. Is there a voice inside you that scoffs when you hear this? That is the old armor speaking, still working hard to protect you. You are loved not only by the people around you, but by the universe itself, continually drawing you into its embrace. Soften your heart and allow yourself to open to this universal love.

If you pause and look for it, just beneath the fear, you can feel how strong you are, buoyed by an internal calm. You have tools and insights now that you did not have when you were young that allow you to stand in the fire of intense emotions and retrieve the younger you. The “now you” is capable of showing the “then you” that you are okay.

This is the journey. There would be no spiritual journey if you had not walked through painful experiences that you shut away until you were mature enough to revisit them, wounds that waited patiently for the older you to return and show that the magnificence of love can work its magic even here.

Psychologically, you could call this a therapeutic process. Spiritually, you could say you are growing your capacity to feel the love you are immersed in, opening the channel running through your center that regulates how you give and receive love.

Opening the heart does not happen all at once, it is a continual effort of many small steps. We have countless opportunities to practice throughout the day. Every irritation, imagined threat, perceived slight, awkward comment, or self-critical thought is a chance to soften the armor a little more and open to whatever life is bringing.

The next time you notice your heart beginning to constrict, don’t close down. Stay open, sink into the feelings, and see what happens. After a few moments, do you feel stronger? Is there a calm beneath the agitation? Can you sense that you are not alone? If you surrender to it, can you find the ocean of assistance waiting there for you?

Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

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