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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Living with an open heart

Living with an open heart...seems so easy on the surface. Be open, accepting, compassionate...easy in those moments of comfort...harder in those moments of difficulty.

In meditation and yoga we often talk about opening our hearts, letting go of barriers, being compassionate to all. In those brief peaceful moments it feels attainable. Yet when we go out into the world and face the challenges of our daily lives, keeping an open heart is a challenge.

When frustrated or angry, my response is often to shut down my heart, build a barrier, and refuse to feel compassionate. Those habitual patterns seem easier than facing the difficulties within myself or my relationships. But, as Pema Chodron says, if I do something different, anything different, I can change those patterns and keep my heart open.

Sometimes its as simple as breathing...yet simple as it is, it is often difficult to do. Sometimes it's laughing at the absurdity of the situation or of my own response to it. Mostly it's letting go of my expectations, changing my perspective, and softening the rigidity that sets in when facing difficulties.

Taking a moment to put myself in the shoes of the other person, trying to see things from their perspective, is a huge part of my practice of compassion. A friend recently asked me if understanding the other person's situation justifies their inappropriate behavior. I of course said no, but if I can keep my heart open to understand and feel compassion for a person who has hurt me or someone I care about, then perhaps the next time I make a huge mistake or a small misstep I can be compassionate with myself as well. We all know we are harder on ourselves than anyone else and compassion must start within.

So why try to live with an open heart? It is, after all, a difficult journey. I believe that through practicing living with an open heart, mistakes and all along the way, that I can change the world one moment of compassion at a time. I can teach and model this for my children, pass it on to those with whom I interact every day, and have positive impact on the world. Idealistic, yes. I don't expect to change everything and everyone, but those little ripples and waves of compassion flowing out into the universe will grow and influence each life they touch.

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