A version of this essay was originally published in Words for the Journey, the monthly email publication of the Chrysalis Institute.
As I write this, I’m sitting in the Cardiovascular Center of a large medical complex in northern New Jersey, waiting to see my mother, who has just survived open heart surgery.
Two new valves – one cow, one pig – now reside in her heart, replacing the ones that were initially damaged during an episode of strep throat that went untreated when she was a young woman.
Waiting through something like this is hard – knowing your loved one is down a long hallway from you, chest split open, her life literally in someone else’s hands.
But while I could have clamped down in fear this morning, something about the experience instead invited me to risk opening up my own heart.
Part of what got me through this morning was thinking about the larger meaning of the act taking place in that room:
The healing of a heart.
My mom has worked conscientiously over the years to care for her heart through regular exercise and a healthy plant-based diet. But she needed help from others to make her heart as strong as it can be.
I too have been tending my heart, particularly over the last several months.
Thanks to my participation in the Spiritual Paths program at Chrysalis, I’ve doubled down on the journaling that has been an important but sporadic spiritual practice for me over the last 30 years.
And one of the profound things this practice has taught me is to connect more fully with my heart.
I’ve learned that...
- My journaling experience is deeper and more meaningful when I quiet my mind and invite my heart to speak instead.
- The practice is more healing when the “me” who speaks back is directing words of love toward that same wise-but-vulnerable heart.
- The practice is more moving and impactful when I invite my heart to expand so that it embraces both me and the many others around me.
The act of doing these things so often on the pages of my journal has rubbed off on me. As I go through my days now, I find myself communing with my heart at other times too.
It was a gift to find that new habit kicking in this morning when I most needed it.
Here’s what that looked like...
(You can do this too. Practiced consistently, these techniques will build your emotional intelligence, deepen your level of self-compassion, and cultivate a more joyful way of engaging with the world — even during the toughest of times.)
#1: There was a turning to my heart’s wisdom to guide me in how to orient toward today’s events.
#2: There was a gentle, silent murmuring to my heart, speaking words of comfort and reassurance that it would come through this intact – even if faced with a seemingly heart-breaking outcome.
#3: There was a simple witnessing of my heart’s shifting currents. (That witnessing is a holy act, I’ve discovered...)
- Periods of peaceful receptivity – alternating with waves of quiet fear.
- A skipping hopefulness when the doctor emerged earlier than expected.
- A warm, brimming fullness after sharing the good news with my dad, whose health prevented him from being physically present today.
- The sensation of that fullness spilling over as I let my heart expand beyond my own narrow circle of concern and responsibility — as I looked around and suddenly realized the waiting room was crowded with others just like me, all of us holding our breath a little as we waited for news of our loved ones, an oh-so-human heart beating inside each one of our fragile ribcages.
#4: And a spreading, at last, of Love – to my companions in this room, to the family and friends waiting anxiously for my email updates, to the medical team who shepherded my mom safely through the morning, to those two animals whose lives were sacrificed in part so my mom could continue to live hers fully.
Even spreading love to you, the reader who will one day look at these words. You are a part of my journey today, and I hold you gratefully in my heart.
As with my mom, there’s lots I can do – and have done – to tend to my own heart. But for both of us – for all of us – it can’t stop there.
Love is healing medicine, and it works best when we share it freely and swallow it whole.