The Only Heart Worth Having

A note from Erin:

I was recently listening to a favorite podcast, Living Myth with Michael Meade, and he quoted this proverb:
The only heart worth having is a broken heart. 
Ain’t it the truth? (Dammit. It’s true. If only it were about feeling good.)

But alas, it’s not. Not anymore. Orienting primarily toward our own wellbeing while actively ignoring powerful truths that hurt to consider? Well – if you’ve ever tried that in your personal life (haven’t we all?) you know it doesn’t work.

We’re being called to courage, compassion and clarity every day by the news of climate change, of political divisiveness, of seeing the painful truths of racism, misogyny, and homophobia and more, on display so clearly.

I don’t want an I feel good and I don’t want to acknowledge the hard stuff because it makes me feel bad-heart.
I want a heart broken open. Yet not one that wallows in dysfunctional despair.
I want a heart broken open enough to be grateful for the gift of a simple morning with a cup of coffee, sipped in a relatively safe place, with the knowledge that people I love are alive today. A broken open heart is tenderized by the knowledge that it won’t always be this way, and knows that enjoying a cup of coffee in a safe place makes me one of the richest people in the world.

A broken open heart becomes fertile soil for gratitude. We know how easily a life is ended, so often way too soon. The broken open heart knows refugees are arriving cold and wet and desperate on a rocky shore in a foreign land and wishes to help, even as it delights in the luminous little goldfinches coming to the feeder.  A broken open heart knows that someone we love is losing their memory and letting their hair get weird and their neck which was once cheerful and strong and upright is now bent at an angle beyond belief. A broken open heart knows that impermanence keeps casting its spell, like it or not. The broken open heart knows that a brown-skinned person wonders if they will survive a simple traffic stop by a cop, and knows that a frightened police officer wonders if they’ll survive their next interaction, and that heart is determined to love this life like crazy while also doing whatever it can to help end the violence. The broken open heart is fiercely concerned about her friends raising brown-skinned children in this culture. The broken open heart knows this morning’s sunrise was a miracle, each peachy cloud a grand gesture never to happen again in just the same way. A broken open heart knows there may soon be no more polar bears, it knows the coral reefs are dying, it is terrified for the future of the young ones; it is so painfully tenderized by all this even as it raises a glass to celebrate a wedding. A broken open heart is touched. A broken open heart cares. A broken open heart is permeable to the beauty and the ache. A broken open heart is the only heart worth having.

Friends, I think it’s time to de-center the goal of personal improvement and personal enlightenment, and certainly personal pleasure. I think we’re being called to re-center LIFE, and to keep ourselves in intimate, broken-hearted, and life-giving connection with it. I think the future depends on it. I’m not saying do away with our own personal journey or enjoyment – but to place it in appropriate relationship with the circumstances in which we are living.

Though Chogyam Trungpa died 30 years ago, his words are as fresh as a splash of cool water:

“The way of cowardice is to embed ourselves in a cocoon in which we perpetuate our habitual patterns. When we are constantly recreating our basic patterns of habits and thought, we never have to leap into fresh air or onto fresh ground. 

The challenge of warriorship is to step out of the cocoon, to step out into space, by being brave and at the same time gentle. 

To be a spiritual warrior, one must have a broken heart; without a broken heart and the sense of tenderness and vulnerability, your warriorship is untrustworthy.”

Personally, I feel called to trustworthy warriorship. I feel called to dedicate the embodiment and awareness work I do to the greater cause of supporting the healing that is called for in these critical times. And I do think this work has an important role to play.

We need to sober up. It’s not like it used to be. I find I can’t stomach the spiritual bypassing that happens around these issues in many communities. One of my friends and mentors, Russell Delman recently wrote a beautiful piece exploring privilege. He shared that some Buddhist friends replied to him, “Oh, I thought you were more awakened than that. I thought you understood emptiness.” It’s so disappointing (maddening, actually) to find that others imagine spiritual maturity is sitting on a cushion resting in spacious awareness and following the breath while ignoring the suffering of the world. I don’t think so.

Rob McNamara writes “Regardless of our cultural orientations, liberal, conservative, postmodern, modern, or otherwise, let’s come together to train rigorously. We need each other. Let’s engage our differences with a more adaptive mutuality, and use our diversity to develop ourselves into more worthy instruments able to serve what we most value.”

I want to be a more worthy instrument to serve what I most value. Don’t you?

Allow me to jump subjects for a moment: I love when I work with clients doing hands-on Feldenkrais and Embodied Life work and after a time, they often share something like this: “I can’t believe I’m saying this but I am so grateful for my back injury! It’s helped me to change my life in ways I never could have imagined.”

In my deep heart, I’m imagining something similar could happen with these critical issues of our time. I love to imagine a near-future where we could say, “I’m so grateful for the climate crisis because it helped us to transform our lives and culture and very way of being so profoundly in ways we never could have imagined before.” I like to imagine something similar for issues around social justice, the refugee crisis, and more.

But here’s the thing: We must not turn away. I know how much it hurts to look. But we must, friends. We must have the courage to let our hearts break, and then go on.

“The task of a mature human being is to hold grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and let yourself be stretched large by them.” We are called to do what Francis Weller invites in this quote. To become mature human beings. 

A fierce determination to remain grateful is necessary ballast to let our hearts break.
(I’ll be teaching an online Embodied Gratitude class in August about just this topic of gratitude as ballast for the important work of our times. Details coming soon!)

For me, embodiment practices, like Feldenkrais, Embodied Life, Focusing, embodied meditation and more are intimately related with this whole topic. It’s astonishing how disembodied we are as a culture. We’re very “headist,” and we’re often disconnected from the intimate wisdom that lives in our embodied selves – in our guts, our hearts, our bones. It’s often true even of yogis and athletes who “work” their bodies, without so much listening. (I discovered disembodiment was true for me years ago even when I was a full-time yoga teacher, much to my dismay.)  One reason we avoid really centering ourselves below the head is because all the feelings we avoid are right there. They can be messy and frightening. To be in your body is not only to feel your own personal grief, but the grief for the world. It’s also where we feel our most intimate joy and love and presence. In my heart, along with gratitude for this gorgeous summer day, is painful grief for Philando Castille’s tragic and unnecessary death and the court ruling that followed.  I’m grieving for a punitive judicial system that pits people against one another, where what might actually be most helpful is for the officer to sit with the family and the community, to apologize, and for all of us to weep together. Grieving together might restore relationship, not just establish whether a tragic death was legal or not.  I think we need to let our hearts break together. You know the soft tenderness and humble groundedness you feel after a good cry? I know in my bones that good things will sprout from that soil in the hearts of those of us courageous enough to become permeable to life. 

A big emphasis in our embodiment work is to help people reliably find a sense of grounded, centered, embodied presence, with a courageous kindness toward what is. This stable, living foundation allows us to do the necessary work in our lives during these critical times without being overwhelmed. We discover there’s room for it all.  And we can show up, however imperfectly. And then do it again, with courage and humor and even joy.

Here’s an excerpt from Great Tide Rising, a powerfully sobering, heartbreaking, beautiful, devastating and encouraging book which I can’t recommend highly enough:

“Thich Nhat Hanh said, of the Buddha, “The real power…was that he had so much love. He saw people trapped in their notions of a small separate self, feeling guilty or proud of that self, and he offered revolutionary teachings that resounded like a lion’s roar, like a great rising tide, helping people to wake up and break free from the prison of ignorance.” That’s what the world must do now– summon from every voice the lion’s roar, gather from the seven seas the great rising tide, to stop the final plunder and wreck of the world.”

We must break free from the prison of ignorance. We must wake up. And let’s dare to do it with humor, and pleasure, and as much joy as we can muster, shan’t we? I don’t think we can do it without being embodied, present, and with courageous kindness.

Friends, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. 

One more quote from Great Tide Rising: “I believe that everything awaits redemption at every moment. Redemption: when the pieces, which are scattered, are brought together again into the vibrant harmony of living systems, when the whole that they create is beautiful and imbedded in even greater miracles of relation. We yearn to be called back in. Everything yearns to be called back into a right relationship, the frogs into their chorus, the cicadas into their pulsing choir, the people into Earth’s harmonies, the dancing insects into their light.” I’d like to add that the same is true of our bodies, hearts, and minds. We are called back to embodiment, to our innate wholeness, to full presence right here in this beautiful, suffering world.

I feel compelled to add this note: The imperative to wake up is not an invitation to freak out, guilt ourselves, and start making frantic to-do lists or “figure out what to do.”  I believe we’re being called to a different kind of consciousness altogether. I believe we’re being invited into profound connection. All the very best “thinking” and “to-do listing” and disconnected “improving” of the past centuries have led us to the very brink of human survival on earth. We can’t use that consciousness to heal the situation. We must each discover our own emergent, creative, embodied, aware, compassionate way into a livable future.

Here’s a heartening perspective from Michael Meade:

“The world is churning all around us, overheating with climate change and intensifying conflicts, but also awash with profound problems and rising seas. We live in critical times, amidst a worldwide shaking up and breaking down, surrounded by radical changes that severely affect both nature and culture. Given the size, scope, and complexity of the problems that currently threaten the world, there can be no single idea, specific political movement, or patented belief system that can save us. All kinds of ingenious solutions are needed; all types of inspiration, invention, and originality are now required. The idea of a genius self already present and trying to awaken within each of us may serve us better than more common notions of a heroic solution. The question becomes not whether or not you are a genius, but in what way does genius appear in you and how might it contribute to your own wellbeing and benefit the world around you.”

And as Kathleen Dean Moore says, “It doesn’t matter what it is. If it is generous to life, imagine it into existence.”
And as Dogen said, “It’s too late to be ready.”

To your lion’s roar and your native genius….
And with such gratitude that we’re in it together,

P.S. Our fall schedule is coming into shape! We still have room for you in our two amazing retreats in Boulder, Utah, and Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. An online Embodied Gratitude class is coming in August. We’ll open registration to our Fall Embodied Life class to prior students this weekend and to the public next Thursday. (Let us know if you want dibs on a spot!) And we’ve got more local fall workshops and online courses coming. Carl’s planning a Feldenkrais and Functional Fitness class (I can’t wait!) Plus I’m plotting two brief summer retreat days: A day of creative play and A day of poetry, meditation, and movement. Plus community sitting meditation and grief rituals coming soon. So much good stuff to share. More details will soon be revealed. And thanks so much for caring. 

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By training and profession, I am a somatic educator. Over the past 25+ years I have trained in and taught modern dance, tai chi, Indian and Tibetan yoga, yoga therapy (specializing in back pain). I completed a 4-year professional Feldenkrais training in 2007 and a 3-year Embodied Life training in 2014. I also study and work with somatic meditation and the profound practice of embodied inner listening known as Focusing.