Recently, I was asked to give a brief presentation on the topic, “Hearts Broken Wide Open for the World.” One question that emerged as I sat quietly with the theme is how can a broken heart lead to a place of deeper peace and joy, a state where we can hear Spirit’s call to join the great Awakening also known as the restoration of God’s Beloved Creation or Community? What would such a journey look like?
In the African American community we have a name for brokenheartedness; it’s called the blues. Somehow “Hearts Broken Open for the World” conjures up a malaise, a kind of sadness with an edge of discomfort which often emerges when a sense of helplessness is attached to the melancholy. Unfortunately, malaise can also lead to immobilization—the feeling of being so overwhelmed by the events in the world that one cannot act.
In my experiences as a heart transplant recipient of nearly twenty-five years and a spiritual director for about 14 years I have encountered many wounded hearts; sometimes the wounding results in a CLOSED heart. But there are others whose broken hearts have shattered wide OPEN. This is an important distinction because we know from our friend, poet and songwriter, the late Leonard Cohen, that “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” A heart broken wide open provides the perfect conditions for Love’s Light to seep in and begin to heal our hearts so we may use them wisely. Another important opportunity arises when our hearts are broken wide open. We can pause and take a look inside. And this contemplative practice is one I engaged in several years ago.
About 26 years ago on a routine visit to my cardiologist I was informed by him that I would need a heart transplant soon. Feeling like someone had dropped a bomb on me and my life, in all of the hysteria I was feeling, Spirit led me to a wonderful psychotherapist, Ricardo Esparza who suggested I should talk to my heart about it. After some deliberation, I chose to let go of my judgements that this activity was some kind of psychobabble, “California Woo Woo;” (I am a former psychology professor and native Californian so I possess no guilt about using these labels). Curious about using a Jungian technique called Active Imagination that I had read about but never practiced, I decided I would write one conversation on a yellow pad.
What resulted were 20 conversations occurring over a 22 month period as my old and new hearts led me through a physical, emotional, and deeply spiritual transformation. I learned that buried beneath my heart is a spiritual heart, a topic that Tilden Edwards has spoken and written so eloquently about and that the spiritual heart carries a wealth of wisdom.
In my memoir, When the Heart Speaks, Listen—Discovering Inner Wisdom, published earlier this year, Heavy Harvey, the name of my old heart spells it out for me in one of our conversation, titled “A Heart Full of Disappointment,” and I want to share a very brief excerpt of it.
LERITA: Heavy, I forgot about one more thing that I want you to pack up and take with you.
HH: More stuff? Actually I am glad. You’ll have extra room for your new heart to sing and dance. What is it?
LERITA: I feel very disappointed.
HH: You’re right about that. It is so heavy and thick it has almost suffocated me at times. I was wondering when you were going to mention it. I thought disappointments would be at the top of the list.
LERITA: You did?
HH: Yes, you have enough disappointment to fill a van.
LERITA: Is it that bad?
HH: Lerita. Why do you think my name is Heavy Harvey? Why do you think our disease worsened to the point that they can’t fix it? Why do you think my muscles have thickened to the point that I can hardly pump?
LERITA: You attribute all of that to my being disappointed with life?
HH: I am heavy with your disappointments and resentments, your jealousy and envy, shame and feelings of inadequacy, your contempt, and…
LERITA: OK. OK. I get the picture.
HH: The disappointment, though, is the heaviest of all. And remember, you named it first a few months ago when you listed the things in your heart. There’s more disappointment than anything.
LERITA: Sort of like the label on food products that provide the list of ingredients?
HH: Right. So the first one listed is the item the product contains most of. Why didn’t you work on disappointment first?
LERITA: It didn’t occur to me immediately. I was caught off guard during that first conversation about packing. As I reflected on these dialogues, I realized that I need you to take the disappointment. I don’t know why I have so much. I guess I hate living in this hellhole of a world. What is there to look forward to? Nothing has turned out like I thought it would.
I’d like to mention that my new heart, Grace also had a great deal to say about the “stuff” or emotional baggage that we carry in our hearts. She actually characterized negative emotions as having stenches or odors that could knock a heart out, and that positive emotions emit aromas that sometimes smelled like the peace and serenity of a forest. Both hearts agree that noisy emotions like the rumination that accompanies anxiety, anger, and resentment prevent us from hearing Spirit’s Guidance.
My spiritual mentor, trusted spiritual guide, mystic and theologian, Howard Thurman might add to our musings about hearts broken wide open for the world. He would advise us to:
1) Regularly center down and expose our beings to the scrutiny of God and connect with the Eternal that lies within us all
2) Use our outrage constructively, to better someone else’s life rather than to become bitter.
3) Avoid falling into the swamp of intolerance of those we perceive as intolerant, to use our energy to educate and enlighten, to awaken through love and compassion those who remain fearfully asleep in a fog of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, classism, and materialism.
4) Engage in regular exchanges with people whose lives, cultures, and perspectives differ from our own. Howard Thurman felt that racial, ethnic, national, and international reconciliation was essential not because it was the right thing to do but because you cannot have union with God without it.
So take a minute or so, close your eyes, take some deep breaths and
- Reflect on whether or not your heart is open or closed to everyone,
- Consider what you may be carrying in your hearts, and
- Ponder about how each of us is uniquely called to and what role we are being asked to play in the restoration of God’s Beloved Creation.
EXHALE…as you prepare for this holiday week of Thanksgiving with family and friends see if you can let go of what might be weighing on your heart.
Now do you feel a little more peace and joy in your heart? 💚🧡💛❤️🤎
When the Heart Speaks, Listen—Discovering Inner Wisdom is now available as an audiobook on Audible and iTunes.
For more information about the life and work of Howard Thurman, check out his page on the peaceforhearts.com website or search the web for Howard Thurman virtual listening room.