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The Ground of the Heart

June 13, 2019

The Embodied Life work is based on cultivating Awareness in everyday life. We focus on being grounded in our physical body as a reliable doorway to the present moment. This capacity for being present and alive in the moment is a pre-condition of Awareness. To be grounded in our bodies implies enough settledness and stability to respond freshly to life rather than reacting from habit. To be grounded in our hearts requires something more.

After roughly fifty years of awareness practice, I can attest that being freshly present in daily life is not easy. We all seem to have finely developed strategies of self-distraction or "absencing" ourselves from the moment. Sometimes life feels like just too much and this distancing from the present moment might be helpful and restorative. Yet, all too often, this separating becomes a habit that over takes us. How often do we find ourselves lost in unhelpful thoughts and feelings, repetitive self-talk, habitually checking email or some other unfulfilling way of being quasi-alive? In our technologically consumed society, this distancing from our living experience breeds voraciously, like a rampant virus.

Still, most agree that being present creates much more meaningful and fulfilling experiences. When engaged in a conversation in which all people are truly listening or when we are deeply immersed in music, the quality of our experience is radically superior to moments of absencing. In my experience, as Awareness grows, gratitude and appreciation just for being alive simultaneously blossoms. This realization was the beginning of my journey into meditation and embodied awareness. This realization continues to guide my everyday life.

Choosing a path of awakening requires at least three qualities:

First, we need a capacity for clarity, which is the ability to notice our physical, emotional, and mental states along with perceiving the outer environment clearly and objectively. This allows us to recognize how we and others are, in a given moment.

Second, we need humor because it just is too painful to recognize our habits of self-distraction, of being lost in our stories and judgments of self and other, without the ability to take ourselves lightly. Laughing at oneself brings great relief from the disease of perfectionism. Groucho Marx and Charlie Chaplin were Zen masters!

Third, we need to grow an attitude of great caring toward our failures, disappointments and even our compulsions and those of others. I want to focus on this third quality - I call it the ground of the heart. The Greeks used the term agape to speak of the highest form of love or unconditional goodwill. This is the ground of the heart and, in my opinion, what we came into this life to learn.

When I hear terms like unconditional goodwill or highest form of Love, it sounds too big, maybe unattainable, for ordinary people like us. Yet, we all have sensed basic warmth and goodwill toward something or someone: a baby, a child, a pet, a teddy bear, a friend or, maybe, a grandparent. The "felt-sense" of these moments - how we feel them in our inner life and sense them in our bodies - is a model, a template, that lives in our brains. When we are not confused or lost in pain, we naturally wish life to blossom. Actually, this basic warmth and caring are not rare or unusual; loving-kindness is the ground of our hearts. For many of us, radiating this toward others can be easier than toward oneself. For some it is the opposite.

Turning toward ANY inner feeling or external situation with this attitude is healing. Importantly, this warmth and caring does NOT require or imply approving of or liking the "something" that is appearing in our experience. Rather, it is an attitude of goodwill that shines the light of awareness on whatever is alive in the moment. When this 'turning toward' becomes well developed, it is either immediately available or very near-by, never far away.

The practice of noticing and nurturing our important feelings* and reactions creates a reliably warm inner environment. Like a loving parent, we can simultaneously offer our care AND our clarity - distinguishing life-giving actions/thoughts from the harmful. This wise, clear parental energy can be directed toward both inner voices or outer situations.

When destructive, self-critical voices arise, we can turn toward them, listening for the pain from which they come. When our correctly righteous anger arises from witnessing hurtful behaviors, whether it is racial bias or environmental devastation, we can consciously choose the most effective responses. Responding with clarity rather than reacting habitually to the unacceptable is a powerful basis for healing. Warm-heartedness does not imply weakness; rather, from the potency of groundedness, we can choose not to add negativity to the situation. This is true whether directed internally or externally.

My recent experience of long-lasting, physical pain is a good example. Bringing warm-hearted awareness to the nauseating sensations, the disagreeable feelings, including the fears and moments of hating, allowed me to return quickly to equanimity, humor and acceptance. Similarly, upon encountering a person on a plane with political views that I despise, I found that meeting them with a warm heart, while also stating my views with conviction, created an atmosphere of respectful listening, with unknowable effects. Healing means " to make whole" and sometimes does not immediately eradicate the pain or difficulty. Agape does not eliminate difficulty, rather it allows troubling situations to become maximally workable. In addition, agape allows our joyful moments to be even richer and more fulfilling.

The ancient dictum "Love is stronger than death" means that agape transcends our life-destroying, life-negating habits. This means that the impulse toward hatred and denial, toward mental or physical violence, in fact ANY forms of life-denying behavior, is eventually healed in the light of unconditional warmth. From my experience, this is a long and demanding journey. Still, it is the only one that seems worthy of a lifetime.

Heart Journey

Billions of years ago - When light appeared in the darkness
When warmth transformed the coldness
When this Universe took form
When this planet was birthed
When life arose from matter
When consciousness emerged
When consciousness became conscious of itself!
We began this journey
Of learning
To Be
Beings
Of Love and Light

* This expression "noticing and nurturing important feelings" comes from Bio-Spiritual Focusing developed by Edwin McMahon and Peter Campbell.

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