"The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe."
~ Joanna Macy
We live in a culture that reinforces and even rewards being invulnerable. From the competition of the toughest athletes to the cutthroat edge in corporations and businesses, we have grown up with "more is better"… "win at all cost"… "no pain, no gain." Our very sense of self may arise from a conditional esteem based on what we achieve, what we have, or how others see us, rather than on our own sense of our inherent self worth.
Unfortunately, our ability to truly open to our deepest sense of self, to fully enable our capacity for intimacy, is often impaired by the walls we build around our hearts to shield us from our own pain, and the pain of others. "Be tough." "Don't cry." "Carry on." Sadly, the very armor that we create to protect our vulnerabilities also distances us from ourselves and from others. We may reflexively react to our fear or pain by moving against others with our anger, impatience, defensiveness, or criticism. Or we may move away from others by withdrawing, withholding, shutting down, or numbing out, including addictions of all kinds.
Fortunately, we all have what Pema Chödrön, the Tibetan Buddhist teacher, calls the "soft spot" – our innate ability to love and care about things. And this soft spot is the "the way in" through whatever walls we have built around our hearts. The soft spot is what we feel at times of deep sadness, loneliness, fear, and loss as well as during times of tenderness, gratitude, beauty, and love. Training to be a warrior of the heart requires that we move toward the vulnerability of the soft spot, rather than against or away. This capacity connects us to others who also have the same vulnerabilities and feeling. It gives us a training ground for cultivating compassion and deep intimacy. And it builds muscles of courage and kindness, allowing us to open deeply into intimacy with ourselves and with others.
If your heart is calling for a little "muscle training", next time your partner (or friend, or boss) is angry, impatient, or critical with you, turn toward them without blame or judgment. Listen for the truth in what they are saying, meet their observation with gratitude, and ask them to tell you more to help you understand their feelings. Respond first with a positive statement, taking responsibility for any of your actions that may have been hard for them. Stay with their experience and feelings completely until they are done, while also holding healthy boundaries so as to take care of your self. When they are complete, ask when they would be willing to hear your experience. Speak your truth without blame or judgment, with caring boundaries and the open tenderness of a warrior of the heart.
Explore the journey of embracing your vulnerabilities as a pathway toward cultivating deepening intimacy with yourself and others. Through conscious intention and a courageous heart, you can open yourself to more intimacy, authentic connection, and deep tenderness. As a warrior of the heart, we can learn to live and love with greater compassion, and to be in each moment with more clarity, aliveness, and wellbeing.