Reflections From An Open Heart

At the start of the summer I heard this song. I have heard it countless times before. Yet, in that moment of taking in the words, ‘a whole lotta love’, in total rock anthem, I knew without a doubt that what I needed most was just that. A whole lotta love. More accurately, I needed to connect to the abundance of love that is already in my life. 

I set out on a journey, hand in hand with my yoga practice, asking the universe that I may seek a path toward an open, receptive heart, while offering that opportunity to anyone else who cared to join.

Here is what I found. In honor of my time, and the readers time, I will summarize the work that took place to share the nuggets that I took away. I will say that it was no easy task. I stepped into some places of deep darkness, sadness, and despair. I also met my highest self. And everything in between.

The first phase was discernment - the ability to decide between what is my truth and what is not. Who am I in this moment? Does this yoga pose bring freedom and a feeling of being in my body, or does it make me want to step out of my experience and seek something else? Creating a physical practice that serves you on a daily basis is a process of discernment. The physical practice of yoga always informs our decisions off the mat, whether we are aware of it of not. Discernment within an asana practice translates to the skillfulness of being true to oneself. How can I best honor my truth as I engage in my daily life? How can I stay true to my values, beliefs, morals, and desires, while respecting those around me? Am I able to discriminate between what I want and what others want for me or from me? Can I move through my day in a way that honors my wisdom and the ways in which I care for myself? Can I be present enough to do this even as my needs, wants, and opinions change? It’s a daily effort to check in and be true to what this day brings.

Phase two was a combination of self-study; Svadyaya in Sanskrit, and being honest with what we see; Satya in Sanskrit. When we arrive to a yoga practice, there is typically a time of transitioning from whatever happened before you stepped onto your mat, to welcoming yourself to the here and now. Through breathing deeply, finding quiet, closing eyes, etc., we give ourselves a moment to drop in and become aware of ourselves. We are the students of self-discovery; listening inward for an honest reflection of what we are thinking, feeling, & experiencing in the moment. As discernment gives rise to our changing inner landscape, Svadyaya and Satya look beneath the surface of our opinions and beliefs to see the deeper meaning. It is similar to holding in our hands the seeds of our daily wants and desires (discernment), and finding connection to the foundation in which we plant those (Svadyaya & Satya). Self-study that leads to self-care is like nourishing the ground from which we grow our intentions. We often find themes here. We are able to sift through the layers of our beliefs to see what rings true at the heart level.

Sifting through layers, I found barriers. Walls that close down the heart. The most pervasive of which is fear. I spent a lot of time peeling back the overlapping network of fear. You can learn more about those here and here. Fear is said to be the opposite of love. Holding strong to fear is the quickest way to shut down the heart. Fear, similarly to stress, creates a full body response, moving us into flight or fight mode, elevating levels of cortisol, creating toxic thoughts and chemical outputs in our bodies. Holding fear in our bodies is exhausting and makes it even harder to carve out time for self-care. Fear keeps us from connecting. It is a vicious cycle and one that takes time to break. The next door neighbor to fear is doubt. In theory we could decide in a moments time to no longer live in reaction to fear or doubt and to chose love instead. And maybe it is that easy. For me, it is not. Through the lens of Satya (honesty & truthfulness), I looked at my fears, as ugly as they are, and embraced them. I gave them breath. I chose not to judge them. I just sat with them. 

For a while. 

I felt heavy, abrasive, unsure. I didn’t try to convince myself out of my fears. Instead, I let them hang out right on the surface so that I could really see them. I felt into where I was holding them in my body and gave myself a chance to release them with breath. Whether or not I was able to release all of them, I don’t know at this point. That’s the beauty. I can return to keep on studying and asking and listening. 

Breaking down barriers of fear, I felt raw and exposed. On the verge of tears and sensitive to the pain of others. I decided to bring in forgiveness. For myself and others. 

And trust

Trust and forgiveness loosened the foothold of fear. They kept my tears from creating a landslide where my heart had been burned by deception. 

Trust gave rise to new life. To creative self-expression, to hope. 

Forgiveness helped to release the judgements of others and the need for approval and acceptance. Forgiveness gave permission for myself and others to make mistakes. To be reactive to fear. And to let it go. 

Trust gave rise to strength of my prana, or life force. It helped move me toward the divine light that lives within me; and within us all. It allowed an unveiling of what is most important to me. 

Feeling lighter and less constricted in my chest, feeling able to take a deep breath; it became clear that I could drink in other affirmations with breath. And to receive it on a cellular level. Kindness, joy, patience, compassion, the list goes on… 

Gratitude. If fear is the quickest way to close down the heart, gratitude is the quickest way to open it. I drank in gratitude for my many blessing. I drank in gratitude for who I am, past failures and all. Gratitude for the amazing people in my life. This became a reminder to let others know how much I appreciate them. 

Opening toward gratitude for others meant giving into the experience of unconditional love. To rest my body into the feeling of unconditional love was a practice in deep surrender. In believing my worth to receive it. Pure love shows up in many forms. I began a practice of seeing it all around me, especially on the days when I was feeling particularly tired, foggy, stressed, or angry. To look at the mountains as an expression of God’s love is a potent reminder that I too am a version of that same pure love.

The experience of remembering unconditional love led me down a path of grieving. Grieving the loss of so many important people in my life. This is my deepest work in heart opening. I have spent over half my life grieving the loss of loved ones. This is what breaks my heart; and has me braced for the next tragedy. 

What is the life lesson?

One thing we learn from past hurts is not to make the same mistake twice. I have made the same ‘mistake’ more than a handful of times; letting someone fully into my heart and connecting deeply can lead to incredible pain. Do not repeat. Often that is the road I have chosen. Avoid the pain.

This is where the ancient myth of Ganesh comes in. He is the deity of wisdom and success. He leads you to your highest self by placing obstacles in your path. My obstacle is the pain that comes with loss. I can choose to avoid the obstacle, to protect my heart in order not to feel the pain of the potential loss. I can keep avoiding the obstacle until my world has become so small that either I am isolated and alone, or I am so inundated by fear and anxiety, that even thinking about the obstacle becomes overwhelming and I shut down. In essence, avoiding our personal obstacles will eventually box us into a very tiny existence. We cannot live our life purpose from a tiny box.

We are made to take up space. To radiate from the very center of who we are. As living beings, we need to connect to the hearts of other living beings.

Ganesh is also the remover of obstacles. He will help you learn from them, to engage with them, and to find a way to work with them. 

On my path toward a whole lotta love, I have discovered that the meaning of my life is to give love, and to help others see the love and light they hold within. Is it ironic that my biggest fear is the exact obstacle that keeps me from my Dharma?

When the fear of grieving the loss of yet another person is strong, I cannot connect to my life’s purpose. I hold everyone at arm’s length. 

This is a powerful insight for me. In order to both give and receive love into my heart, I must choose to work with Ganesh in order to dismantle the obstacles he places. It’s ok to be scared, and it takes courage to let light in when the darkness is strong. And in the end, we all have a purpose. Our daily life experiences can be enhanced when we give them meaning. When we contribute, large or small, to our grander mission or purpose, we feel validated. Happy. Strong. Connected. You name it. We have the potential to give and receive a whole lotta love.

P.S. thanks for reading! That was the summarized version - believe it or not! :)

Esther Petrocine