Dear Still Water Friends,
In our discussion groups at Still Water MPC, we often use the phase “speaking from our hearts.” This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will explore together what the phrase means to us.
Personally, my understanding of what it means to speak from the heart has changed over the years. I grew up in a family in which emotions were rarely talked about. And the emotions that were often exhibited, such as frustration, disdain, and withdrawal, were hardly noticeable to me. They faded into the normality of every day life.
When I was in college and first heard the phrase “speaking from the heart,” my understanding was that it meant telling one’s secrets. Sometimes I did it. Often I resisted—I felt too vulnerable. Mainly I felt perplexed.
Later, especially after some therapy, my understanding of “speaking from the heart” meant giving words to what I was feeling, especially my pent-up negative feelings. When I did, sometimes the results were positive. I felt heard and the situation changed for the better. Other times things just seemed to get worse. My giving words to my frustration and anger hurt others and created more tension and distance. (Primarily, I believe, because as I was experiencing and sharing my feelings of frustration and anger, I tended to oversimplify and blame.)
Mindfulness practice opened the door for me to new ways of understanding “speaking from the heart.” I began to see my heart as containing much more than the emotions of the moment. My heart contains my essence, including my hopes and expectations, and my human yearning for love, meaning and connection. Brother Stendl-Rast (in Gratefulness: the Heart of Prayer) envisions our heart as our taproot:
The heart is the center of our being where intellect and will and feelings, mind and body, past and future come together. When we discover that spot where our life holds together, we discover the heart. That is why I call the heart the taproot of the whole person. When we grasp the taproot of a dandelion to be pulled, or of a dogwood tree to be transplanted, we know that we have taken hold of the whole plant. And there are moments when something touched that very root of our being. It went to our heart.
For me, it is through meditation, through mindfulness, through slowing down, that I have a chance to know my own heart. My experience is that when I really touch my heart, I don’t find anger or blame there—there is tenderness, sometimes sadness, and often joy.
Another lesson I’ve learned from mindfulness practice is the radical notion that I can differentiate the emotions I feel when someone does or says something hurtful from the emotions I use to share what is in my heart. Even when hurt, I can respond with love. In the book Anger Thich Nhat Hanh writes:
When you share your suffering, you have the right to say everything in your heart–it is your duty to do so, because the other person has the right to know everything. You have made a commitment to each other. You should tell him everything that is in your heart, with only one condition–you must use calm and loving speech.
Of course, maintaining an attitude of love, even with those who cause us suffering, is not unique to mindfulness practice. It is a deep universal truth, wonderfully expressed in many spiritual traditions. And it is often not easy to do.
This Thursday, after our meditation, we will share our understanding of speaking from the heart and we will identify the attitudes and circumstances that allow us to speak deeply from our hearts and those that inhibit us from doing so.
You are invited to join us and to consider these questions on your own.
Warm wishes for the New Year — may it be mindful, heartful and joyous,