It’s a colloquialism these days – “put your heart into everything”.
Teachers of all types desire focused effort from their students. Coaches say to faltering teams, “you aren’t playing with heart!” We cherish passion, excitement and “heart” in our closest friends. If you “put your heart into it” we’re told you uplift not only yourself but also those around you. Healthy pride follows this engagement and effort, after all, “you get out what you put in”. While all these common expressions may be quite true, I was recently exposed to an inspirational new way to think about the heart.
I first heard it from my beloved Anusara-inspired teacher, Annie Adamson at Yoga Union in Portland, OR. Annie credited certified Anusara instructor Elena Brower for introducing her to it. “It”, is a slight turn of phrase. Elena elegantly describes the phrase and the idea on yogaglo.com. A friend of hers attended a cardiology conference and came home saying don’t “put your heart into everything” – “put everything into your heart”.
Put everything into your heart.
Elena describes how when we are all faced with daily challenges and suffering our tendency is to become reactive, impulsive, and resistant. Naturally, humans push away or ignore the awkward or painful. Quite literally, we shrink from vigorously attack conflict. Elena credits Tantric scholar Douglas Brooks’ description of a particular form of the goddess Kali, Samahara Kali, for providing us with a different path in these challenging moments. Typically Kali is known as a force of destruction, even death, but Samahara Kali is different. She “swallows” everything she comes in contact with, not to destroy it but rather to draw it so close to her heart that the challenge becomes inseparable from her. She welcomes everything in her path yet remains unwaveringly clear and emotionally stable.
The cardiologists, those who are trusted to care for the heart, are asking us to practice with Samahara Kali’s style. Turn toward our challenges, grant them access to our heart and we radically shift our self and our suffering. This process calls titanic courage as it is intimate and scary to experience the fear of being consumed or drowned by our pain. But here Kali truly hands us a magnificent gift. She shows us the capacity of our heart is far greater than we ever imagined. When we put everything into our heart our whole being expands. We connect with spirit’s boundless nature by making more space for our pain. We grow more tolerant, stronger, and fierce. The power of suffering and conflict dissolves as we start to respond instead of react.
Responding in this way requires patience and time to turn inward. This means slowing down but it does not mean “its all good” – quite the contrary. We do not put everything into our heart to blindly accept it all but rather we do so to honor and hone our powers of viveka or discrimination. This intimate knowledge of anguish allows us to authentically know the contours of conflict, confrontation, and anxiety. We then can make conscious choices with a faithful and intelligent heart to hold close what serves us and discard what pulls us away from spirit. With practice this skill can become razor sharp and our courage to align in the highest way magnifies.
When we resist our pain and our discord we resist the truth. When we resist the truth we resist ourselves. By putting everything into our heart the light of balanced knowledge can shine on both our pain and our joy. This is full knowledge, a deep and vast authenticity. Our suffering no longer dominates us when we put everything into our heart but rather it becomes another experience to know completely. We move forward inspired by the heart’s staggering capacity.