Living From the Heart
The Cyclical Nature of Our Beings
We live in a very mind-focused society. The mind reifies experience and creates fixed ways of seeing and experiencing the world. One of the symptoms of this type of society is that people believe they see things objectively correctly.
There’s actually a huge range of assumptions and fixed concepts that society’s understanding of the world is built on that are wildly far away from the true nature of reality.
The mind is very much an on and off system; awareness is very black and white, we are either aware of something or we’re not, we know it or we don’t.
The heart in comparison is more inclusive of experience. It allows us to connect with things that are more nebulous and uncertain. We have some level of understanding of lots of things, without explicitly knowing it.
With practice we can learn the operate more from our hearts, rather than purely from our minds.
Part of the difference between these two ways of operating is the world-models they create.
Our minds create one that is of a directional line; the way it makes sense of time and experience is that we are continually moving in the direction of something.
We’re expected to be consistent – to show up for work at the same time, to be the same level of productivity, to want the same things from one day to the next – and ideally, we are always improving our circumstances because this is what makes us feel better.
When we see a linear graph, a downward trend feels bad to us. So we want to avoid it.
The heart in comparison is more cyclical. It is more in tune with nature, and actually presents a much more realistic experience of what life is actually like.
We are moving through the different seasons of experience. We aren’t going anywhere, we’re just present with what is here in this moment.
This also creates a more inclusive way of being where we are able to be present with a wider range of experience because we aren’t judging certain things as good and bad and shutting them out if we don’t like them. We are aware that the current season we are in is exactly that – just a season and we can allow it to move through us.
In order for this to work we have to embrace the ability to care deeply about what is in experience, without being judgemental about.
This allows us to be capable of being with the darkness and challenge of life, because we don’t reject it or turn away from it in the same way. We can see that things like anger, depression, sadness or other modes of being are there to give us an important message in life. We can make space to listen to what they are telling us, without believing the mind’s fixed ideas about what that means about us and others.
There is a sense of respect and sacredness held for all types of experience.
One of the ultimate realisations of Buddhism is emptiness, or dependent origination.
One of the outcomes of this realisation is the understanding that the way we look at the world, creates the world. It’s a realisation that holds a huge amount of value in it, but it’s important that it is understood as a subjective experience rather than an objective truth about reality.
By this I mean, it is false in a wide range of circumstances. The way you look at or understand a car coming towards you is not going to affect whether or not you get run over by it, for example.
I call the tantric, embodied version of this interdependent origination. Amongst other things, this is inclusive of the shared physical reality that we find ourselves in.
Rather than assuming that it is our minds that create our experience and therefore by changing our minds we can change our experience, it assumes that we are a mind-heart-body-soul where everything is arising interdependently together. Both within our individual system and how that connects to the entire Universe around us.
Changes we make in any part of the system, will impact all the other parts.
It is interdependent because it recognises that everything relies on everything else; it is a complex eco-system of different things arising at once and if you change one part of the system it will impact all other parts of the system. Rather than dependent, one thing depending on another thing.
We connect to this interdependent nature by becoming present with what is in experience for us in this moment, whatever that is, while also recognising that this moment is connected to all other moments in time. It is simultaneously embracing the simplicity and complexity of life.
The final realisation of interdependent origination is that cause and effect completely collapses. Not just in your perception of the world – but also in physical reality. It’s probably incredibly hard to imagine; from the other side, I find it incredibly hard to imagine a world where this is not the case.
What this creates in experience is a radical sense of compassionate presence. It doesn’t matter what the Universe is presenting to us, we are willing and able to feel the feels and meet experience, whatever it is, without turning away or creating projections with the mind that keep us safe from the painful or difficult parts.
It is this sense of compassionate presence that this more cyclical nature of being is built on.
The best way I have found to represent this is through the seasons. I find it beautiful and pleasing how our way of being can be described in a way that it is a reflection of the nature that we are inextricably a part of. Each of the seasons corresponds to a different part of our experience.
While nature is more fixed in the way it moves through the season – we have a bit more flexibility to move in and out of different seasons at different times. We aren’t on a fixed schedule.
However, I have found that cultivating some kind of balance between the different seasons tends to lead to much more presence and connection.
Here are the different seasons that we can be in.
Spring – Mind: Growth, curiosity, play, creativity
Summer – Heart: Connection, enjoyment, sincerity
Autumn – Body: Cutting away what needs to die, destruction, protection
Winter – Soul: Journeying deeply in, darkness, visioning
One of the problems is that people typically only operate in one or two of the seasons. They have learnt certain ways of being and try to apply it to everything in life.
Through awakening we can learn to operate more freely in the different parts. We are rewiring our systems to be more open to the different parts of us, which gives us more freedom in how we respond to something.
We get stuck using a limited model of the world, which causes us pain and for us to tie ourselves in knots, because we can’t respond to a situation in the most effective way.
Developing our capacity for compassionate presence, means that we can connect more openly with a wider range of experience.
Most modern cultures, including Western Capitalism and a lot of spiritual practice, focus heavily on Spring and Summer. They are trying to create a world where everything is always growing and feeling good.
Autumn and Winter, in comparison, don’t get a much air time. People are terrible at saying no and getting rid of stuff that doesn’t serve them anymore. It’s very rare to have deep hibernating rest and the kind of deep visioning and thinking that arises from the Winter state. People are too busy doing new stuff and ‘being productive’. They are expected to be always on in the capitalist society.
We increase our ability to be in a wider range of seasons by breaking through the barriers and limitations that are keeping us in the fixed way of being and looking.
One of my favourite mantras is,
‘Burn down the barn, so you can see the moon’
I am a huge believer in cutting away the things in life that aren’t serving us any more. In order for me to be able to do this in a clean, compassionate way this has taken a huge amount of integrating shadows. Clean anger and ability to say no requires us to be really clear about how we feel about things and be able to be present with that without creating projections or judgements.
It also requires integrating the shadows around people not liking you being in that mode of being. It is my experience that people do not like this destructive way of being. They get very strong emotional reactions that they are unable to hold and are likely to turn this into judgements about you. To avoid getting into a double bind you have to be able to give people the freedom to react badly to your way of being.
I am also a huge believer in deep rest and introspection. Taking time to really listen to what is coming through in your inner world. Cutting out hours of the day dedicated to reflection and attuning with ourselves – not with any expectation of what state we should be in or something we should be achieving (a lot of meditation practice is actually Spring and Summer) – but with a radical sense of being willing to be present with whatever is there.
Bringing ourselves back into balance – cultivating more ability to be in the Autumn and Winter modes – feels vital for both individual and planetary wellbeing. I believe that it is the key to a better future for everyone.
My practice guides and whole being awakening allow you to feel into these different aspects and open up parts of yourself.
An example of these different ways of being can be shown through a simple meditation instruction.
The classic instruction of ‘letting go’ can mean completely different things from each of the different ways of being.
Spring – Mind: Letting go of the controlling mind and allowing ourselves to be open, curious and playful
Summer – Heart: Letting go of ideas of right and wrong and connecting with the emotional reality of what is here, whatever that is
Autumn – Body: Recognising what needs to be let go of and doing what needs to be done to allow it to pass through or remove it from the system
Winter – Soul: Allowing ourselves to express what letting go of something means to us in a ritualistic or artistic way
None of these is a better or worse way to let go of things, it just depends on the context and scenario that you find yourself in. And what is important is increasing the capacity so that we are able to act in wise and skilful ways for the benefit of us and others in a wider range of circumstances.
One of the reasons this is so challenging is because our hearts is where we are connected to each other. It can be vulnerable to operate in this more simple, direct and heartful way.
And the system only functions if everyone has some capacity and willingness to do it.
Otherwise it becomes the person who has the most power who can dictate to others what is true and real, rather than each person having the freedom to express what is inside of them and connecting with it in their own unique way.
When people are vying for power, it becomes unsafe to express what is inside of us. It makes us have to choose between adopting the other person’s perspective, trying to control the situation ourselves or standing in our own truth and having that rejected. None of these are ideal and they create varying degrees of suffering for all parties.
Operating from the heart takes courage – we have to be willing to risk being seen – it also requires a degree of safety. If our feelings are dismissed by those around us, then we won’t feel the connection we need to be present.
This is why it is important to me that spiritual practice is done from as much of a non-hierarchical stand point as possible.
This requires the facilitator to have worked through their own stuff, so that they aren’t being triggered, they aren’t trying to manipulate anything out of people and they don’t feel that they need to over-protect themselves by being either aggressive or passive aggressive.
When the space is made safe for everyone to show up with the whole of their being, then people are able to take more risks, be more courageous and show more strong vulnerability. All of this allows us to heal and cultivate a deeper sense of presence.
I talk about this in more depth at the start of part two of the podcast I recorded with Daniel Ingram.
“This is what it felt like the purpose of the whole thing was [my spiritual journey … ] so this information could come through and so that I could butt up against the limits of my conscious and smash through it, so that I could see things in this way.”