Heartfulness is bringing a sense of sincere presence to experience – we are willing and able to meet things as they are in this moment.
It arises from being open to experience and it gives us access to a state of clear-seeing and presence, where we feel aligned with our intentions and the world around us.
It is very much about connection – removing the barriers between us and our inner worlds, other people and life.
Some of the things it can manifest as are a direct knowing, an ease, a sense of experience all flowing together through one sense-door, a not being separate to the world around us, a strong feeling of alignment and a deep sense of faith and trust in life.
The heart states are the gateways to heartfulness – compassion, joy, inclusion, friendliness and gratitude. These are different to emotions in that they are a state of being, rather than a feeling. They are a way in which we open to receiving the world.
Each of them is a slightly different form of the subtle, loving and connected quality that heartfulness infuses experience with.
It is important to recognise that all of these states are not reliant on specific behaviours or for the content of experience to be a certain way. We don’t have to be being angels to be being kind or friendly for example. It is possible to meet our darkness and challenge with these attitudes, as much as it is our light. This is where a lot of the depth of practice will come from.
If we are willing to meet the most difficult aspects of experience with an open heart this cultivates a depth of heartfulness in us that doesn’t rely on our worlds being scenes from a Disney movie in order for us to be present.
It’s very easy to feel a sense of joy when we are relaxing in beautiful nature, not so much when we are faced with the challenges of every day life. This capacity can be cultivated, but it requires us to let go of the mind’s fixed ideas about what the heart states are.
Spirituality can’t only be about connecting to the light, or even about transmuting the darkness to light – it is about seeing that all aspects of life come as a whole. There is no light without darkness, no satisfaction without challenge, no happiness without sadness, it is all part of the deal.
Heartfulness can’t be perfected. There is no final state we can arrive at where nothing is painful or challenging anymore. We have to take it step-by-step, meeting the ways in which we resist experience and opening to them with a whole-hearted attitude and willingness to show up.
There’s no solution to life, if there was life would have solved itself and we wouldn’t exist any more. There is just a process to be experienced. Increasing our capacity for heartfulness allows us to be more present, aware and connected for more of the time.
Heartfulness practice is like we are gathering up different bits of experience that we normally resist and bringing them home – integrating them back into our being.
This can be incredibly mystical – there are large parts of experience that we resist because they are strange and go beyond a normal human way of experiencing the world – and it can be incredibly simple – opening to the ways we interact with the very mundane and normal parts of our life.
The more we have opened our hearts to experience and integrated into our being, the less we need to be managing or controlling the situation anymore. We are free to just be here with everything as it is; whether it is hard and we are unhappy or it feels easy and we are full of joy.
Well-held shared practice is inordinately helpful for deepening our capacity for heartfulness. Receiving compassion from someone, having emotions that normally makes us feel ashamed met with a joyful openness, being seen through the eyes of a kind friend and generally being appreciated for exactly who we are in that moment is a gateway to fast and pain-free heart-opening.
We can relax into parts of ourselves that we normally resist and take this sense of freedom away with us.
Our environments are so important for shaping how we feel and who we are.
We aren’t able to be present and open to our lives if they are filled with stuff that isn’t aligned with what feels most true and meaningful to us.
Putting some conscious effort into thinking about what feels most aligned with our deepest desires and getting rid of the things that aren’t is vitally important to developing heartfulness.
For most people the primary thing that is stopping them tapping into open-hearted presence is a lack of space and time.
We are so overwhelmed and bombarded with stuff that we are constantly on the back-foot. Rather than being open to allowing stuff to impact us, we have to be controlling and managing the situation the whole time. We are in a perpetual state of holding our shit together just enough to deal with the next thing, then the next thing.
This is because we live in a culture that is utterly obsessed with stuff and productivity. Our culture has been carried away with capitalism and growth and we have normalised drowning in an utterly absurd amount of belongings and commitments that suck all of the life force out of us.
We are so numb to the absurdity of it that is has not only become a badge of honour in our culture to be insanely busy all the time, it has become a source of shame to NOT be busy all the time.
I cannot stress this enough. We are going to be the period in history that people will look back on and say,
‘WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY DOING WITH ALL THAT STUFF?!’
Our environments are so important in shaping how we feel and it is possible to create one that supports us being open, connected and joyful.
The simple rule for this is asking, ‘does this spark joy?’ and if not, ‘is this absolutely necessary for my survival?’ for literally everything in your life and cutting away anything that the answer is not a resounding yes for. Be ruthless as fuck.
I would definitely recommend reading Mari Kondo’s book, ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying’ in order to develop your skills in decluttering and to help you understand some of the common resistances that we have to doing it.
Some people find this deeply offensive or difficult to face in themselves, but the reality is that if we want to live in a world that is sustainable we all have to get better at consuming and owning less stuff.
Throwing stuff out (or ideally donating it) can feel counter-intuitive, as if stuff is going to waste, but when you get used to being surrounded only by the stuff you love and need you exist in a much more sustainable way where you are aware of the things you are bringing into the world.
We will only be able to create a more equal, loving and alive world that everyone can be present in if we get better at decluttering all the physical stuff and commitments that aren’t important.
We do have desires and intentions to grow and thrive in life and this aspect of experience is one of the most sacred parts.
To embody this is in a heartful way we want to let go of fixed ideas and plans of how we need things to pan out. Rather than being a mini-dictator of how we need life to be, we want to able to dance and flow with life, including our own desires and intentions.
We want to spend time with being present with what desires, needs and intentions are here for us in this moment. Bringing them into the present moment, rather than seeing them as something we are going to arrive at in the future, helps us see life as a process that can be enjoyed, rather than a goal that can be reached. We never arrive anywhere final and even when we get somewhere significant it often feels different to how we imagined it.
“Walking into a casino with $500 and the idea that you’re going to spend it on having an experience vs. walking into a casino with $500 and the idea that you need to win more money than you lose… As a metaphor for living for the benefit of all beings”
We each hold lots of scripts about what we should be doing, which come from our brains, and ideas of things that we need, which come from our bodies. We can incorporate these things into our understanding of our intentions, but we also want to make space for our heart’s deepest desires.
In order to do this, it can be helpful to boil our intentions and desires down to single words and images, which encapsulate what our hearts want to experience and manifest.
Here are some ways you can explore your intentions. It may be useful to set a 2 minute timer for each of these in order to stop yourself over-thinking and allow yourself to just let it flow out:
One of the important things to recognise with intentions is that we never ‘arrive’ at our destination. Our purpose is to create an environment where we are with the people, places and activities that allow us to feel a sense of belonging and to enjoy the process of life.
Our heart spaces are where we are most connected and least separate from each other. This makes it the most beautiful relational space to be in when you are aligned and the most difficult relational space to be in when there is conflict.
Learning to hold ourselves with a heartful presence even when we are facing challenges or in conflict to others and being able to communicate from a heartful place is one of the most powerful skills you can learn in life.
When we are in our heart-space, it can be really hard to separate ‘my stuff’ from ‘your stuff’ because we are so interconnected. Our emotional responses and intentions are so tied up in everyone else’s that it takes practice and skill to be able to include all this and still be clear with ourselves and each other.
We resist including conflict in our experience, because we are tribal animals. We have evolved to rely heavily on keeping the peace at almost any cost because being rejected from the tribe or causing rifts was deeply dangerous throughout most of our history. Now we are physically safer, we can create a more spacious and mature approach to conflict. We can learn that mostly the consequences are not as bad as our brains would have us believe.
In order to achieve inclusion in a group setting or between two people this is what you need:
Often a resolution will arise that can meet everyone’s needs, but not always. If not, the resolution needs to include recognising the conflict. This can be a really hard conversation to have, but an example of how a resolution could look is:
‘I understand that you don’t want me to do this because it will upset you AND I am going to do it anyway because it is important to me’
The ‘and’ is really important. If you use a ‘but’ in the middle of the sentence, then you are undermining the other person’s emotions and/or intentions in order to make your decision seem easier or more right. If you are using an ‘and’, you are including the conflict within your state and explicitly using this to inform your intention.
The essence of what you are trying to achieve here is that heartfulness includes our desires and needs as individuals and our desires and needs as a group. If you go too far towards one or another you end up with selfishness or co-dependency.
If this is something that you would like to learn about in more detail, I would recommend the book, ‘Having Difficult Conversations’. It’s a game-changer.
Shame is the biggest barrier to being present with experience as it is. It is the sense that our feelings and desires aren’t valid and we can adopt it from being around people who don’t accept us as we are.
Know that your feelings are valid and that you are worthy of your desires. Find people who accept you, validate you and love you for who you are.
It is always worth learning more about shame and freeing ourselves from it. I would recommend Brené Brown’s TED talk and books if you want to explore this further.
Trauma leads us to close our hearts in order to protect ourselves. We refuse to receive certain information into our hearts and this causes us to form judgements and prejudices against certain information.
Rather than recognise this within ourselves, we project this back out onto the world. This practice is about recognising these judgements and consciously dismantling them so that you can receive information more openly and respond with more clarity.
We need to recognise the things that cause us to close our hearts. Notice things that annoy you or frustrate you or make you cynical or aggressive.
Spend some time digging into what is happening underneath. How does it make you feel or how does it put you at risk? What is the thing you are trying to protect yourself from?
The purpose isn’t to invalidate or bypass those feelings, but to be able to be with them more directly when we are in a situation where we know we are safe.
Rather than feeding the idea that the situation or person is bad, we can learn to sit with the emotion and/or desire that is arising in us underneath the judgement.
We won’t find these prejudices sat on a cushion. We need to go out in the real world in order to allow the world to impact us. It can be difficult to spot our own prejudices, so it takes an intention of opening to the world and noticing when our defence systems are up.
It takes a level of honesty and vulnerability to look at ourselves and see the dynamic for what it is.
We also apply judgements to ourselves. If you free-write about your emotions and what you most want in the world you will find parts of yourselves that you are not allowing. Practice sitting with the emotions and sensations that this brings up and see if you can push through the resistance to express what feels most true.
Our judgements are one of the things that keep us safe. Letting them go can make us feel exposed and vulnerable. If we can do the work to reintegrate these painful parts of us, we develop a degree of resilience and stability in experience.
We expand our comfort zone so that we can be present with a wider range of emotions and we aren’t relying on other people to accept us, agree with us or perceive us in a certain way.
Learning the process of removing judgement from our experience allows us to receive the world more freely and to respond with less hate and more love towards ourselves and others.
Heartfulness is increasing our capacity to show up and allow all of what is happening both inside and outside to impact us.
When we have developed it, it can create a sense of ease, openness, connection, clear-seeing, resilience, compassion and understanding in our experience; but sometimes the way to developing it can feel like the opposite of this. We have to face our difficulties in order to overcome or integrate them.
If we all focused on cultivating heartfulness, then we would live in a much more joyful and equal world where people would be able to be present with their experience more often.
The qualities of the heart, like joy and friendliness, are not something that we can hoard to ourselves in the same way that money can be hoarded. They are a shared experience. And often the heart’s deepest desire and satisfaction comes from directly helping people or contributing to society.
Here are some questions for helping you reflect on your practice and how you could develop it. Choosing one or two to focus on is a good way to start:
Having an open heart is the key to pretty much all good meditation and spiritual practice. We are developing the capacity to open to a wider range of experience and this capacity for connecting with experience is centred in the heart-space.
If we can connect with our hearts in a meaningful and alive way, this will make practice richer, faster, more productive and easier.
There is a way of understanding heartfulness and the heart states metaphorically, but there is also a way of experiencing them very viscerally.
Having a felt-sense of being present in our heart space is a great way to access this way of being and to embody a sense of heartfulness.
Here is a short 5 minute meditation for connecting with your heart space.
The heart-states offer us a unique way of creating a container of acceptance towards ourselves and our lives, even when things are hard.
Heartfulness is really a commitment to being with what feels most true in this moment.
We are validating our emotions and experiences and being willing to be honest and sincere about them, even if it is just with ourselves. We are taking off our armour and being present with what is there.
To open this up we want to create a full and inclusive sense of our experience. The best way to do this is by connecting with the different aspects of the heart and allowing space for this to include our darkness and challenge.
Here are some questions to meditate on:
Gratitude: What is something you feel grateful for in life? No matter how small.
Friendliness: How would you describe yourself through the eyes of a good friend?
Compassion: What is your biggest challenge in life? How does this make you feel?
Joy: What is something that gives you joy in life? What is something dark that you find joyful?
Inclusion: What else feels important to recognise about you in this moment?
Here is a 40 minute guided meditation on radical open-hearted acceptance.
Counter-intuitively it is often through concentrating on suffering that we are able to increase our capacity for heartfulness.
It is the things in life that are most painful or difficult for us that we close our hearts to so if we can to learn to open to these things, that is what is going to create a resilience and depth in our ability to meet life open-heartedly.
Being present with our suffering can also create a sense of connection with ourselves and others. Rather than holding ourselves together, and being the person we think we need to be, we are able to be with ourselves in our emotional realness. We connect more deeply when we are able to be vulnerable and emotionally open with each other.
Concentrating on suffering is about finding the aspect of experience you are resisting, peeling back the layers and really giving it space to express itself.
Resistance, shame, judgement, fear, ignorance, control and addiction are all ways that the mind keeps us safe from emotions that we have learned aren’t welcome in experience, for various reasons.
If we can create an environment where it is safe to access these emotions it creates an opportunity to reframe our relationship with that aspect of experience – for example, rather than jumping straight into judgement we may be able to be present with the sadness that exists underneath.
This is a much cleaner, clearer, more honest and ultimately heartful expression of our beings.
Once we have made space for an emotion to express itself in our experience, we will have integrated it back into our being. This tends to shift our relationship with it.
Sometimes it transmutes and goes away completely, other times it is still present but we don’t feel so contracted around it – it is more welcome to be present in experience as one aspect of life.
Any interpersonal practices that allow room for sharing difficult emotions and vulnerabilities are also good for this. If we have space to share our struggles, we can notice how they can actually be a point for connection, rather than a source of shame and pain.
The first step in concentrating on suffering is being honest with ourselves, allowing us to feel what we feel and embracing where we are with something. Even this step can be a profound release for suffering.
Concentrating on suffering is essentially a type of taking and sending, but rather than thinking about taking in negative energy and thinking about sending out positive energy, we are feeling the difficult things that are inside of us and opening to them so that they transmute into a part of experience that we can meet with love and understanding rather than fear, rejection or judgement.
If you get lost at any point during the meditation, you can go back to the first step.
Step 1: Body
Step 2: Heart
Step 3: Mind
Step 4: Soul
Having the courage to show up for the challenging parts of life is how we grow up. We need to have a capacity to bear our pain and difficulties, to be able to open our hearts and minds to the suffering that is in the world and be real about it.
Heartfulness isn’t about sugar-coating experience or needing it to be something different to what it is. It’s about showing up for experience with courage and openness, whatever that experience is.
“I realised that we don’t need clever ideas to save things
We are here to learn to love
Courageously and fiercely
And that is how the collective heals”