Living From an Open Heart
Our modern human society functions in an environment of mistrust, fear, and exclusion, in which we are often unable or unwilling to make deep personal connections with each other. We let our fear of vulnerability lock us into our own cocoons of personalized suffering, and we turn to material acquisitiveness, violent and dehumanizing entertainment, and immediate gratification of desire to salve our loneliness. These strategies often bring further suffering to ourselves and others, perpetuating this cycle.
There is good news, however: this heartbreaking state of affairs is not our permanent condition, nor does it reflect our true nature as human beings. We have the opportunity to look beyond our everyday clouds of pain and promise to find the golden brilliance of our basic nature, and connect with others when we see theirs. When we take responsibility for our own state of mind and become aware of the world around us, we can break out of our shells of fear and seclusion. When we courageously accept the risk of becoming vulnerable, we can pry open our armored hearts and show our true selves. When we open ourselves to others in this way, we can wake up to a new day where the dawning sun shines on a world of love, laughter, integrity, and joy in the incomparable richness of meaningful human connection. We can begin this transformation and enrich our lives by deepening our understanding and acceptance of ourselves and each other.
Often we let the things that others do get in the way of our connections with them, becoming so committed to reacting to their actions that we forget about our relationships and common humanity. We might also treat ourselves very harshly, judging and criticizing ourselves when we act in ways that do not support our values. We can begin to break out of these habitual patterns by viewing our own actions, as well as those of other people, as strategies to meet shared, universal human needs. Some of our strategies may be very effective in meeting our own needs, but contribute to the suffering of others by not helping them meet their own needs. Likewise, when we suffer from the actions of others, it is because our needs are not being met.
Human needs are universal and abstract, experienced by everyone and part of our shared humanity. Each person is ultimately responsible for meeting his or her needs, and the actions of others may contribute to these needs being either met or unmet. When our needs are met, we experience feelings such as joy, gratitude, satisfaction, and happiness. Unmet needs trigger feelings such as sadness, frustration, sorrow, and anger. We often tend to characterize feelings arising from needs that are met as “good” and those associated with unmet needs as “bad,” which may be useful in a relative sense. In the absolute, however, all feelings are neutral – they are indicators of our state of being and provide feedback on how well our needs are being met.
Learning to identify our own feelings and the met or unmet needs they herald is an important aspect of self-awareness. With time and practice, and a willingness to be patient with ourselves, we can develop a gentle acceptance of our own state of mind and begin living from an open heart. This allows us to ground our selves and our interactions with other people in an awareness of feelings and needs, connecting with ourselves and each other in a much deeper way. Once we’ve made this connection, conflicts can be transformed into joint strategies that are much more likely to meet everyone’s needs.
The more people who choose to live a life of integrity and connection from an open heart, the more likely we humans are to realize the vision of a world of sanity, peace, and hope. So reach beyond your fear and suffering, and practice being human when you can - you might just save the world.