The myth of the fragile heart
SHAI TUBALI helps us understand the value of keeping the heart open, vulnerable and willing to experience whatever challenges life gives us, without becoming defensive and closing the heart.
Your mind cannot tell the difference between “vulnerable” and “breakable.” It thinks it is obvious that if you are vulnerable you are also breakable. Since this sounds logical enough, your mind chooses the strategy of remaining invulnerable as much as possible.
Of course, your mind only wants to protect you, as its main role is to keep you safe in a world full of dangers. It registers moments when you were vulnerable and, as a result, became deeply disappointed, rejected, betrayed, or abandoned. This left you not just with an unbearable pain but also with a profound sense of weakness.
We are all afraid of being weak. It is a survival instinct: we must not show that we are powerless and defenseless in a hostile and overpowering environment. To conceal this weakness, we put on armor, a thick layer of protection with which we defend our vulnerable heart. This is why we become hard and sometimes react quickly to insults or criticism with anger, hatred, and vengefulness, and harbor grudges.
Your mind strives to become so strong and impenetrable that you will never be harmed or feel pain. To achieve this impregnable condition, it surrounds the heart with a protective wall. This wall is not just a metaphor – you could easily sense it in your chest as a thick layer separating you from the environment and protecting your fragile true being. This wall is not necessarily such a bad idea. If you have no coping mechanism for intense emotions and profound disappointments, it is perhaps wise to keep a thick protective layer around your heart. However, in light of our knowledge of the powers of the heart, we should reexamine this strategy: Does it really work? Do we actually feel safer when our hearts are closed?
A quick, honest look at our life experience tells us, of course, that this strategy does not work very well. The more we feel threatened and in need of defending and protecting ourselves, the more intensely and deeply we feel our own fragility. In the end, the effort to become invulnerable makes us more vulnerable. The great irony is that the more we contract our heart, the more we feel it needs additional and even more sophisticated layers of protection, with the result that, slowly but surely, we stop feeling pain but scarcely feel anything else. We become cautious and numb, hurting little but also loving little.
The secret power of the open heart
Your wise heart offers a different strategy. With this secret power, you can finally remove the wall: vulnerability is your key to indestructibility. The heart’s wisdom confidently defies the effectiveness of the wall. Historically, walls have never really worked, and this is also true for your internal wall. From the point of view of the heart, it is clear that what we believe makes us stronger actually makes us weaker. And what we believe makes us weaker actually makes us stronger.
The mind’s strategy is based on resistance. It refuses to open up because it wants to avoid potential disappointments. It strives with all its might to minimize the pain of betrayal and rejection, pushing people away as a result and keeping a clear distance, since people are able to upset our mind-body system by failing to be there for us.
The heart’s strategy is based on love. It continues to trust and open up even if this could lead to painful experiences. It agrees to pain, because it knows that it is better to feel pain than to feel nothing. That is because it knows the secret that, as long as it remains open, even if it bleeds a little it will not be weakened. In fact, it gets stronger with each opening up, despite the disappointment and hurt.
In reality, it is your mind’s resistance to pain that makes these past experiences so painful, imprinting upon you dark and trenchant conclusions about life and people. When you closed your heart in response to the pain, it took hold of you. Opening up to breathe into it and to contain it completely in fact has the effect of melting it away, leaving the heart refreshed and intact.
This is the excellent “contain and include” heartpractice: when there is no resistance and you choose instead to open up even more widely, you become greater than the situation. Contained within your heart, the situation fades away without leaving an unforgettable impression.
Use disappointments as opportunities
Generally speaking, the heart is in one of the following three different kinds of conditions:
MOSTLY CLOSED: This is when the mind decides that we’ve had enough disappointments and betrayals for one lifetime, and so even with those with whom we are close we make sure our heart remains essentially invulnerable and untouched.
HALF OPEN: This is when we open and close our heart, depending on circumstances. We open it up with certain people in a safe environment, but even then only when they are kind to us. The opening is conditional on circumstances and, therefore, is fluctuating.
ESSENTIALLY OPEN: This is not only a condition, but also a statement of being. An essentially open heart never closes the door of trust, faith, and communication, despite all disappointments and betrayals.
The state of being half open is the most common – the heart only opens when the situation is clearly safe. It is the mind that allows us to be vulnerable only when there are good reasons to trust. However, this dependency keeps us weaker; it means that our heart opens and closes in response to each and every stimulation, however negligible. This is a fragile heart, constantly searching for signs of approval and recognition and needing to fear any change of circumstances.
For the half-open heart, deep emotions such as love and tenderness are too delicate and can only be expressed in a wholly supportive and nurturing environment. The half-open heart is based on what is probably the greatest myth surrounding the heart – that since it is fragile, it requires a safe environment and cannot handle a difficult or hostile world. When the heart encounters intense situations, it withdraws behind the wall, leaving the mind on the front line to fight and negotiate.
The heart’s secret power tells us something completely different: Love and compassion are not tender but rather invincible powers of our being that channel tremendous cosmic waves. They do not need a secure environment to be revealed; they can be expressed proudly and openly even in the most strident and noisy marketplace and in the face of strong opposing forces.
Try this exercise the next time someone offends you or when the next hurt inevitably strikes:
Remain with an open heart. You will feel an impulse to contract your heart, but make the decision not to do so, instead retaining the flow of openness and tenderness, and see what happens as a result.
With your heart exposed, work with the unconscious expectation that has caused you pain – that people should never be disappointing. The reality is that not only will people disappoint you every now and then, but this plays a crucial role in your own heart’s development. Translate your disappointment into the thought that obviously this person should have offended me, and keep the heart open and flowing. Open your chest fully to the event. Agree to the pain. Direct love toward the person who caused you pain. You will soon discover that this pain flows through you and is transformed into a greater power of love.
The paradox of indestructibility
Your heart does not need protection, it is your best protection. Living life with an open heart is not just less damaging than having to defend it, it is, ironically, the very state in which nothing and no one can hurt you. As the heart lets go of expectations and remains wide open, agreeing to feel unconditionally, a point will come when it no longer feels pain but only love.
Since that pain was caused by your own expectations, you will grow confident enough to keep your heart as an open door that never closes, and which constantly allows the natural flow of goodness and compassion from within your heart.
Here we return to the difference between vulnerable and breakable. Vulnerability means fearlessly keeping the door to your heart open. A tender heart that does not try to protect itself and remains open to experience, accepting, loving, and forgiving under all circumstances, is an unbreakable heart. There is nothing that it cannot envelop and contain, no power that it cannot melt away, since it agrees to receive whatever penetrates it. What enemy could defeat such a heart? Even the most powerful assailant becomes helpless, as it tries with all its might to attack, hurt, and ruin. The love of such a heart keeps it unharmed.
We can only suffer hurt as long as fear lives within our hearts. Aggression and destruction feed on our fear, but they lose all their power in the face of love. Together, love and the heart’s openness form the most formidable power in the world – a power that only increases when we love at those times when it makes no sense to open up at all. We fear being hurt, but what can happen if we are willing to get hurt and commit ourselves to love, even in such circumstances?
Many people consider the life of Jesus a perfect example of the heroism of the heart: the way he lived in this harsh world like the most delicate flower – wide open, exposed, and loving. Do we think that those who crucified him defeated him? No, we know that the heart of Jesus could never be crucified, only his body. You cannot crucify a heart whose last words are “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
An adapted excerpt from the author’s latest book, Unlocking the 7 Secret Powers of the Heart, available at https://shaitubali.com/en/webshop/unlocking-the-7secret-powers-of-the-heart-a-practical-guide-to-livingin-trust-and-love/. Reprinted with permission.
Article by SHAI TUBALI
Illustrations by ANANYA PATEL
February 06, 2020
February 03, 2020
February 03, 2020