The 4 sides of the heart
Over the last century, science has done a great deal to get us to acknowledge the brain as the center of our thoughts, feelings, behaviours and sense of self. Our collective subconscious, however, hasn’t yielded to the pressure. For most of us, the heart has remained a strong symbol and energetic center we associate with feelings of love, gratitude and connection. No one reaches for their head when they say ‘I love you’. They reach for their heart!
I believe that’s not a left-over illusion from the past — those feelings are actually centered there. Spiritual traditions have known this for a long time, appreciating the significance of the heart in our relationships and the importance of working with it in our spiritual growth. Science is now slowly catching up to what we have intuitively refused to let go of. For instance, they have discovered that the heart has neurons just like the brain and can think, feel and decide for itself.
Some of the biggest shifts in my own spiritual journey have been associated with the heart. Through my intuitive, non-scientific way of knowing, I’ve explored it in the last 2 years and found huge rewards in my ability to celebrate life within me and around me in all its colours. Over the last few weeks, I found myself facing one of those rare but important servings of pain and troubles in my close relationships. As another layer of protection was cracking open, I took the invitation to go deeper into the heart. I discovered, to my surprise, that heart work goes beyond the open/closed dichotomy I had been working with.
The heart has structure!
My first glimpses into that structure have been truly fascinating, revealing 4 components that work together and are intricately connected with one another. Approaching the heart from this perspective allows us to engage with the world from an open heart in a more consistent way. It also allows us to express our truth with vulnerability, deepen our sense of self-worth and interconnectedness with all there is. What’s more — it allows us to see how all those things are related. In this way, we can generate a powerful heart-centered momentum in our relationship with ourselves, one another and nature. Once that momentum crosses a certain threshold, it takes care of itself, changing everything we know about ourselves and reality in the process. Enter the 4 sides of the heart.
The front of the heart: openness
The first side of the heart most of us encounter on our spiritual path is the front, as we discover that it can be open or closed. When our heart is open, we can appreciate the beauty within and around us. We can see how everything is falling together rather than apart, even when we are going through a hard time. We can give and receive love in a tender and vulnerable way. We can get playful, we can laugh louder. We suddenly find it’s so easy to sing and dance beautifully and oh, how amazing life is.
When our heart is closed, we feel alone, isolated, confused and it’s easy to energetically hurt ourselves and others even with the best of intentions. As we disconnect from the guidance system of our heart, our mind gets lost in a ‘this or that’ spiral. It feels like there’s something wrong with us and it’s here to stay. Judgements are flying with ease, towards ourselves, others and the world around us. The way back to an open heart passes through opening to our own pain and loving ourselves in our experience of it. Then suddenly we find we can appreciate the ways in which that pain has a useful service to play in our growth and unfolding. And before we know it, our heart cracks open again and softness takes the place of the pain.
This whole open/closed heart business might sound like common sense, but in my experience it has a depth that is far from straightforward. Up until around 2 years ago, I used the words ‘open heart’ freely, thinking it didn’t have any meaning beyond the symbolical. Then, on a sunny afternoon in Bali, after a holotropic breathwork session, that understanding changed irreversibly for me.
I remember opening my eyes and looking around to find everything shining in colours that were more vibrant and enticing than anything I’d ever seen before. As I looked at the 30 or so people in the shala around me, I was thinking those were the most beautiful faces I’d ever seen. I couldn’t help but stare at them which eventually left me feeling awkward in a light funny way. I decided to go out for a walk in the rice fields. Hopefully the blades of rice wouldn’t mind me staring at them like a mad woman! As I made my first steps there, tears of appreciation were rolling down my cheeks, looking at the incredible beauty surrounding me. I tried to think about what had happened or what that means for my life going forward, but I couldn’t. It felt like huge effort and energy were required to think about the past and the future. Why would I ever do that? Just look at what’s around, right here right now! Wow!
This moment served as a benchmark for many more experiences like this that followed. At first, it was a matter of just becoming aware when my heart would burst open. Then I found that it was easy to tell when someone else’s heart was open by the way their eyes were shining. “Oh, wow, my heart opens also when I meet a person like that, how nice! What else helps it open?” Nature. Dance. Being with people I love. Smiling to people on the streets. Looking into the eyes of an old Balinese farmer coming off work in the fields. Over time, it became possible for me to open my heart at will and keep it that way for longer stretches of time. This in turn started bringing deeper experiences of the magic of this world, both in my inner states and in the opportunities that came my way.
The bottom of the heart: vulnerability
Yet another piece of the heart that we often refer to when writing birthday cards, but do we really know what it means? It turns out I didn’t, or at least, I was not aware of the full significance of it until a couple of weeks ago when one of the most precious relationships in my life began disintegrating. I found myself swinging between trying to hold on to it and saying ‘fuck off’. Then, by chance, I took psilocybin mushrooms for the first time in my life and decided to ask them what to do about it. They showed me what it means to ‘be naked’. Not in an erotic sense, but in the sense of showing up in my absolute truth and vulnerability for myself and others.
The bottom of the heart is about that — it’s about expressing from the depths of our being, with absolute vulnerability. In my difficult moment, the way that looked like was saying: ‘You know what, I am not going anywhere. Underneath all these clashes and boundaries and games, there’s a space beyond, which contains who you are and who I am. It is where we meet. You are too important to me. Our relationship is too important to me. It might take some space and time for us to find our way back to a healthy connection. But I am not going anywhere. I love you.’
Saying this to someone you are not romantically involved with can sound a bit much. But I think that’s just a false idea our culture has created, that such feelings are appropriate in intimate relationships, but not in friendships or business. I think that idea is crap, as it holds us back from experiencing and expressing our truth. It makes us judge ourselves as being ‘too much’ whenever the bottom of our hearts wants to speak. For the bottom of our hearts, the concept of ‘too much’ doesn’t exist. Whatever is there, just is. And unless it’s felt and expressed, it can keep us spinning in confusion.
The back of the heart: self-worth
Now that our heart is open and is starting to fill in, bottom-up, it’s time to check how the back is doing. The back side of the heart is about our self-worth and is extremely important. Let’s say that you’ve opened your heart and let’s say you’ve spoken from the bottom of it. What happens when the other person responds? If you are lucky, they will respond with an open heart in turn. Even then, however, there’s a high chance they will say or do something that hurts you because vulnerability and an open heart go hand in hand. Once the heart is open, you have access to love, but you also have access to pain, they go together.
This is where it gets interesting! If your feeling of self-worth depends on what the other says or does, the minute they hurt you, the pain will be very intense. It will spiral in a way that makes it extremely difficult to keep your heart open. “I opened up and see how they used it to stab me even deeper!”. The truth is they can only stab you deeper if you allow their response to impact your sense of self-worth. Even if you are telling yourself stories about how wrong and bad they are, underneath that you’ll find yourself feeling not good enough, as evidenced by being rejected.
In order for your heart to remain open and keep filling up, you need to anchor your sense of worth in something larger than the other’s response. I like to think of the worth of a mountain or a tree or a flower. Their worth has nothing to do with what someone thinks or does. They just are wonderful and worthy of being, in their very existence. It’s the same with us humans. Just that we sometimes get so confused in this complex dynamic of navigating our own consciousness and pain that we forget that. Once we remember our true worth is a birthright rather than something to be won or validated by others, the heart has no troubles staying open and continuing to fill up.
The top of the heart: interconnectedness
The last piece that we reach as the heart fills up is the top. The top of the heart has to do with our inner- and interconnectedness. Biologically, the top of the heart contains the aorta and all the tubes through which it pumps blood into all the corners of our bodies. It is where our inner connectedness to the wholeness of our being is. In my drum journey work, I’ve seen that part of the heart covered in jungle. This is how I know our interconnectedness with all there is is also ‘growing out of’ the top of our hearts.
Our sense of oneness, belonging and interbeing and our sense of inner wholeness intertwine there. If we are accessing that feeling in nature, it’s easy to explore and stay in it as there’s nothing to challenge it. It is in our interactions with others that that piece can be challenged and we can fall back into a feeling of separation, closing our hearts. If we are to create beautiful heart-centered relationships, experiences and projects with one another, we need to be able to keep our hearts open in each other’s presence.
If you need a playground, a safe space to practice this, I highly recommend Authentic Relating. It’s been one of the most beautiful spaces of connection I’ve ever encountered, bringing meditative awareness to the ways we relate to one another. It’s possible to do it online. If you are in Sacred Valley, Peru, you can join us for practice every Monday afternoon at Alchemica.
The journey of Heart continues…
I am sure there’s much more to the heart than currently meets my eye! An easy question is — what about the left and the right sides? I have a hunch those might have to do with the feminine and the masculine ways of experiencing love, connection and oneness. If you are like me, you might be even more curious about what goes on inside! It’s like we’ve been exploring the gift box together, but we haven’t looked much into what the gift is. I hope to be able to share more as I find more about the inner structure of the heart. I also would love to hear from you if you have done so and have some insights to share.
What if you find yourself in earlier stages of this journey, how do you proceed with opening your heart and keeping it open? I could recommend you to try holotropic breathwork, authentic relating, ecstatic dance as they have worked for me. However, I know how unique our beings and our paths are and this might not work for everyone. If you feel this is important for you, I am happy to hold space for your heart-centering process through coaching and shamanic work.
Last but not least, thank you for diving into the depths of the heart with me! It’s definitely been a heart-opening experience to write this. I hope in some ways it’s been a heart-opening experience for you to read it. Take a look around. Do you see the colours? Do you see the beauty that surrounds you? Do you see the beauty that you are? It’s been there all along, waiting for your heart to meet it. Who knows, maybe today is the day in which you get to see it deeper than you ever have. Why not? Bring your intention and attention to it and see what happens.
About Lessons in Paradise
I believe we already are in paradise, regardless of where we are and what’s going on in our lives. I believe life is a journey towards becoming aware of this and enjoying as much of it as we can in the limited amount of time we have here. The Lessons in Paradise vlog is the space where I share my process of shedding patterns and beliefs that obstruct our view in order to replace them with presence, joy and wonder. It’s also my invitation to you — an invitation to connect and journey together in creative ways, as we help each other see through to the greatest expression of ourselves.