Closed mind, open heart

shel_silverstein_poems_4I am sure you have heard that having an ‘open mind’ or ‘open heart’ will greatly improve your life, create new opportunities, free your soul, and allow you to live until age 103. This was probably told to you by your poised therapist, your toned yoga teacher, or your hippie aunt- but no one told you what it meant. I do agree with them, that being ‘open’ can enhance your life, but I think that we neglect to look at how we can do this.

First, cultivating an ‘open mind’ has to happen before you think about what significance your heart, spirit, soul or whatever else can have in your life. A lot of people don’t like talking about the spiritual piece bc it’s something very personal and perplexing. I think most of us would agree, however, that we are in touch with our ‘hearts’ when we have made a decision based on something other than logic. This heart-oriented decision usually goes against what our egotistical mind thinks is right, smart, responsible, etc. When we make a decision that is risky or favors love (of any kind), we say that we are following our heart’s guidance, not our mind’s. “My head says ___, but my heart says ____.” Thus, we endorse two different decision-making processes. This is the notion of a ‘closed mind, open heart’- the mind is strong and diligent, the heart is sweet but foolish. It is a mistake though- to think that the mind decides to go to law school but the heart decides to pursue love. Interesting for sure, that we have made this separation, but unfortunately it discredits the power of our minds.

If we do not allow our thinking mind to make decisions based on love then we are stripping it of it’s power to be kind, sensitive, compassionate. If this remains the case, we will fall short in everything that we do, we will feel anxious every time we have to make a decision, we will fear regret, and we will be stuck, never moving beyond our primitive thoughts. But what if we allowed our minds to make heartfelt decisions too? If we accept that our thoughts influence our feelings and thus, behaviors, we will assume control over everything, including our happiness.

For example, a woman starts to feel unfulfilled by her relationship with her husband. She chooses to stay with him because leaving is too scary financially and emotionally and she worries about what other people will think of her. She decides to communicate her feelings by degrading everything that he puts forward as a husband and threatening him with a separation. She does not look for ways to make him understand what is going on for her nor does she try to strengthen their relationship by any means. She attributes the unhealthy state of their relationship entirely to his lack of effort and undesirable qualities and stays angry with him for years.

The same woman in a different mind-set identifies her feelings of boredom or disappointment and tries to pinpoint what is causing them. She sees room for improvement in her relationship and thinks of how both her and her husband may be responsible in different ways. She discusses this with her husband and identifies ways to make their relationship fulfilling again. She chooses to be loving and kind while they work on things, despite her current frustration, and finds that their relationship begins to get better.

Of course, I can attest to an example such as this one being an enormously difficult feat and one that must be continuously worked on. In the short-term, it’s often easier to make choices based on our anger, fear, desire. But in the long-term, aren’t we worthy of something more? You can be in therapy for years, discuss strategies for strengthening your relationship with your spouse, mother, or friend and it will not make a difference until you choose to start thinking and deciding in a way that is loving (and that choice does not entail that you will always FEEL loving). Smiling when we feel angered by what has been said; Being empathic; Spending a day off with a lonely family member; Forgiving; Asking a stranger about something they enjoy- these are decisions that require us to break down barriers within ourselves, loosen our expectations and judgments, and exist outside of our personal desires and egos. This is the only way that we can open our minds, strengthen our hearts, and become free.


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